Those of us who have been around long enough to remember life before the internet lived through the transition in which our lives began to shift from a physical world to an online world.
There was a time when everything one found online was fresh and new.
Lately, I have observed increasing evidence that the internet is becoming a virtual wasteland of outdated or inaccurate information.
There is a wealth of good information out there too, more than at any point in the past, but we need to be careful to make sure the information we are seeing is current.
That isn’t always as easy as one might hope.
Back in the days when we relied on reference books, for example, we could check the copyright date and use this to help determine how much corroborating evidence we should seek to verify the information.
Physical documents were often dated, as were newspapers and other periodicals.
Today, however, it can be more challenging to determine when information was published.
To complicate things further, technology makes it easy to copy and paste data into different formats that may be completely unrelated to the original source.
That’s part of how some misinformation continues to resurface, even though it has long since been proved false.
It starts with something that is either partially true, or possibly completely untrue, being posted online. This may involve things such as conspiracy theories or urban legends.
Then, a bunch of people who don’t take the time to verify anything forward the misinformation and it spreads across the internet like a plague. We even have a name for it going viral.
Perhaps eventually enough people do bother to check the information and post contradictory information, and the erroneous information seems to go away.
Later, someone else may stumble across it, and the whole process starts again.
Often, the information is propagated by well-intentioned people who simply don’t bother to check the accuracy of what they are forwarding.
There are also individuals and groups that deliberately post misinformation to further their own agendas.
They rely on the fact that most people won’t bother to verify information, even though there are many ways to do so.
People who deliberately circulate misinformation also tend to use language and images designed to play upon the emotions of unsuspecting people who circulate the lies without stopping to think about it.
Sadly, it has become obvious that if a message is consistent with a person’s beliefs or point of view, he will often forward it without caring if it is true, or, worse still, even if he knows it to be untrue.
Not everyone would do this, but evidence suggests that a lot of people do, even people who should know better.
When we consider the topic of digital detritus, a lot of the clutter out there is the result of things that simply aren’t updated.
It is human nature to get excited about things that are shiny and new, so people may put a lot of energy into creating a new web page or online profile.
It is much less exciting to think about maintaining these things on a regular basis. Maintenance is boring.
It’s the same reason politicians always want to be seen at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and ground-breaking events, but don’t want to get involved when it comes to funding the maintenance of those infrastructure projects when the time comes.
Much of the time, it is simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Our needs and habits change over time, so we may not look at some parts of a website on a regular basis.
Perhaps we set up a profile on a certain platform that makes sense to us at the time, but later lose track of it.
I’ve noticed that several times recently on a certain networking site.
For example, I often get invitations to congratulate one of my contacts on a work anniversary, when I know full well that person hasn’t worked at the company in question for several years.
Another example of this is when a social networking site suggests I wish a person a happy birthday and the person has been dead a couple years. That creeps me out.
Short of conducting a seance, I’m not sure how to send greetings to a dead person.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m confident that after I shuffle off this mortal coil, I won’t be checking Facebook, and I suspect my friends won’t, either.
The detritus of outdated data on the internet will continue to grow, and it will be up to us to remain vigilant as we navigate through it.