Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the Crossroads: Searching the Internet

Selective searching... Is it a good thing? As the school year unfolds, many students will be learning how to use search engines more effectively and many teachers will be guiding their classes toward child-safe resources and even specific websites. I've always followed this technique as a path to wiser, more purposeful, Internet use. A recent radio report on religious search engines (covered on Yahoo News and other online news outlets, as well as Toronto's Star) made me think about this form of filtering the Web.

Jeannette DeMain, in her blog on September 21st at opensalon.com, crystallized what my mind has been playing with since I heard the item on NPR. She remarks that
the so-called moral search engines filter out views in opposition to those held by each of the religious groups affiliated with them. Therefore the user is isolated from diversity of ideas and opinion, with little need for original thought. The Internet is supposed to broaden our horizons, helping us to understand the similarities AND differences of people all over the world. Ms. DeMain's "Moral Search Engines - A Squeaky Clean Internet Experience!" is so well written that I'm annoyed with myself for waiting so long to write my own post. I recommend her column, if you have confidence in your own higher order thinking skills!

It's easy enough for any adult to find Internet news reportage from like-minded people. Sad as I think it is, people can certainly choose to read only the opinions and "facts" set out by conservatives, liberals, specific ethnic, gender, and religious groups.
If we do not look or listen to what others think, though, we will have a very narrow view of the world. If we do not challenge anything that's presented to us, on the Internet or in other media, there is little hope for better understanding and peace.

Use of moral search engines seems to not only "protect" specific groups from particular points of view, it shows little trust in the ability of individuals to think, make good choices, make mistakes, and to learn. I think I'm still in favor of guided searches for younger children as they navigate through Internet crossroads. They need to learn about proper choices and how to find accurate information on the Web. Adults, though, need to take the informational reins into their own hands. A well-educated grownup should be able to stay on the horse, or at least figure out how to get back into the saddle to get where she needs to go.

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