Sunday, December 1, 2013
The encyclopedia had history, science, and all sorts of interesting things in it; if they made a mistake, or discovered something new to add to a selection, it was published in the yearbooks they sent to us every year. I loved putting the stickers on the appropriate pages and reading the new, or corrected, information; I liked knowing that even people who wrote encyclopedias learned new things and didn't hesitate to let the rest of us know.
When our newspaper found an inaccuracy in a story, it printed a retraction where people could easily see it. When Cronkite made a mistake, he corrected it with a sincere apology while looking right into our eyes.
I grew up, the world changed, and information became available at the click of a mouse. I taught my own children not to trust sources; I taught them to question, to compare, to narrow in on the truth and discount repetition as a propaganda tool. I think they've gotten pretty good at doubt, as have I.
It's a survival skill, and we are survivors.
I like the wide variety of fact and opinion available to me, and I wouldn't want to go back to those limited sources. But, often, I miss the scrutiny they were under; I miss the attention to detail, the drive on their part to get it right, the emphasis on providing factual information. They tried to eliminate bias; even though they didn't always succeed, it was their goal. If they fell short, their readers and listeners reminded them to try harder. Information runs the gamut now; some of it is very well researched, filled with facts, and as trustworthy as ever. Some of it is not, and it's becoming increasingly hard to know what to believe.
Sometimes, even doubt isn't enough.