We live in a marvelous technological age, an age in which we have easy and ready access to almost every piece of information we could ever want.
Unfortunately, that easy access comes at a price. At a time when anyone with a computer and a little spare time can fake a video or photograph of practically anything, can you believe anything you see? In an age where the sharing of information is prized but the verification of said information is not (hello, Facebook), can you believe anything you read?
These were all issues that existed long before the Internet and computer technology — art forgeries, counterfeit money and goods, hoaxes of all kinds have existed pretty much as long as value has been associated with anything that humans treasure, be it physical items or ideas. Lying (and it’s gentler cousin Tricking) has existed since the dawn of time. Today’s technology just makes it easier, and the culture of the Internet encourages it. Think of all the well-intentioned people you’ve known who’ve passed on hoax emails or stories simply because they didn’t bother to conduct a tiny amount of research before forwarding.
I have a number of friends and pages I follow on Facebook who are prone to posting inspirational quotes that they’ve found on some quote site somewhere (or that someone had in turn forwarded to them). They don’t bother to consider whether or not the person they’re attributing the quote to actually ever said or wrote it. And so they propagate the misinformation even more. Often the true originator of the quote never gets credited. Occasionally it’s a quote I like, but I’d like to know the specifics before I re-use it. And I usually can’t find that. Tonight, I’ve been trying to find the origins of following quote typically attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” You can’t find the quote in that form (or anything similar) on sites that contain the texts of all of his works, such as rwe.org or Project Gutenberg. And the Wikiquotes discussion for his page is no help either. So it’s unlikely that it was something that came from Emerson, but it will be forever attributed to him all the same. Which is a shame, since it dilutes the impact and import of the words he *did* write.
- Falser Words Were Never Spoken, NY Times article by Brian Morton from August 2011 that discusses this very issue (I’ve come across this article several times over the last week or so, via different avenues)