In the current edition of The New Yorker (February 14), Adam Gopnik writes in How the Internet Gets Inside Us:
But, if cognitive entanglement exists, so does cognitive exasperation. Husbands and wives deny each other’s memories as much as they depend on them. That’s fine until it really counts (say, in divorce court). In a practical, immediate way, one sees the limits of the so-called “extended mind” clearly in the mob-made Wikipedia, the perfect product of that new vast, supersized cognition: when there’s easy agreement, it’s fine, and when there’s widespread disagreement on values or facts, as with, say, the origins of capitalism, it’s fine, too; you get both sides. The trouble comes when one side is right and the other side is wrong and doesn’t know it. The Shakespeare authorship page and the Shroud of Turin page are scenes of constant conflict and are packed with unreliable information. Creationists crowd cyberspace every bit as effectively as evolutionists, and extend their minds just as fully. Our trouble is not the over-all absence of smartness but the intractable power of pure stupidity, and no machine, or mind, seems extended enough to cure that.
Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, echoing Gopnik by calling the whole thing The Power of Pure Stupidity, brings this to our attention, including much of the above paragraph (just in case we don’t read The New Yorker) and tells us that James Joyner of Outside the Beltway also adds (after repeating much of the above paragraph):
It’s probably the single most frustrating thing about blogging: Even long-settled facts are still subject to “debate,” and it’s now easier than ever to link to “authoritative” accounts “proving” things that are wildly wrong.
So the big question is this: Am I on the side that is right or on the side that is wrong but doesn’t know it? No need for cognitive exasperation, though. Trust me. I’m right. I’m not stupid. Just accept it.
BTW: The Wikipedia page on the Shroud of Turin is indeed packed with unreliable information. And I’ve seen information on this page change in radical ways three or four times in a single day.