Editorial comment (2007-01-07): nowadays this site is becoming more and more like a standard personal blog/website and these comments are therefore of decreasing relevance compared to when I made my first sally onto the web in the late 1990s with the pages on the WTO. Nevertheless I have kept this ‘polemic’ present and intact as it still reflects fairly accurately my general feelings on the subject of information on the â€˜net.
As you may have noticed this website is rather short of fancy graphics, animated dogs, bouncing balls, rollover icons etc. This is because our philosophy is that what is important is CONTENT. It is NOT about the fancy bells and whistles, the flash plug-ins, and all the other meretricious tartuffery of the modern web (All together now: ‘Oh for the days of Usenet/ When it was knowledge simple and pure/ … ).
What is important?
This is our philosophy: to provide reliable information simply and clearly, in a form that is well-documented and open.
The internet and the web were created to promote these aims, to allow people to get at information. But steadily this purpose has been subverted by superficial glitz, meretricious tartuffery, and the rest, all the fancy graphics, animated dogs, bouncing balls and rollover icons. The surface has become the substance. The world of usenet has become the modern web - a medium now primarily used for shopping, pornography, and the worship of celebrity (It is significant that the verb coined for moving about the the net is ‘to surf’, connoting, as it does, rapid jumping from one place to the next, one bite of information to the next).
And yet amongst the murky debris of the consumerist orgy huge amounts of real information still exist. This new technology is a two edged sword. We can use it to enslave ourselves further to all that is shallow in a shallow age. But we can also use it as a tool for good, above all in promoting democracy of knowledge, that is the opening to all of the information necessary to weigh arguments and make judgements – the web, just like the printing press, has radically expanded the accessibility and lowered the cost of information.
Aside: This is another reason why the vast amount of graphics and glitz on the modern web is a bad thing: it makes the web less accessible rather than more accessible. For all those who only have access to dial-up or similar speed internet connections graphics laden sites are either painfully slow or simply inaccessible. They must endure an experience that is more akin to surfing mud. Thus, not only does this superabundance of glitz encourage a soundbite mentality but it also functions as an effective device of social exclusion for it will be the less well off countries and the less well off memebers of society that are unlikely to have access to high speed internet connections.
Note 1: Verifiability (also known as Drill-Down) is the ability to discover the source of data or information. Who reported it, when, and where. Crudely it means footnotes, references, bibliography - the ability to check and verify for yourself the sources for whatever claims are being put forward.
Last Updated: 2007-01-07