When I was 14 years old, I won the grand prize in a contest: a set of encyclopedias. I know—not very exciting, is it? But this was in the ancient days before computers, personal or otherwise. You’d have thought I won London’s crown jewels!
I was so proud of that prize. It replaced the 25-year-old encyclopedias my parents owned. This new set included photos and up-to-date entries. Don’t laugh—I stayed up nights just reading about various subjects for the pure joy of learning. Yes, I was a bookworm…or nerd…or geek…or whatever it’s called today.
Those encyclopedias took me through high school and into college. Back then, computers were the size of a room and programming really was a foreign language. As personal computing evolved, so did access to information. Eventually we were no longer restricted to physical books, or even a physical library, to satisfy our hunger for information.
The internet became the new frontier – the digital equivalent of the wild west. And search engines became our railroad for traveling this frontier. Search engines changed the way we access information. Lycos, Google, Dogpile, Ask Jeeves (which morphed into Ask.com), and Bing were just a few of the sites that helped us retrieve data from the World Wide Web. Their names were as creative and varied as the information they provided.
Still, information takes us only so far. The bigger question is, how are we using the information? Interpretation and application determine if the information becomes truly helpful, or if it remains an info dump or even a temptation swamp we wade through each time we turn on the laptop. Two potential quagmires readily come to mind:
With all the blogs, tweets, networks, websites, and search engines out there, it’s way too easy to allow the information overload to sap our energy, drain our time, and influence our values as we passively take it all in.
Discernment is not a word we often hear these days. Yet, discernment is exactly what we need to process the information that’s so readily available. Depending on your perspective, search engine filters are either necessary moral protection or a restriction on free speech. Still, even with the use of filters, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and minds by guarding our eyes and ears.
As writers, we also have a responsibility to be discerning in our research. Information is readily accessible for our writing needs, but just because we find data online doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Googling our questions is easy. Discerning how we use what we learn is more difficult. Whether we write books, magazine articles, blogs, or devotions, readers view us as having implied authority. We have a responsibility to investigate the accuracy of our research before we use it. As we’ve all heard, “Google, but verify!”
Each time I turn on the computer, the Holy Spirit calls me to be aware of the fine line between gaining knowledge and losing myself, both as an individual and as a writer. How about you?
What are you doing to guard both your heart and your credibility when you use the internet?