I’ve been watching this season of Survivor with a certain amount of boredom. The Survivors are just not that interesting to me and many of the challenges have been done and done again. The only thing that isn’t boring me is Coach, and that’s because I find him to be horribly irritating. He’s arrogant and egocentric and, well… a bit bizarre. This past week, Coach told a fantastic story of being dropped into the Amazon rainforests, being attacked by natives and narrowly escaping with his life. He then goes on to demo a brand of martial arts that he claims is so secret that you must be taught directly by the Tibetan monks themselves. He very specifically says that you can’t Google it. Now, to say I found his stories absurd is an understatement. While I may be willing to believe that he has had some wonderful adventures, I don’t believe the details. I suspect that he may be embellishing the stories somewhat to make them more interesting. Whatever. The truely amazing part of the story has nothing to do with Coach at all.
I’ve been poking around on various forums, trying to see if anyone has evidence of Coach’s grand deeds. Certainly there must be news of a man being attacked by sharks, nearly eaten by natives, etc. These things can’t have gone totally unnoticed, especially for a man who seems quite keen on building up a media persona. [For those that doubt his claim to a kayaking world record, I did find this article on the subject: http://www.marrder.com/htw/mar97/national.htm]. What I found was a whole lot of people declaring him a liar because they can’t verify his claims on Google. More than one person (seriously) exclaimed, “A martial art you can’t find on Google?! Yeah, right.” Although I don’t personally believe coach, I had to do a double-take.
Oh, dear. The day has come where people honestly believe that if you can’t find it on Wikipedia or Google, it doesn’t exist. I suspect that most of my readers know this already, but for those that don’t…
Wikipedia is a community-edited information source. What you see on Wikipedia is what the most recent editor (i.e. pretty much anyone who wants to edit) wanted you to see. Wikipedia is not, in any academic circle I know of, considered a reliable source. Now, what is genius about Wikipedia is that, in general, the community based model works. When false information is presented, others frequently notice it and make the appropriate changes. Unfortunately, you can’t really know when the information is true or false (this is true of any information source, actually) and there are probably numerous examples where popular memory has won out over the absolute facts. The bottom line is that Wikipedia cannot be considered a valid information source and is simply not a exhaustive encyclopedia of human experience. Not finding information in Wikipedia doesn’t make that information false.
The fact that Google has become an all-knowing entity in the minds of many is more than a little frightening to me. Google is even less reliable than Wikipedia in many ways because it shows you a vast representation of what is out there on the Internet. There is a lot of crap out there on the Internet. Determining what is true and false on Google isn’t always easy to do. Even if you find multiple sources that state the same thing, there is no way to know if they are indeed accurate, or if they took their information from the same inaccurate source. Most importantly, when something doesn’t appear on Google, that simply means that someone hasn’t created a web page for it.