Let’s face it, we live in a digital age where information is bandied back and forth instantly, constantly, and overwhelmingly. We want information, we get information and then give information, then get more, then post it, tweet it, blog it, text it, email it, retweet it, link it, forward it, share it and then breathe and do it again. Whew…in the time it took to write that last paragraph about 231,400,000,000 (231.4 billion) bytes of information whipped around the internet. That’s 231.4 gigabytes. What does that mean in human terms? 200 gigabytes is the equivalent of ALL the words EVER spoken by humans recorded 10 times. That JUST happened. Again, it happened again, but probably like 20 times because it took me a few extra seconds to calculate these equations. Wow, I just blew my mind. What happened? Has Skynet taken over yet? If you want to figure it all out yourself, here are the links I used to break something in my brain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petabyte http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/how_big.htm and http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100418011947AAaielM
I mention this to make my point, we, as a society are spending a LOT of time on the computer, or Ipad, or mobile device. The world has no walls. What does this mean as a writer? As a researcher? It means that we have the ability to do things that were nigh impossible for our counterparts not too long ago. But it also means we can get lazy. It means we had better check our facts, follow up on information, reference our sources, and verify what we are writing/stating/reporting.
In Postmodern Interviewing, (Gubrium and Holstein, Sage Publications, 2003) internet interviewing is discussed. While this kind of research makes information and interview subjects easily available to the researcher, it also lends itself to misinformation. Chris Mann and Fionna Stewart, authors of this particular chapter, stress the need for authentication. It is the responsibility of the researcher to “[check] that someone is who he claims to be, or a website what it claims to be.” (Postmodern Interviewing, p. 87)
Though this may sound obvious to you, it is not always exhibited to be so. We read about retractions and corrections in the paper every day. In the reporting of news on such short deadlines, this is considered a forgivable and sometimes unavoidable aspect of the business. But what about magazines that have had more time to research, verify and prepare before going to print?
I picked up a recent copy of Gothic Beauty Magazine to research some ideas for an upcoming story. On the very first page there is a full page retraction notice. Apparently the writer conducted an interview with who they assumed to be Anna Paquin (X-Men, True Blood). The interview was conducted by email “via a listed “official” Anna Paquin MySpace page.” (GB retraction notice) Furthermore, the notice states that the writer believed “without a doubt” that she was in contact with Paquin.
This of course begs the question, was the writer intentionally deceived and if so, to what lengths? Could the writer have done anything else short of forcing a face to face to authenticate the interview? What are our limitations in accepting our belief that we are gathering factual information from believable sources?
These are things to consider as we, as researchers, begin to seek and conduct online interviews. Twitter, blogs, online forums and email are all tools to be used, but used effectively. I feel obligated here to quote Spiderman, and so I must: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and save the world. Save the cheerleader, save the world. (*) Just make sure you verify that you are saving the right cheerleader.
(*) Heroes television show reference