Sunday, 26 July 2015

Tunnel Vision on the Internet and How to Avoid it.

Someone once told me: 'If everyone is looking one way then look the other.'

I remember doing this at Stonehenge and was amazed.  Everyone else was looking at these big stones arranged with effort and skill unimaginable with the technology of the time and I looked at the fertile plain surrounding them, the many burial mounds and the flow of traffic from the nearby road.  Also the military exercise that was under way in the woods nearby.

That was why Stonehenge was there: it was the centre of trading, farming and a safe place to live. More than a place to watch the sunrise, it was where a community grew and so did it's influence, it was a seat of power and that power didn't come from a ring of stones, despite what many New Age folk would like to believe.  Like a palace or cathedral isn't the power, but the sign of the power.

The Internet is an ever expanding realm of information and yet most people hover round a few islands of comfort without plunging out into the ocean of information.  Ask yourself how many websites did you visit today?  Were they the same ones as you visited yesterday?  Google will point you to what you want, Wikipedia will have an article on the subject that you want to learn about, but, and it's a big BUT, is it re-enforcing your beliefs and telling you what it's telling everyone else?

I write and paint, I'm also a creative - I am an engineer - and if you do the same as everyone else, collect the facts everyone else collects you will do what everyone else does.  It's like reading the same newspaper (or news sites) everyday.  Your best mate is telling you the news you want to hear.  Me, I read stuff I from the other guy's point of view, just in case the other guy is right.

If you want to be creative you need to find what others don't, see the world anew or at least sideways.  Look where everyone else isn't looking.  Often you'll be surprised, sometimes horrified.  In my researches I once discovered a propaganda site preaching hate and showing terrible things to justify other terrible things.  That was an extra education for me.  That's a warning:  you will find things off the beaten path and sometime it'll be a tiger ready to bite you.

Here are my top tips for avoiding tunnel vision on the Internet.

1. Avoid Wikipedia

It's a great tool, but it's where everyone goes.  Use it to validate other searchers, but check you aren't in a Wikipedia loop where it was the source for a site that is a source for Wikipedia.  There is the notorious 'Flange of Gorillas (or baboons)' issue.  Look up its derivation and be surprised.
How to avoid this look for the references, find an expert's name and search on that.  Make sure the expert hasn't used Wikipedia too.

In my blog entries you'll often find a useful links section.  It rarely points to Wikipedia. I do use it, it is a good tool, but I will try to find something deeper.

2. Move off Google's First Page

Apparently when people search the Internet, they use Google and few go beyond the first page of results.  If you want to do something different click on the second, third or tenth page.

3. Try other Search Engines

Google is great tool, but if you want different and new try other search engines, compare them to see if they come up with the same answers as Google.

My personal favourites are:
www.duckduckgo.com - it doesn't track you, so it can't learn what you like.
www.dogpile.com - it searches other search engines so you can spot the well worn trails.
www.ask.co.uk - it follows a different sort of logic

Related to my last post Space is too Big for Rockets but not for Humans why not search on 'How to Build a Canoe' and compare results.

Want some more ideas, why not try the Search Engine List?

5. Find an Enthusiast's Site

I propose you find many of them so you can compare what they are saying.  Have you noticed there is a lot of 'compare' in this article?  Not, very subtle, I know, but you need to check and check again.  Especially if it is something you already 'know' to be true.  You'll be amazed what you think you know isn't right at all; for example: by the time Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic most people knew it was round and had known that for a very long time.  What makes a good story isn't necessarily true.

I was researching European unarmed combat techniques, which sadly vanished under the popularity firearms.  I found this site: www.thearma.org which is a really well constructed and researched site.  It was a real eye-opener and very educational.  I didn't stop there.  One of the things that makes this site a good one is that they list their sources of information, so of course I could research some more.

6. Find an Enthusiast

There are people who are full of enthusiasm for their subject and want to share it.  Try science clubs or night school classes.  If you're interested in history, there are re-enactment societies. Where I live, where you have to wade through history in big boots, there are dozens of groups who put on displays.  These guys are the best educators I know.  Often, after the display or show, they'll be open for the general public to wander up and have a chat.

From a Roman group I learnt the Romans could make spring steel and had an understanding of magnification.  I also got to try on armour and handle a gladius (sword) and pugio (dagger).  That is something the Internet can't do.

From a Victorian re-enactor I learnt that corsets become more flexible - that's a relative term - the longer you wear them because body heat effects the stiffening material (bone or steel).  Oh yeah and floor-length skirts wick up water from wet grass so although not fashionable working folk had shorter skirts for practical reasons.

7. Start your Search with a Book

Go and find a book on the subject.  Often they have more depth and validation than Internet sources. Hey I'm just writing this as I go along, which is the core of most of the Internet.  What I am writing has not been vetted, checked or even edited by anyone else (apologies for any spelling errors).  Books have editors, professional readers and non-fiction ones often have knowledgeable reviewers too, though with the rise of self-publication, that may be less true than it used to be.  It helps with the fact checking.

8. Talk to your local Librarian

Librarians know a lot, not just about books, but the local community too.  They will not only help you find the books you want, even if you didn't know you needed them.  They will also know about local societies, up-coming exhibits and other things that will help you find new information.  Don't forget your local museum either, they are a gem of knowledge in every town.  When did you last go into yours?

I realise I'm finishing my list of ways to avoid tunnel vision on the Internet by saying don't just look on the Internet.  I did say at the start the best way to see something different is to look in the opposite direction.  Off-line is as opposite as you can go.  Happy researching.

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