quick: How many times do the words "America,"
"free" and "states" appear in the
Declaration of Independence? Now add those together, and
what do you get?
ah — keep your finger off that smartphone. Don’t
touch that tablet. And definitely get your eye off your
your brain, not your technology," cautions
"quiz princess" Hailley Field, after repeating
the tiebreaking question at a recent Tuesday night
Brainstormer Pub Quiz in Oakland, Calif.
huddle. Tension builds, overpowering the heady scent of
nachos and sliders, and a group of admittedly nerdy
friends with the cumbersome, yet apt, team name of
"There’s No iPhone in Integrity" comes
through for the win. (Answer: 14.)
doesn’t take a trivia buff to answer this one: Are
there any "unGoogle-able" questions left in
the world? Fueled by pocket-size power, we harness the
current sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, plus a
whole bunch of junk like what LeBron James had for lunch
while vacationing in France. Turning to technology for
data, for knowledge — maybe even for truth — has
become an impulse, a physical reflex. And it’s
changing everything, from the way we consume and retain
information to the sources we trust, sometimes fervently
or blindly, to provide it.
the organic chem midterm the midnight before the test?
Go to the educational website KhanAcademy.org and get an
instant tutorial. Need to crack open one of those
confounding Thai coconuts? Watch a YouTube vid some guy
made in his kitchen. Worried about how to bathe your
newborn? Don’t rely on your own mother’s trials and
errors. Go to sites like BabyCenter.com and seek the
collective wisdom of thousands of moms.
has redefined knowledge in terms of who can access it,
who can possess it. Now, everyone’s a Cliff Clavin.
Everyone’s an expert, or can be in a matter of
there’s nothing trivial about that.
OR FALSE: A vast majority of teachers think the Internet
makes students more self-sufficient researchers.
Not exactly. Sixty-five percent of teachers who instruct
advanced high-schoolers and middle-schoolers agree. But
83 percent feel the amount of information available
online is overwhelming to most students, and 60 percent
believe today’s technologies make it harder for
students to find credible sources of information.
(Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American
Hatch, a history and English teacher at Oakland’s Life
Academy High School, is one of those educators who says
this now-we-have-it knowledge is a blessing and a
burden. Blessing: There’s so much information out
there. Burden: There’s so much information out there.
can’t even fathom how different teaching before the
Internet must have been," said Hatch, who is 29.
"I’m sure it was easier in many ways, but also
much more limited, and probably often frustrating."
Hatch was designing a new unit on the book "In the
Time of the Butterflies," she went online and found
information about the Dominican Republic and historical
events of the book’s time period. She also found
videos and interviews with the author and poems and
other texts, countless images, comprehension questions,
ideas for projects — "I mean, literally,
everything," she said.
there’s the burden: There’s so much out there, it
can be overwhelming, time-consuming and confusing. Where
to start? Where to look? What to use?"
of the glut, Hatch often sees students use inaccurate
sources in their papers, or "run wild with a theory
they read on some websites that they assume must be
telling the whole truth," Hatch said.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
miraculous reach of today’s technology dawned on Dave
Rafter during a far less intellectual but incredibly
universal pursuit. The 57-year-old Alameda, Calif.,
salesman and his wife were recently sitting in bed
watching an old "Batman" TV show rerun.
Joker’s assistant looked so familiar. I said she was
from this, and my wife said she was from that,"
Rafter says. "So I picked up the smartphone and
boop, there’s the answer — she’d been in a couple
of ‘Star Treks’ and things of that era, but she also
had played Bonnie Blue Butler, Rhett and Scarlett’s
doomed daughter in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and it was
an uncredited role. A fascinating factoid that we never
would have known without a lot of research, if at
easy access to anything and everything by anyone almost
anywhere is surely liberating, democratizing, educating,
with such a glut of information, how do we know what we
know is true? Accurate? Real?
OR FALSE: The Affordable Care Act contains a
"hidden" tax on hunting and fishing equipment.
False. There is a 2.3 percent excise tax on certain
medical devices. Cabela’s, a Nebraska sporting goods
company, applied the tax to some of its customers’
purchases by mistake. (Source: FactCheck.org)
we be fooled more easily now than in pre-Internet days?
Or are hoaxes and misstatements more quickly exposed
because everyone’s watching? Surely Orson Welles’
"War of the Worlds" radio broadcast would be
instantly Googled away, rather than creating the
widespread panic it did in 1938.
people peddling misinformation can be exposed more
easily, if you know where to look," said Eugene
Kiely, director of the nonprofit FactCheck.org, a
project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the
University of Pennsylvania, launched in 2003 to rebut
inaccurate or false claims by politicians. "But if
people aren’t looking to get at the truth, they can be
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
be sure, fact-checkers — long a staple of reputable
newsgathering agencies — are a necessity for the
thoughtful Internet user who seeks to push through the
noise. Such urban-legend and myth-busting sites as
Snopes.com and TruthOrFiction.com receive hundreds of
thousands of hits a day. FactCheck’s page views swell
into the millions during election years.
journalist for 30 years, Kiely says he’s staggered by
the amount of information now available online.
makes our job a lot easier," he said. "It also
empowers the non-journalist to be able to access this
same info with the click of a mouse. Again, if they’re
inclined to do some research."
Did President Barack Obama order flags flown at
half-staff to memorialize Whitney Houston?
No. New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie did so
in the pop diva’s home state. (Source: Snopes.com)
truth may be out there, but it’s often the case that,
once the Internet sees, it can’t unsee.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
posts a photo of hundreds of thousands of people on the
Golden Gate Bridge, the caption declaring it’s a
protest after the July verdict in George Zimmerman’s
trial for the death of Trayvon Martin.
spread through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. People
exchanged comments and/or barbs. Later, news reports
clarified the photo was from the bridge’s 50th
anniversary celebration in 1987.
pic may have been a flash in the online pan, but another
photo in a chain email with the title "The Real
Trayvon Martin" circulated for weeks during the
Zimmerman trial with a so-called "up-to-date"
photo of Martin — a bigger, stronger version of the
17-year-old, complete with facial tattoos. The photo was
really that of a 32-year-old Southern California rapper
named Game, but senders of the email accused mainstream
media of suppressing this photo to maintain a
sympathetic image of Martin by publishing younger images
of him. Fact-checking site PolitiFact debunked the
Game-as-Trayvon myth. Some may have seen those reports,
while others may not have seen them or chose to ignore
them — and the debate persists.
rumors and misinformation is as old as dirt, but
technology makes it quicker and easier to make the
rounds. And online niche media, social media and other
outlets serve to shore up the user/viewer/reader’s
existing world view, making it harder to break through
the din with facts. People hear what they want and
disregard the rest, a fact well known by political spin
segments of the population can believe in completely
ungrounded conspiracy theories — such as the notion
that President Obama was not born in the U.S. —
despite a massive trove of assiduously documented
evidence to the contrary," said Christopher Lehane
of Fabiani & Lehane, a crisis communications firm in
San Francisco. He’s the "Master of Disaster"
who cut his teeth working for the Clinton White House
during the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals.
points to the 1976 presidential election, when Jimmy
Carter beat Gerald Ford with 50.1 percent of the vote.
About a quarter of the country lived in voting precincts
whereby one candidate beat the other by 20 percent or
more, he said.
2000, when George W. Bush was elected in a historic
nail-biter, "over 45 percent of the country lived
in landslide precincts, making clear that the country
has fragmented," he said. "You can get up in
the morning and watch either Fox or MSNBC; get in the
car and listen to your self-selected iTunes; go to work
at a place you choose; and get back in the car and
listen to either right-wing or left-wing radio; and then
go back to your community that likely has a group of
neighbors that look, sound and think like you do.
a consequence, we have gone from a world where people in
the 1960s were tuning in, turning on and dropping out,
to a world now when people are tuning out, searching in
and opting out — the result being that you get the
information you want and rarely have to hear a
STORY CAN END HERE)
What is the estimated area of glaciers currently on the
Approximately 445,000 square kilometers. (Source: The
World Glacier Monitoring Service as noted on Wikipedia)
the truth truer when more people agree on it?
Crowdsourcing is increasingly considered the sage of the
age — even the online version of the esteemed
Encyclopaedia Britannica has allowed for public editing
of its entries, with review by Britannica’s editors,
since 2009. And, despite increasing competition,
Wikipedia continues to lead the crowdsourcing pack as
the sixth-most-visited site worldwide on the Internet.
classic question we often speak to is, how do we know it’s
true? How do we trust the information we get if it’s
from users and can be changed?" said Jay Walsh,
former director of communications for the Wikimedia
Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees Wikipedia and
multiple other online projects from a surprisingly quiet
— almost library-like — headquarters at a
nondescript San Francisco office building.
basic reality is, (Wikipedia) is no more or less error
prone than other sources of information," Walsh
said. "I mean, how did we know books, written by
one person, were true? How could they be up-to-date?
Part of the beauty of Wikipedia is, if there is
something wrong, it can be changed immediately."
free user-generated encyclopedia, with its frequently
stated goal "to contain the sum total of human
knowledge," is now in its 12th year, evolving into
more than a butt for jokes about "truthiness"
on "The Colbert Report." It still has its
believers and critics — people tend to tinker with
some articles more than others, especially entries on
politics and religion, anything on George W. Bush,
climate change, Hitler or Britney Spears. But several
studies have found that Wikipedia’s overall accuracy
nearly matches that of print encyclopedias, thanks to
its push for cited sources and links to substantiating
documents. And accuracy aside, it garners 10 billion
page views per month on the English version alone.
making it possible to have a more nuanced understanding
of truth," said Wikimedia’s executive director,
Sue Gardner. "Before, what we labeled as truth was
determined by a really small number of people. With
Wikipedia, the facts are contributed by a large number
of people. We’re constantly fact-checking. Is it
attributed to a reliable source? Then a group of
Wikipedians (volunteer editors around the globe) do what
we call ‘patrolling’ recent changes, monitoring
changes by other editors."
feels confident Wikipedia is an example of the highest
and best use of the Internet, as opposed to the steady
tsunami of advertising, personal spats on social media
and people taking photos of bologna sandwiches. "It
just seems like the rest of the Internet is starting to
suck," she said.
What number do you get when you add John Elway’s
Denver Broncos uniform number, plus Jim Kelly’s
Buffalo Bills uniform number, plus Dan Marino’s Miami
Dolphins uniform number?
32; 7 plus 12 plus 13. (Source: Brainstormer Pub Quiz)
recent years, organizers of the Brainstormer Pub Quiz
have worked to devise "unGoogle-able"
questions that are challenging to look up on a mobile
device, at least in the time provided — just in case
someone decides to cheat.
pretty tempting for people to want to use their
phones," said Spencer Owen, 29, of Oakland, one of
the "There’s No iPhone in Integrity"
his team name suggests, Owen would never cheat at the
trivia contest, but he and his friends all admit they
immediately check their smartphones after submitting
their answers to find out if they were right, even
before the quiz princess announces the results.
with a pocket full of possibilities, who can blame them?
cellphone) is now part of your bank of knowledge,"
Owen said. "It’s like an extension of your