Navigating the web for dummies

Today, if you don’t have a Facebook account, people assume they will never see you again. We live in a world where our friendships are logged into a system, our pictures circulate freely and we share things constantly. To many people - maybe even you - this seems scary, confusing and quite simply, weird.

Why do people need to share everything all the time? What happened to good, old-fashioned conversation? Is real social interaction dead??

This post will attempt to answer all of these questions and maybe help you navigate the Internet with a little more certainty and less skepticism.

First of all, the Internet is primarily a source of information. Whereas people used to go to books for answers, people now tend to go to Google. It only takes a second and all the information you need is at your fingertips! If you use it smartly and avoid certain traps you’ll be sure to obtain the reliable information you were looking for. Here are some tips:

  • Only use reputable websites. Wikipedia is good for little fun facts, but never use it to look up lengthy amounts of information. Chances are, there will be mistakes in the article. Sites ending in .gov or .org are most reliable.
  • Stay away from hearsay! Just because you are online doesn’t mean rumors don’t exist. People like to write things that are false in the hope that they will spread. Last year, a rumor broke out claiming Jay Z and Beyoncé were buying the rights to the confederate flag in order to ban it. Of course, amid the controversy over the flag, it spread like wildfire over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other platforms, but fact checkers quickly proved it to be false. Just like in the real world - evaluate all the angles of the story and don’t keep spreading it until you know it’s true! (Luckily for you, it just got easier to fact check!)
  • Engage in social media! Not everybody likes the same platforms, but there surely is one for everyone. Facebook is an amazing way to stay in touch with old friends. It is also a great way to share articles, (such as this one) pictures and messages. Your friends are likely to share things that you will want to read. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, exposing yourself to different points of view is a great way to expand your way of thinking. And now, instead of buying The New York Times everyday, it is just one click away. Twitter is a good way to gather information very quickly. The posts are short, to the point and clear. And If you are more easily visually stimulated, Instagram ans Snapchat are perfect for you. Find what suits you and cultivate it. Soon enough you’ll be liking the Internet a lot more than you used to!

That being said, here are a few more things you should know about. Social media engagement does not necessarily reflect how much people are engaged in an issue. Online publications have noticed people sometimes tend to share content they don’t seem to have actually read. NPR pranked its readers to see if this theory held up. Turns out, just because people share or comment on a story on social media, doesn’t mean they read it.

People’s attention spans have shortened tremendously, making it harder and harder for publications to maintain the reader’s focus. Even goldfish are captivated longer. As a matter of fact, I probably lost most of my readers by now. If you’re still here, thank you and keep going!

Online publications have had to change the way they present their content. Outlets like Buzzfeed have sprung up and capitalized on this. By posting articles in the form of lists, with pictures and GIFs, they are managing to keep people interested for longer periods of time.

This infographic by Wyzowl highlights the main statistics most web-users face today and the new problems marketers have to deal with. People gravitate more toward entertainment than hard news.

Now, increasingly, instead of text, people find it easier to retain information through images and videos. Journalists are finding themselves forced to develop skills in all mediums - along with good writing, go strong photographs and short documentaries. The variety of ways in which news is delivered has become crucial since the rise of the Internet. In short - the web means more work, more tricks and much more stimulating content.

Navigating the web today has become second nature for most people. We reach for our phone as soon as we have a question, without even trying to think about it. In many ways, the Internet is a blessing. Far away places have become easily accessible, new information is being shared by millions of people every day, and each person has the opportunity to learn about virtually any topic, but it is also our responsibility to regulate what we consume. Do we need to check social media as much as we do? Can we no longer read long articles? We, as readers and web users, must learn to focus our attention on things that matter and continue using it as a tool for change without letting it change us too much.

In short - use the web to learn and discover. Be cautious, not gullible, and share things that you believe your friends should know about that will expand their way of thinking. Be smart about it, and if you actually got this far down in this post, congratulate yourself because you are off to a great start!

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