Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

When you start to engage in the online world, you rapidly learn that you can subscribe to almost anything and everything. Within two weeks, I had started following 30 different people and organizations on Twitter. I had started to tweet almost daily and had to resist the temptation to populate my Twitter account with every random thought that entered my mind and every stop I made along my travels. To be fair though, my wife and I did travel to Colorado and took a ride up to the top of the Grand Mesa – 10,500 feet. Spectacular views, if you have never been I highly recommend it. That being said…

In my last article I posited that even though much of what you might read online isn’t original content – that’s OK. Now, how do we separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff? Just like IRL (In Real Life for the uninitiated) you have to evaluate each source carefully. The subliminal power of the written word is so strongly embedded in our culture that it is sometimes difficult to remember that social media is nothing more that a digital transcription of public speech. We were in Vegas last week and as we made our way from the Bellagio to our intended destination, we came across three different public speakers. One man professed to be a profit of the Lord – he even had an actual soap box and a personal amplifier to assist him with his prophesying. Next we came across a young man who had apparently surgically altered his appearance to that of a demon – sharpened teeth and all. Lastly we met a mime who was fervently trying to escape his transparent prison. We barely noted these public speakers and immediately filtered them out of our search for “content” – it was easy.

It is difficult to filter as efficiently online – partly I think because IRL we have the advantage of all five senses whereas with online content, we have only our vision to assist us. We must first read (and reading takes time). I submit to you that it is this investment of time that subliminally alters our internal scoring of the validity of content. How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I read it insert location here so it must be true.”

Secondly, with the exception of folks born after approximately 1990, most of our society relied heavily on books and other physical media for knowledge distribution. Since publishing this content was both time consuming and costly, much of the filtering was done for us using predominately commercialism as the criteria. Now that publishing content has been mainstreamed the de-facto filters have been removed and it now falls to each individual to discriminate between what they perceive as valuable and what is not.

It has often been said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This adage holds true in the social media world. With great access comes great personal responsibility. Just look at Gilbert Gottfried – one random tweet and he was out of a job! It is up to each of us to separate the digital wheat from the digital chaff. It is also up to each of us to take care to remember that if you wouldn’t say it directly too someone, posting online isn’t probably necessary. So how do we accomplish this without great personal investment in time and energy?

Before books we relied on elders or educated individuals to “know what is right or good”. Twitter is very likely the answer to our need to pre-filter content in our busy workaday lives. If you spend time researching individuals or organizations that tweet on a regular basis that you trust then you can ignore the rest. Be careful though, just like relying too heavily on the news media, book and periodical publishers, don’t be like the Rotisserie Cooker and “set it and forget it” – you owe it to yourself to continually evaluate your sources of information.

Regardless of your approach to online content, don’t fear it – embrace it. Just like anything that’s new it takes some time to get used to. Just like any tool, you need to learn what it’s for, then you need to practice with it to become proficient – once you do, you’ll be better off and more informed than you’ve ever been.