Internet-based knowledge a questionable commodity

How small would be the human experience without the Internet!

Pick a date – any date – and let the vastness of understanding wash over you. Temporal distance is no object.

I simply typed in 1211, and was enriched with the knowledge that Sumangu Kante was well into his stint as King of Ghana, while practically next door, in the centre of darkest Africa, Dunama Il Dibbalem had barely started his 14-year run as Saifawa Mai – head of state – in the Kanem Empire.

I know! Fascinating, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, over in Europe, Peter was King of Aragon, Michael was Ducas of the Despotate of Epirus, and I can’t even write, let alone pronounce, the name of the guy who was running things over in the Kingdom of the Isles (nearest I can get on this keyboard is Rognvaldr Guorooason). It all sounds like something out of Tolkien.

By comparison, John of England and Andrew of Hungary sound pretty lame… although Stefan the First Crowned of the Serbian Grand Principality sounds pompous enough to figure in a fantasy novel with a throne of swords and a few dragons.

Asia was pretty much set up as it is now: China, Korea, India, Japan…

Go back further, and I discover that 928 is a Porsche instead of a year. (Never having been a gear head, I still found that fascinating – some nights I’m easily amused.)

However, it was in 845 that the 42 Martyrs of Amorium were executed. Born that same year were Berengar of Italy, Liutgard of Saxony, Minamoto no Yoshiari, Oleg of Novgorod, and Sugawara no Michizane. There were probably other babies born that year, but nobody cares – not on the Internet, anyway.

You see? I wouldn’t have known all of that really cool stuff if it hadn’t been for the Internet.

More importantly, most of this stuff is so arcane and obscure that I have no way of knowing whether or not any of it is accurate or even real.

Indeed, unless you pull out your handy dandy spare brain and search the numbers yourself, you shouldn’t take it for granted that I haven’t made it all up myself.

Right alongside the fun facts and interesting history is a raft of garbage. Some of it is just plain silly – like the “hand of God” and goofy cat photos, or the predictions that the world is going to end… last week.

There are the proofs that extra-terrestrial beings were, are, or will be among us, or the definitive answers to the meaning of life.

Are we really humans? Or were we “seeded” here by an alien race that has been watching over us?

While that latter makes as much sense as a belief that we are the progeny of some Cosmic Clown who amuses himself by toying with us, it’s mostly quite harmless stuff – even amusing, if you’re in the habit of using your brain once in a while.

But not all of it is as much fun as a Porsche 928.

Salted in the mix are scams that have a way of catching a handful of people unawares – the ubiquitous bank account phishing, the fictitious autistic link that continues to sucker some parents into exposing their children to unnecessary health risks.

I don’t include in my list of dangerous hoaxes the supposed “proofs” that climate change isn’t happening, but it does surprise me how many people are taken in.

And I wonder how much impact that Internet-spawned ignorance has had on social preparedness for the new world we’re all facing.

I wonder what Sumangu and Rognvaldr would have made of the Internet… if they really existed, that is?


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