I always pay attention to the fortunes I receive in fortune cookies – especially when they agree with what I already think!
Having collected nearly 17,000 quotations over a considerable number of years (which will never willingly be disclosed), I had never really stopped to consider that the Wisdom of the Ages was mine - that is, until I opened a fortune cookie and it told me so. My interest in collecting quotes was simply in being able to have a good quote at hand whenever I needed one.
Having hit upon the idea of carving my favorite quotes into wood panels, I carefully selected the first dozen or so to carve – only to learn as I researched them further that six of the first twelve were wrong. They were either wrongly attributed, wrongly quoted or simply wrong. Wrong as in entirely fictional!
Yes, a little setback for a dozen quotes, but a real eye-opener when you have 17,000!
Now, many of my quotes were collected during a time before thoughts of an internet had even entered Al Gore’s mind. They came from books of quotes, quotes reported in magazines and quotes found on and in buildings and from many other places over time. Problem was, many were simply wrong.
So along came the internet to sort things out – not. These wrong quotes of yesterday were placed on the internet and had babies, lots and lots of babies. After a time, some of the internet quotation sites have started to try to add some source information, but that is not necessarily always correct either. Sometimes, the sources are even identified as the books of collected quotes that were wrong before the first printing.
So where is this Wisdom of the Ages to be found? For me, I returned to more scholarly works in books, and even then, I confirm them again, preferring to see the original source and not a translation and even working with museums and scholars to dig back to the original source. Seeing the context of the quote is also interesting and enlightening. And yes, this work can be done on the internet. Google Books, Project Gutenberg, Wikiquote and other sites can be good sources to find and confirm quotes – but still be careful to get back as close to the original source as possible.
Recently, a major automaker based a television commercial entirely on a quote. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was wrong – well known and often repeated, but nonetheless wrong. Thankfully, the automaker pulled the ad in short order. Interestingly, a simple internet search for the quote pulled up an excellent scholarly site: The Quote Investigator. The quote had been debunked and quite thoroughly put to bed. This simple step by the automaker’s ad agency could have saved them both money and reputation (and perhaps a job or two).
So some things found on the internet can be true and correct.
The problem is, it takes effort to sort out what is right and what is not. Unfortunately, the accuracy of things found "out there" can range from correct to “pure fiction with malice of intent” with every shade of grey to be found along the way - and all of them multiplying out into the infinity of cyberspace and all future time.
Unfortunately, this is not just true for quotations. It is true of everything on the internet. And it is not just true for the internet, but for newspapers, news channels and all sorts of reading materials.
We are truly in the Information Age, but it is still the beginning of that age with the quality of the information highly questionable and the volume of it overwhelming. Perhaps it would be better to call it "The Age of Information Overload." Will we ever evolve and move into an "Age of Information Accuracy"? Sorry, but I wouldn't plan on it. Information, Misinformation and Disinformation can all serve various (and not necessarily all good) purposes. Witness the recent Presidential election which highlighted for many the curious, questionable and frightening ways in which our information is being found, stolen, hidden, created, prepared, spun, presented, digested and acted upon.
Recent criticism of misinformation reportedly proliferated through Facebook seems to have stirred Facebook’s leadership to take action. However, significant concern should always precede any effort by a large corporation (or government or the news media) to police the “truth.”
In these days and times, the individual who truly wants to be informed (and who out there wants to be misinformed?) must learn and work to be a prudent consumer of the vast amount of information now available to us.
Yes, the Wisdom of the Ages might now be at our fingertips, but it’s still going to take some work digging to get to at it - and we'll have to get our fingernails dirty.
To start, don’t listen to everything you read in your fortune cookie...
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