Thursday, August 29, 2013

Me Being Right

The internet is only as good an information source as the information that people put on the internet. Duh, I know. It's just that sometimes people seem to attach a sort of weight to stuff on the internet that may not be justified.

Often the information that people put on the internet is stunningly good. Or at least passably good. But sometimes, if the actual information that people have to put there is quite sparse, or mistaken, it's...not that good.

Following is a dramatically paraphrased version of an exchange I recently had:

ME: That photo you've identified as person X is not X, it's actually person Y.

PERSON: Explain how!

ME: Gladly. You see, the archives holds a vintage 19th century copy of that very photo, signed in pen "Yours, etc., Y." I take this as solid evidence that the photo depicts Y, rather than X, who is nowhere mentioned on it.

PERSON: We got this copy from someone who told us it was X. Also, Google Images has it with X's name. So basically, conflicting information, and we're going to leave the identification as is.

ME: Suit yourself. I'll just be up here thinking to myself about how wrongity wrong wrong you are, unless I can find some evidence suggesting that X was in the habit of signing Y's name to his photos.

I mean, yeah, I get that it's a pain to change a whole display (especially since there's no known photo of X to replace the current--wrong--one), and seriously, the guy's been dead for 150 years no matter who he was so it's not as if anyone is going to know the difference.

And sure, conflicting information, that happens. Sometimes--kind of a lot of times, actually--it's impossible to be sure who's in an old picture. But I have this PRIMARY SOURCE, signed in the very hand of Y (or X, if he liked to sign Y's name...maybe this was a thing they did for fun), and you have...Google Images, and someone who had a copy of this picture and thought it was X.

Gimme a vintage 19th century copy of the same photo signed "Yours, etc., X," and you have conflicting information. When you have rumors and a vague internet reference versus a PHYSICAL ITEM with CONTEMPORARY IDENTIFYING INFORMATION on it, you being wrong.

Sorry about all the shouting. I just think this is kind of hilarious.

Don't get me wrong, I love the internet to pieces and I have every intention of literally marrying it as soon as that inevitably becomes legal (we've had same-sex marriage in Massachusetts for a while, so any minute now). But loving someone or some combination of software and networked servers means recognizing the flaws as well as the good things.