A postmortem on armadillos

Blogger’s note: This is a repost of last Monday’s post, which disappeared when I tried unsuccessfully to make a change in the copy via IPad. I am hopeful that tomorrow’s regular Thursday post will end the saga of the armadillo and the bad luck I’ve had recently with these posts.

If you subscribe to this blog and were near your computer or IPad about 7:30 a.m. yesterday, you would have heard a little ping. Something had been delivered to your in box. When I heard the little ping, I — intensely curious — checked to see what it was.

Much to my surprise, the blog post Armadillos, leprosy and Gandhi that that I was working on for Monday had suddenly and unexpectedly leapt from my computer to the Internet and into your many email boxes.

First, I panicked. Secondly, I corrected my grammar. And finally, not knowing if WordPress has an “undo” function, I decided to just make the best of it.

Honestly, I don’t know how it happened. I had a little glitch on my screen and must have done something — but I had not clicked the little blue “publish” button. (Actually, at the precise moment, I was looking for a picture of an armadillo, so it’s his fault.*)

Although I hadn’t finished writing my post, my little computer glitch was just the kind of thing that affirmed where I was going in the post.

Alvin Toffler in Future Shock promoted the idea of “information overload.” Anyone who spends any time on the Internet, understands the concept. We are also assaulted daily in the working world with emails. My telephone at work feels a bit like a little dinosaur sitting on my desk. It hardly ever rings — my little telesaurus. Instead, I receive emails galore every day from the New York Times, NOAA, Facebook, the Washington Post, and a lot from JMU. And the Internet is like an encyclopedia the size of Africa.

Back in the 1990s, I remember writing a story about what Madison freshmen were required to learn. One course familiarized them with the library and its offerings. Part of that course included information on how to navigate the avalanche of information available on the Internet. While that was a long time ago and I don’t remember all the details, I do remember that students were taught to consider the source of the information they found. In other words, a website promoting a product by the manufacturer of that product might be suspect. It sounds like a simple — almost a “duh” — concept. But surprisingly, far too many people believe everything they read.

Benjamin Franklin’s old adage “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” needs a modern addendum: “fact check everything you read — especially on the Internet.” Information can be whole-hearted, half-baked — or half-finished, as in my case. Because I am naturally skeptical, I find myself reading web addresses with a certain critical eye. I’m also careful about where I get my information. Some sources I trust more than others: the Mayo Clinic, NIH, original sources, NPR (especially their science reporting) to name a few. For straight news I bounce between multiple sources trying to ferret out what’s true and what’s hyped. It’s quite a challenge sometimes. I’m very skeptical of 30-second reports on complex stories, and I always look askance at sensational headlines. “Breaking news” is always suspect and ironically requires time to sort out what’s true and what’s not.

Sometimes everybody gets duped. Last week’s pandemic posting of the mashed Martin Luther King quote is a case in point, although the massive “viral” reposting did say a lot about our collective attitudes about the Bin Laden killing.  The quote wasn’t completely accurate, but the sentiment was thoughtful and well-considered.

On balance, though, when it comes to information, skepticism is not a bad tool. Whether it’s looking for information about armadillos or Mohandas Gandhi or leprosy, we all have to be discerning of what we find. JMU’s Gandhi Center, by the way, is not researching leprosy — or armadillos.

But JMU is teaching students to understand what’s valuable information and what’s junk.

* P.S.. About my Sunday morning glitch….I also wrote an article once about blaming the computer. “There are no computer mistakes,” I wrote with authority, quoting a computer expert. “There are only human mistakes.” Maybe so, but I’m still blaming the armadillo.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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