The Danger of Information

Too much information.

For anyone connected to a digital network of any kind that’s either a fact of modern life or a hazard waiting in the wings.

However, a writer in the Op-Ed section of this morning’s Post believes that the “information avalanche” enabled by all our communications tools is also a potential danger to our democracy.

All of it “is burying us in extraneous data that prevent important facts and knowledge from reaching a broad audience”.

Or maybe his concern is that fewer people are reading big media publications like the Post.

Which highlights the larger problem: The overload siphons audiences and revenue from newspapers such as The Post and other outlets that can spread important information, forcing these media to shrink and to rely increasingly on advertising to stay afloat. These trends predate the Internet era, but they’ve gotten worse.

And, of course, it’s the technology that’s to blame.

Rather than call for government regulation of technology itself, perhaps the best way to limit the avalanche is to make the technologies that overproduce information more expensive and less widespread. It could be done via a progressive energy tax designed to keep energy prices at a consistently high level (while providing assistance to lower- and middle-income Americans).

In a companion to this stupid rant, Ben Stein, writing in the New York Times, also believes all our devices have become “modern-day balls and chains with which we shackle ourselves”.

What would we do if cellphones and P.D.A.’s disappeared? We would be forced to think again. We would have to confront reality. My own life is spent mostly with men and women of business. I have been at this for a long time now, and what I have seen of the loss of solitude and dignity is terrifying among those who travel and work, or even who stay still and work. They are slaves to connectedness. Their work has become their indentured servitude. Their children and families are bound to the same devices, too.

So, just get rid of the technology – or make it so expensive that traditional media is more financially attractive – and all will be right with our lives again.

However, the underlying message from both writers (and their editors) is that we would be far better off with a limited flow of information.

And that a few traditional filters of that information (like the Post, the Times, and Ben Stein) should be the ones telling us what’s important.

No thanks. I’d rather learn to sift through the flow of data myself.

COPA is Unconstitutional

How do you protect children from viewing inappropriate materials on the internet?

Evidently, the Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA) is not the way.

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today upheld a ban on the enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), ruling once again that it was unconstitutional, overbroad, and vague. The American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged COPA on behalf of a coalition of writers, artists and health educators, hailed the ruling as a victory for free speech.

The constitution limits the government’s ability to censor web content and the electronic filters required of schools and libraries are largely ineffective.

Maybe it’s time to talk about an educational solution instead.

Training teachers to manage and use the web in their classrooms, and helping parents understand how to manage access at home, would not provide 100% protection for kids.

But it would be a far better approach than poorly written laws and the ham-handed use of electronic censors.

Wanted: Smart Filtering

This morning at EduBloggerCon Jim Gates facilitated a very good conversation on internet filtering, although we had way too many people in the room to involve everyone.

It’s obviously a topic that touches a nerve with many teachers and others involved with technology in schools.

However, I still don’t understand the IT folks who insist on locking down computers used by students so that they become artificial environments – no right click, no access to CD/DVD/USB, extremely limited network access.

Reminds me of the dumb terminals we used a while back, an era I thought we had long since progressed passed.

Anyway, Jim’s goal was for the group to come up with ideas for an instructionally sound filtering policy that everyone could use in talking with their administrators and IT staff.

Unfortunately, we really didn’t have time to get much of that done, but hopefully it gave everyone a starting point. This is something that needs to be continued.

If you’re interested, Kristin Hokanson took notes using Cover It Live. Didn’t see anyone taking video but I wouldn’t be surprised if something pops up since there were plenty of those pocket-sized cameras around.

Quick, Block

I’m not a fan of internet filtering systems. At all!

Simply banning web sites doesn’t teach students anything about safely using the net and it excuses some educators from having to manage web access.

However, I do understand that filters are a political reality and that there is some material on the internet that needs to be blocked from student view.


One high school in this area has added that seemingly benign utility to their blacklist because of how one student was using his account.

It seems he was posting recommended sites for his friends, some of which the school administration thought were instructionally inappropriate. Including new tools for bypassing the filtering system at the school.

So, we blame the technology and ban it instead of acknowledging that this student has a much better idea of just how useful is than his teachers do.