There's a great scene in the Woody Allen movie "Annie Hall" in which Allen is listening to a man explaining the theories of media expert Marshall McLuhan while standing in a movie ticket line. Taking exception to the man's explanation, Allen walks over and produces McLuhan to debunk everything the man said.
He then says, wouldn't it be nice if we could actually do that in real life. In fact, in the modern Internet age, we can.
One of the most interesting aspects of modern life is what you might call time shifting. This idea came into being with the creation of the original VCR or video recorder in the 1980s. This device made time a relative concept, as a person could record a program or buy a movie and watch it any time.
The modern DVR has expanded this idea, but the basic concept is the same. We tend to take this for granted now, but for those of us who grew up in the 1950s it is an entertainment miracle.
I can recall my frustration as a child if I missed a program or musical performance on television, or if I was unable to attend a movie I wanted to see. Children today can't even imagine what that would be like, I'm sure, and that's a good thing.
The Internet has enabled a different sort of time shift as we can now instantly research almost anything we want online, bringing Woody Allen's wish to completion. There is one problem, however. Unlike a movie or program that is the same regardless of when or where we watch it, information is not so forgiving.
The wonder of the technologies that have enabled anyone to be a blogger or publisher online has also created a quality problem. You can find almost any desired information online, but you have to also determine its authenticity and truthfulness as well.
This is especially evident on the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. These services frequently are the medium for instant news updates and trending information. Their value became apparent in the recent uprisings around the world and the Japanese earthquake crisis. We are indeed fortunate to have these information avenues available.
One problem that becomes apparent with these services is that false or misleading information can be dispersed with equal speed and can result in chaos and misunderstanding. You also have the traditional problems with mean people spreading their unhappy messages online. Facebook is a particularly powerful medium for these harmful people, probably due to its ease of use and some of its users' tendency to believe almost anything if it's posted on Facebook.
As Facebook and other social networks evolve it will become more important to have a questioning attitude toward any post that is sensational or that brings up strong feelings and reactions. These services are trying to strike a balance to be fair and still informative and entertaining, but this will be more difficult as they grow and become even more important in their users' daily lives.