Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Secrecy and the Internet

I’ve been following the recent furore about THAT footballer with a wry interest. I’m not particularly interested in the details of his love life, or indeed in football generally, but the way that Twitter has made a nonsense of the Superinjunction does demonstrate that the Internet is not good for secrecy. Another example would be WikiLeaks. Some of the motives behind publication are different: my impression is that WikiLeaks was initially motivated by a combination of anti-US sentiment and idealism, while the footballer furore is celebrity gossip, but  in both cases the Internet has been used to make  information public which other people strived to keep silent. Of course, a common feature in both cases was human nature: the possession of secrets makes us feel privileged, while gossip about them creates insider and outsider groups which promotes belonging and self-worth. Moreover the way that the Internet fosters conspiracy theories demonstrates that information (whether true or false) is made much more available that it once was, so there is much more opportunity for these feelings.

Maybe then, this demonstrates the way that the Internet is changing society. Information literacy – the ability to understand and manipulate information – is becoming more important, and this skill is becoming more widely important across society. Secrecy isn’t going to go away but its promotion and techniques will get cleverer.


May 24, 2011 Posted by | General | , | Leave a comment


A bit of philosophy this time. Sparked by an article in the Guardian last weekend I’ve been musing over the concept of truth in our Internet-centered lives. Arithmetical truth such as 2+2=4 can be said to still exist (unless you’re a quantum physicist) but truth and right and wrong have always been more fluid concepts. One person’s truth is not the same as another’s, so academic practice teaches that you should assess all possible interpretations and synthesize from these.  A core concept of information literacy is therefore that you shouldn’t always believe everything you read, and as librarians we teach cues which help users assess the quality of sources (is it peer-reviewed, from a trusted publisher, etc).  However information literacy often doesn’t get taught until people enter higher education.

Prior to the Internet most people’s exposure to the broader world would have been via newpapers, magazines, TV and radio as well as people they met in the course of their everyday lives. In turn they didn’t have much opportunity to pass on their views to other people. However this is changing. Now they are exposed via the Web to a wider choice of less regulated information sources, and in turn they can express their own opinions to a wider audience (indeed, I’m doing the same here). If you don’t have the skills to assess the information you hear, a simpler truth tends to appear: truth is whatever is shouted loudest (usually with a jabbing finger for emphasis I’ve noticed). This implies that more radical ideas are going to become  prevalent and that as a result society will become less cohesive. Far from being a declining career it looks like librarians (if they choose to accept it) are needed more than ever……..

April 8, 2011 Posted by | General, Universities | | Leave a comment