Crap Detection 101, by Howard Rheingold, is an article on how online search engines often mislead us by providing us with false information. This article was written as a blog post in June 2009 for the SFGate – a news outlet in San Francisco. Rheingold expresses his fear for the future of the Internet and its ability to provide credible information. He believes that they key to solving this problem is a society with proficient information literacy. In getting information through search engines, he believes we need to identify the credibility of the authors, sources, and facts of our search results. He outlines strategies that users of search engines can use to do so. To Rheingold, information literacy is imperative to a democratic system where the people hold power.
Howard Rheingold wrote several books on the powers of the human mind before venturing into the relationship between technology and the brain. His early publications include Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Amplifiers in 1984 and Virtual Reality in 1991. Both books spoke about artificial experiences the Internet can provide us with. Rheingold invented the term “virtual community”, and went on to become a consultant for virtual community building. He served as the editor in chief of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, and Executive Editor of HotWired – a commercial web magazine that measures the effectiveness of online advertising and applies web analytics. In 1996, he founded Electric Minds – an interactive web site that evaluates the effects of modern technology and allows people to join in online conversations.
Rheingold now works as a guest lecturer and has taught many courses on the media and collective action at well-known universities, including Stanford, UC Berkeley, and De Montfort University in the UK. He also teaches online courses through Rheingold U. He did a TED talk titled “Way New Collaboration” and has a YouTube channel covering a range of topics. He won the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning competition in 2008. Currently, he focuses on learning and teaching 21st Century literacy.
Rheingold’s courses on collective action and his effort to make all of his websites interactive pubic forums show his strong commitment to democracy. He clearly believes in the power of the people and that an informed public is a powerful political force. He helps people understand what they must know about their businesses, personal lives, political freedoms and social values. He believes “the noise death of the internet is something we can take on and win” (Rheingold, 2009). But, we as consumers of online information must work harder to find the truth.
Taking Rheingold’s background into consideration, his motivation for writing Crap Detection 101 seems to be purely informative, as well as a call for readers to take action. He is attempting to teach readers about the dangers of search engines through his blog post because information literacy is something he cares about. We should be confident in the methods the article outlines, because Rheingold has clearly spent a lot of time studying this particular topic and he has experience in teaching people about what we find online.
Rheingold, H. (2009, June 30). Crap Detection 101. City Brights. Retrieved from http://blog.sfgate.com/rheingold/2009/06/30/crap-detection-101/
Rheingold, H. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rheingold.com/howard/
Rheingold, H. (1996). Electric minds. Retrieved from http://www.rheingold.com/electricminds/html/