July 15, 2007
Web Site Readers Most Knowledgeable About Politics

It could be that more knowledgeable people are more likely to read the web. But I say down with TV and up with link-rich news sites.

As candidates and pundits look to the Internet in the 2008 presidential campaign, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study shows that Web users during the last election cycle had a more thorough understanding of presidential politics than users of other media.

"We did not find significant links between television news use and factual knowledge, but we did find significant links from both print and online use to factual knowledge in 2004," says the study by graduate student Kajsa Dalrymple and Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison journalism professor.

More importantly, however, online newspapers were the only medium that had significant effects on integrated knowledge - the ability of readers to "connect the dots" by combining bits and pieces of knowledge into a meaningful understanding of politics.

Writing web logs and connecting up the dots from newer posts back to older posts and to other sites has changed my mental model of many subjects very substantially. Reading 3 different dead tree newspapers a day would not have done that. I've discarded many incorrect opinions and moved on to better ones. I've been able to get answers to many questions I've had for years (and thanks to those readers who posted some of the answers in comments). So I'm mighty inclined to agree with the conclusions of this report.

Also, TV worthless for news? You bet. TV is there for the Sci Fi channel, the Comedy Channel, and the occasional good show or old movie on other channels. Don't try to treat TV seriously as a news source. You are likely to hurt your brain trying to do that.

People who are engaged in building web logs or cruising through news sites, web logs, policy analysis sites, and other web sources of information are able to find out answers and connect up the dots in ways that readers of the dead tree formats just can't do. The quality and quantity of data on the web keeps improving. Plus, the web provides a way for many specialists to tell us how to think through subjects that otherwise would be hard to navigate. Great voices that would never make it into the public square in the dead tree era find places to reach us on the internet. This is great.

The electronic access to data on web pages is a stepping stone. I treat my blog posts as an extended external memory bank. This extended memory bank makes me think that some day people will sign up to get cybernetic implants of nanodevice memory devices and network connections. The implants will provide people with instant access to large volumes of reference data and analytical tools for chomping through and formatting the data for viewing in their minds.

If we get implants that contain memory then we'll probably put different globs of data into our memory implants depending on what job we are doing. Change jobs or change work tasks at a job and suddenly it becomes time to update the contents of one's memory implant.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 15 01:07 PM  Comm Tech Society

K T Cat said at July 18, 2007 2:13 PM:

If you took a look at a transcript for an entire TV newscast, you could probably condense it all into about 3 or 4 pages. There just isn't a lot there. The four to six paragraphs a blogger writes on a single news item probably contains an order of magnitude more information.

Randall Parker said at July 18, 2007 8:30 PM:

KT Cat,

Yes, the news delivers very little volume of information. Also, the quality is poor. Plus, you can't choose which news items to listen to. You hear about what they decide and in the order they decide.

I expect pod casts will increase choice and quality.

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