Column: The internet is never-ending rabbit hole of weirdness. Use it wisely.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “drinking from a fire hose.” That adequately describes how we take in information on a daily basis.

According to the latest numbers I could find, over 300,000 books are published yearly in the United States. In a normal year, the Portage County Public Library circulates around 480,000 items, including 50,000 audiobooks to people who want to “read and go” at the same time.

Then, there are the 300 billion emails that were sent last year, and three trillion text messages. We spend an average of 144 minutes a day reading on social media—and squeeze in almost three hours of television each day.

With that much information coming at us daily, something has to give. For most of us that “something” is time, context, and understanding of what we are reading.

Unfortunately, we usually skim stories in our Facebook or Twitter feed—or worse, just read the headlines and pass the information on as the truth. So what can we do to be more discerning?

First of all, is it from a reputable source? The definition of “reputable” can be different for each of us, but many sources will list their mission or goal. It might shed some light on an article or study that seems too good to be true.

Did you go beyond the headline? Headlines are meant to grab attention and clicks, so go deeper.

Who wrote it? The internet has spawned a lot of pseudo-experts and scams. Check their credentials and the words they use. It’s hard enough to get four people to agree on where to eat, let alone having “all” experts agree on something or that “all” members of a group of people act a particular way, so be wary.

Is it satire? I adore satire, but a lot of it is written so well that it can easily pull you into voicing an immediate reaction without checking out the story. Taking a little time to answer even one or two of these questions will improve your knowledge, make your reasoned response to others that much more effective, and might even lower your blood pressure.

Finally, I’m reminded of a cartoon showing a man sitting at his computer and yelling to his wife as she heads for bed, “I’ll be up in a minute, someone is wrong on the internet.”

Social media can be a never-ending rabbit hole of weirdness. Don’t take the bait. Use your Freedom of Speech wisely.

Larry Oathout
Director, Portage County Public Library