Sunday, February 24, 2013

Internet Revitalized

While doing some research on the web the other day, I came across a site that revitalized the beauty of the Internet. I was becoming increasingly concerned that the Internet (which was invented to simplify the exchange of knowledge and to increase accessibility of academic information) no longer serves its intended purpose, and instead has become merely a cesspool of social networking. The website, however, exhibits social networking at its finest.

You can easily figure out the details of the site by playing around with it, so I’ll shall spare you of an in depth explanation. Instead, I’ll tell you why I personally find it useful.

As an individual with a less than popular opinion on religion, I don’t often come across people who share my beliefs just by chance. I can Google search topics, but then only the big names show up in the results: Dawkins, Dennet, Harris… But with Diigo, I can find a multitude of everyday individuals who share my interests and exchange ideas and information with them simply by bookmarking pages I find interesting.

So, upon searching for some likeminded individuals, I entered “psychology, philosophy, science, religion, atheism” and voila, hundreds of matches. One of the first results was for a user named Todd Suomela, who was one of very few to include both a short bio and a profile picture (of a stormy blue and orange sky, naturally). Intrigued, I clicked on the link to Todd’s library to find that he has bookmarked over 13,000 web pages! And he adds new ones daily, sometimes more than one a day.

I realized at this point that this guy could save me a lot of time. I can search tags for topics he has bookmarked to find things that interest me, without having to sift through thousands of pages on a search engine. Better yet, for instances where I’m really pressed for time, Todd has highlighted and annotated articles.

For example, Todd bookmarked an article from 2007 written by Jonathan Haidt entitled “MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION”. It’s somewhat lengthy and I stumbled across it (via Todd) at a point in time where I was much too occupied to read the whole thing. But through Diigo, Todd had highlighted about 5 takeaway points from the article. These highlights made me realize that the article would be worth returning to, so I did.

Haidt argues that, while he is an atheist himself, Dawkins and Harris have been too unforgiving of modern religious conservatives. In their respective books, Dawkins and Harris argue that religion does much more harm than good in establishing a moral framework. Haidt, disagrees, noting that religion does foster morality, but a different kind of morality from the secular liberals’ idea.

Sam Harris wrote a response article both for his own defense and to support the ideals of the “new atheists”. He retorts that Haidt had simply misunderstood the comments on the religious conservative sect and that in reality, the new atheists simple feel “the point is that religion remains the only mode of discourse that encourages grown men and women to pretend to know things they manifestly do not (and cannot) know”.

I found this debate fascinating, primarily because it featured opposing members of the same team. And since the two articles are from over five years ago, I likely would not have found them easily without the unsolicited and voluntary help of my Diigo friend, Todd.

The other major benefit of this site and of searching through users is that you can access interesting information you may never have searched for on your own. In Todd’s bookmarks, I came across the WordPress blog of a teacher about her experimentation with different teaching methods. I doubt I’d have ever come across something so obscure and interesting without Todd’s recommendation. And this is only one user of the site. Diggo has thousands of users, and hundreds that match the interests I searched. I look forward to seeing what else I can find. I’m thrilled that websites like this exist to revitalize the true beauty of social networking and worldwide communication.

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