Thursday, April 29, 2010

The soundbyte generation

I have noticed in the past few years that I am getting more and more flooded by people sending me web-links. Sometimes its just because they find something interesting, often though it seems as if they think I should take it seriously as intellectual discourse.

So its time for my soapbox again:

Forwarding a web link is to intelligent discourse what "Mama, look I found a bug under that rock!" is to biology.

If you are going to cite references and be taken seriously by anyone with any sort of intellectual training, you need to do at least 4 things that are generally never done when people send links around:
  1. Validate the veracity of your source. The most heinous offenders of these are people who send me either press releases or marketing speeches. We used to have a saying at Sun while I was there: the only difference between sales and marketing is that sales *knows* its lying. A source that has something to gain from convincing you what it is saying is true is never, ever a reliable one.
  2. Read the damn article yourself first. I have a friend who just loves to link quote, and more then half the time if you read the article he's quoted fully, it defeats his own argument.
  3. Differentiate statements of fact from statements of opinion. Lots of people believed the world was flat. That didn't make it any more true then if only one person did. Common wisdom is seldom wise and almost always suspect.
  4. Differentiate serious arguments from propaganda. Propaganda is inherently a manipulative form of communication. It is *built* to persuade and not to enlighten. There are standard social and linguistic techniques employed in propaganda, none of which standard up to a serious test of logical correctness.

    In a moment of deliberate irony,l I'm going to give you a URL link to the most complete list of the standard fallacies of propaganda I've come across.
Link-wars are, I suppose, the inevitable result of a sound-byte culture. Its argument by sound-byte. And it has just as much depth of thought.

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