Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sandblasting A Soup Cracker

It's been a busy week at Mister Fweem's blog. So today's subject: The Internet fire hose.

Researching on the Internet is easy. Finding good information is even easier -- with people posting their curriculum vitae along with the things they say and write, it's pretty simple to tell when someone has the education and experience to back up what they're saying. And, yes, it is easy to fake credentials, but that's a post for another day.

What gets to be difficult is dealing with the fire hose worth of information you have coming at you. Or, to use another metaphor paraphrased from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, researching on the Internet is sometimes like sandblasting a soup cracker. So much comes at you at once it's easy to get blown away.

This is a conundrum for Internet-boosters. On the one hand, at no time in mankind's history have so many people had so much good information available at their fingertips. On the other hand, at no time in mankind's history does mankind need as much knowledge to interpret and sort the information that's available. We say in technical communication circles that it's possible -- nay, imperative -- to write in a way that makes what we're discussing understandable, even for people who do not possess the same amount of background knowledge as those who understand a given topic at its most intimate levels. That's the ideal, of course, but it is seldom achieved. The most recent example I have of an individual achieving such "reading ease" with a highly technical subject is Richard Rhodes' book The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Though I do have a rudimentary background in atomic physics due to the nature of my work as a technical writer, Rhodes' approach to the subject makes the topic immediately approachable for the expert and novice alike. He doesn't do this by sparing the scientific detail, he simply writes in a way that makes the detail approachable for a wide audience. Not too technical for dummies like me. Not so simplistic that the experts get frustrated. Yes, I had to look up words in the dictionary and concepts on the Internet. But I learned quite a bit just by the way he writes.

As I stroll through the Internet more and more (and do outside reading in old-fashioned dead tree media) I become somewhat awed and frustrated by the amount of stuff I simply do not know. I'm getting crushed between the availability of information and my ability to ably interpret that information. How we cope with this frustration as individuals and as a society will do more to shape our future than anything else. Looking back on my college career, for example, I now wish I had taken mre science classes. The English classes were great, but a better grounding in science right now would be a beneficial corollary to my English skills. Of course it's not too late. This July I will finish a masters degree in technical communication. Then it's on to other educational opportunities.


sandblasting melbourne said...

I got what you are trying to explain in your blog but I am still a bit confusing why did you choose the title "Sandblasting A Soup Cracker" for this blog?

Mister Fweem said...

Just imagine what sandblasting a soup cracker would do to the cracker. That's how I feel sometimes in relationship to the internet. I'm the soupcracker getting sandblasted by all that information. Then again, it's just that me filters are broke.