One popular segment of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was "Mr. Know-It-All", in which the cheery Minnesotan moose would display his slightly-less-than-encyclopedic knowledge of something or other, usually with dire results. (Bullwinkle on stereo systems: "This is the amplifier, which amplifies the sound. And this is the preamplifier, which, of course, amplifies the pree.")
For some reason, I felt compelled recently to amplify my own pree, and I started hanging out on Yahoo! Answers, a "knowledge-market" Web site which is, depending on your perspective, either a wonderful fusing of Wiki thinking and social networking, or a librarian's worst nightmare. To expand on the latter:
While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren't true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It's every middle-school teacher's worst nightmare about the Web.
And that's before the screen and a half full of legal disclaimers.
Regular readers will note that I'd done this sort of thing before, at the now-defunct WHquestion site. A few days ago, I mentioned what I was up to, prompting this response from Bill Quick:
What's especially discouraging at these wiki-style "wisdom of crowds" sites is the quality of the crap being passed off as authoritative answers.
As of this writing, I've answered 276 questions, 56 of which were voted "best." This is not a particularly high ratio twenty percent but it's probably the best I can expect, given my tendency toward preachiness and my occasional descent into snark for snark's sake. I've tried to confine myself to subjects I know something about: cars, basketball, Web sites. But once in a while something comes along that I can't ignore:
First of all, let me just say that when people see me walking down the street, they have no idea how self consious I am. I am almost 20 years old, attending college and so many people have told me I was so beautiful, had a good body or should be a model all of my life but underneath it all, I feel like an ugly fat girl. I come from a good family, didnt have a bad childhood, my parents never beat me, some of my happiest memories were when I was a kid. I heard that college is supposed to be the best time of my life but I have never been so depressed. Im very independent so I have ZERO close friends. Dont get me wrong, I literally know hundreds of people but when I ask them to hang out, they never want to and I think that something must be wrong with me. I was raped last year by a guy at a party and now I want to stay away from sex at least for another year. My ex boyfriend, who I lost my virginity to messed with my emotions so much that I literally cried for 6 months. I thought I found a man I really liked and who genuinely cared for me, but he ended up dumping me because I was not ready for sex. My academic life is going down the drain and I feel like I am getting dumber by the minute, I just cant focus I think I might have ADD. I just get so lonely here, I have never been so depressed in my life and I have no friends I can share this with that I have thought about suicide so many times. The only thing that is keeping me going are my family, I love my parents to death and I know it would be devastating to them. How can I overcome my insecurities and get my life back on track?
In 1986 (!), I spent about three hours in a chat room as part of a concerted effort to talk someone out of this sort of thing, and that was back when three hours in a chat room cost $15 to $20 if you were lucky. I have no idea why this one caught my eye it was in Health > Mental Health, an area about which I know less than either Moose or Squirrel but I had to say something. And so I did:
There's a disconnect between the way your life was going beforehand and the way it's going now, and it's entirely the fault of that guy at the party. You didn't cause any of this: he did. He didn't think about whether he was going to ruin your life or anything like that: he just got what he wanted and disappeared into the night. "Something must be wrong with me"? No. Something was wrong with him, and he took it out on you.
If I did actually help someone, I figure it was worth it.
And now, here's something we hope you'll really like.
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Copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Hill