Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reliability: You Report; We Decide

Amused is the wrong word to describe my feelings, but my interest is piqued by the debate on methodology for arriving at credibility. I can picture a room of academics wringing their hands with concern that the masses are able to access and assess information without a “proper” gatekeeper to steer them across the flood gates in the river of converging media. I understand the concern. I am quite territorial about certain responsibilities of my own, and having the ground shift under my otherwise orderly existence would cause me to wring my hands and choose between fight and flight.

On the other hand, what is really changing?

In spite of the shifting role of the gatekeepers, information providers (including traditional gatekeepers) who can prove their worth in the open community are still going to be afforded credibility. The change seems to be that others who may not have academic credentials but who have experience in other ways will also have a stronger voice in their own credibility. Since the practice and process of acquiring credibility is still based on accuracy and reliability over time, those who have been gatekeepers should not fear. On the other hand, the environmental developments that provide others, who train themselves and become “experts” in their niche, with an opportunity to be heard and rise to the top are beneficial to the ongoing conversation. New ideas will come forth. Old ideas will be reaffirmed in new ways. No one will be able to rest on his laurels, as the “community” will continue the assessment and reevaluate credibility in an ongoing fashion. This is exciting!

I come from self-taught stock. As far as I know, I was the first female on either side of my family to earn a BA (and I think I was the first to have any college coursework). I’ve watched my mother and father be active life-long learners, and have a very strong (almost rabid at times) belief that too much stock is placed in the supposed credentials conferred by formal education. I also have a strong instinct against gatekeepers protecting me from myself; I’ve always felt there was a little tinge of intellectual elitism under the surface of many of the well-meaning gate keeping processes. I am therefore cautiously optimistic about a sea-change that provides for subject matter experts to be heard regardless of whether they come from the established community or are building a knowledge base on their own.

I do not fear misinformation or poor-quality sources. Even in the case of the ugly and ill advised message, I’d rather protect free speech and allow the community to decide the value of the message. There is more danger in limiting information than in limiting expression. The community will manage itself, even through the ugly bumps in the road and twists in the river, and the open conversation will be healthier.

Thus I ask myself the question:

In an environment shifting toward a new way of synthesizing credibility through reliability, i.e. an environment where reputation is built, tested, and debated in the open, how do we prepare to undertake the development of our standing in the community, our practice, and our track record so that we can come to the conversation, re-experience the information, reflect, and share in the learning as "reliable" participants? (Lankes, 2008)

I believe the answer will take years to discover and perfect. I don’t have the answer right now, but I am very hopeful that I am taking the first steps to finding it.

Lankes, R. David. “Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools." DigitalMedia, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 101–122.

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