“Common Sense is not so common” or Why the internet is probably wrong

When I was in middle school reading Tom Sawyer, I never thought that I’d be quoting Mark Twain almost daily later in life like I am today.

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I’m sure similar sentiments have been posted on this blog – but I think it’s important to understand that the internet is typically an access point to data rather than information and that common sense (yours and other people’s) will be the best defense in differentiating between the two.

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Data is not in and of itself, information.  It is not fact.  We observe data and then create information from that data. Allow me to present a partial definition from businessdictionary.com. (Full disclosure: I chose this definition because it was closest to my own line of thinking.)

“(Information:) In general, raw data that (1) has been verified to be accurate and timely, (2) is specific and organized for a purpose, (3) is presented within a context that gives it meaning and relevance, and which (4)leads to increase in understanding and decrease in uncertainty. The value of information lies solely in its ability to affect a behavior,decision, or outcome. A piece of information is considered valueless if, after receiving it, things remain unchanged.”

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Here’s an example.  If I go insane and say that the universe is a 1/2 eaten sandwich that God has left on a plate somewhere, I can post that online.  And essentially that’s data.  It’s data marking that this idea is one person’s opinion and the onus is then on the reader to corroborate that data as fact.

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Jacques Ellul wrote a book called Propaganda which was heavily influential to me.  One of the points Ellul raises is that intellectuals are frequently the most susceptible to propaganda as they were 1. people who believed that their intellect would allow them to filter out propaganda and 2.the people who consumed the majority of their information from 3rd parties (books, media, etc) rather than 1st hand experience.

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The second point is particularly salient as the problem with the internet is that it is literally a data dump. You could devote a full time job just to try to verify one point on the net – and there are billions of them.

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Relating this to guitar, I can’t tell you the number of times I shudder at people sharing, “information” that’s just wrong.  2+2=5 wrong.  Things like “The third mode of A Major starts with a D flat.”  No it doesn’t, because D flat is not part of the key signature – C# is (Along with F# and G#) and while enhamonically C# and Db are the same – if you’re missing the role of C# as the third in A Major – you’re missing the point entirely.  Flamenco instruction videos that talk about how “Flamenco is easy” and “it’s just one pattern over and over again” and then they go on to play a Gypsy Kings style comp that has nothing to do with Flamenco incorrectly!

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The point of these specific examples is: if this is your only source of information – you’re going to get it wrong.

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The first line of defense in differentiating between data and information is common sense.  And there’s actually a fair amount of it in general.  I’m probably not going to get a lot of serious traffic on the universe as 1/2 eaten ham sandwich web site – because that’s obviously ludicrous (or is it?)  But the second line of defense is just as important, and that is in the form of a teacher.  Not even necessarily a dedicated guitar teacher – it could be any kind of mentor with expertise in that area.

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If I read a recording tip on the internet that sounded intriguing but crazy, there are several engineer friends of mine I could call to ask if it was feasible.  If you see some performing a technique on the net that seems completely contrary to the way you play – it’s good to find some mentors – maybe a teacher – maybe pro players to see if they’ve got it wrong or if you do.

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The internet offers a lot of tremendous data and some really solid information.  It’s an exciting time and an unprecedented moment in human history.   But realize that just as prospectors have to sift a lot of sand to find gold – you should be prepared to approach anything you find on the net with a healthy amount of skepticism.

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I’ll end this with one other Mark Twain quote that is as good a philosophy as any I’ve read,

“Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like its heaven on earth.”

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Thanks for reading!

-SC

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