There is One Way the Internet is Worse than the Gutenberg Press. Click Here to Find out How!

Column A: Trust, authenticity, and accuracy

Column B: The Gutenberg Press

Column C: “Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably ‘bullshit’”

In many ways, the impact of the Internet on the world today mirrors the impact of the Gutenberg Press over 500 years ago. It gives us easier access to more information with less effort (writing research papers has never easier. Thanks Wikipedia!), fosters the spread of information through making it easier and more economically friendly share what we know, and made the information more permanent (what goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet.). The Internet seemed to have taken ALMOST everything the Gutenberg press had done and took it even further. Accuracy of information was a quality heightened because of Gutenberg press that was not improved by the Internet. In fact, it faced a decline, as accuracy of the information spread today is similar to those spread orally.

“Most of the information we spread online is quantifiably ‘bullshit.’” That is an actual article written by Nathanial Barr ironically posted online in Quartz. He discusses the way the Internet has made us more perceptible to wrong information, ushering us into the “Age of Bullshit.” It has made us into “skimmers” because there’s so much information available to us and we don’t have enough time to delve deep into it all. So we skim, taking bits and pieces of a variety of subjects, but never knowing the whole.

People are also forced to choose of what information they take in, as there’s so much of it. Because of the “skimmers” mentality we search for articles that triggers our emotions, urging us to keep reading. Who cares if it is researched? It boils my blood so it must be so it must be true! Barr’s research shows we love to receive information with pretty packaging, even if those pretty packages hold absolutely nothing.

It’s funny to think of the Internet as anything other than an innovation, much less a regression from the era of the Gutenberg Press, but it is in the area of information accuracy. The Gutenberg press allowed people to become skeptical of information flung at them by people of authority, as they are able to read texts done by scientist, scholars, and others who had dedicate their lives to researching their subjects ushering in the age of Enlightenment, where the scientific method was employed to access the validity of information. Tangible proof became the way to validate information. If someone says it’s raining cats and dogs last night, others will ask where’s the proof?

With the Gutenberg Press, the spread of information was constrained because of how expensive and tedious it was. Publishers have to buy the ink, buy the types, buy the papers, and who knows what else to print information, not to mention the cost of the Gutenberg press itself or the amount of work is needed. They would certainly be more critical about what they print because there is so much to lose. A cost of even a typo is one too heavy for their wallets (or its equivalent at the time) to bear. A typo today costs nothing. This article could be full of flaws and it would cost me nothing more a few points off my grade since this is an assignment for my Journalism class (Hi Steve). There is no consequence to having flaws in the information you create and spread, for you at least. You can always edit the information later, perhaps attaching a little note in the bottom of the article stating you’ve made a mistake. But what about the people who saw your article before you corrected the inaccuracies? How are they supposed to know you’ve made a mistake (other than further research, but that takes time and effort reserved for watching cat videos). I’m not suggesting that all information printed after the Gutenburg press and before the Internet was accurate, but it has more weight to inaccuracy one that is lifted today.

There’s a clear winner to the battle of accuracy between these two inventions. If you still don’t know which one, it’s the one you haven’t heard not to trust.