In August 1965, Robert Manning, wrote an article in the Atlantic after interviewing Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, and this was shortly after Hemingway had won the Nobel Prize in 1954. Reflecting on the interview that took place ten years prior, Manning wrote: “…Fiction-writing, Hemingway felt, was to invent out of knowledge. ‘To invent out of knowledge means to produce inventions that are true. Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down. If you’re going to write, you have to find out what’s bad for you. Part of that you learn fast, and then you learn what’s good for you.’”
“Crap detection,” as Hemingway described half a century ago, is what we are now faced with in teaching digital literacy to students when online search engines became available. The issue of information pollution is heightened as we sit our children down, and explain that most of the books they could get from the library are more likely to be counted on to be factually accurate, then when you enter words into a search engine. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a Google search will lead to accurate information, so it is of utmost importance that we teach our children to do some investigation before accepting information found online. It is necessary that children be educated to ask a few questions, and use other available tools online to investigate the answers, as opposed to accepting information as valid.
Not too surprising to discover that most children, and adults do not take much time to consider more than one source in evaluating a topic. Hemingway metaphorically provided a valuable suggestion, in advising authors doing research prior to written compilation in the 1960’s, and similar advice can be applied to 21st century digital literacy in assimilating information found quickly online to a favorable purpose. In those days, most people were able to identify the author, but now it is sometimes not very easy to identify who published the information. Consequently, in educating children, and adults reviewing information: ask a simple question, “Who is the author?” at the root, and validating a source with skepticism using an online site www.easywhois.com to find out who owns the site if there is no author listed. In closing, ask questions, to turn-up the credibility meter envisioned in your mind as you are reading, and dial back the skepticism by pondering who are the individuals whose opinions you are easily trusting online?