Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Freedom AND Information: How Much is TOO Much?

The Freedom of Information Act. It's what makes America great. ONE of the things, anyway. The underpinnings of it are that We, The People like to have facts that help us choose. Our right to choose is as dear to us as the right to know. The Constitution grants us neither. Ah, but the Internet, grants us BOTH!

In the loosie-goosie sense of the word, not the legal-eagle sense, we have the "right" to send information to the internet for all the world to read. And we also have the right to choose what to read, and perhaps more important what NOT to read.

Here's where you separate the muck from the duck. There is so much...make that soooooo much much much...out there to read, or not read, that we have been forced to apply filters to our lives to shield us from an informational tsunami. And the filters aren't working.

The filters, like the filters on a swimming pool, can only remove the innocent little leaves and papery petals that are sucked into that little trap door on the side of the pool. The wasps and yellow jackets, and those tiny black "dirty bastard bitey bugs" as my friends and I have dubbed them, land in the water, right next to us--and they'll have hours of opportunity to sting us-- or bite us, which is it-- before they meet their eventual fate. And so it is with the wordy bastard bitey bugs that land next to us as we float idly along in front of our televisions and computers. We have the technology to filter the flotsam from the jetsam, but we can't seem to keep out the stuff that truly bugs us. In case you were wondering, flotsam is stuff floating in the water, jetsam is stuff someone threw overboard. Wonder no more.

Television commercials are jetsam, like colorful beach balls and inflatable pool toys thrown from a party boat--crazy good fun, sometimes not a good fit for you, but a great fit for someone else. They pop easily, but they were cheap in the first place. Sometimes the jetsam is from a corporate yacht--expensive, custom tailored life jackets offering security and long wear. But here's the thing with commercials: the boat owner is paying for your entertainment. Without commercials, there would be no boat, no toys, nothing.

Computer "commercials" are another kind of jetsam entirely. For one, spam-gangers don't need to provide the boat, the toys, the entertainment or the life preservers. They just toss a big ol' nasty mess overboard guessing someone is bound to mistake the net for a rope. And it must be working, because they keep throwing crud over the side. And someone keeps grabbing the rope.

What should we do? As much as we might like to stay ashore and not get our feet wet, we cannot. The sea level is rising, and soon there will be no shore. In preparation for this eventuality, how about learning to swim through the innocent little leaves in the great unfiltered sea of information? Then, how about finding a way to scoop out the dirty bastard bitey bugs before they can sting us. And finally, how's about learning to discern the difference between a net and a rope. Because sometimes the thing thrown off the boat actually IS a life saver, and if you don't grab on to it, you surely will sink.

If you're 80 years or older--and in hospice--you can stay ashore. If you're reading this, grab your scuba gear. Next stop Waterworld.

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