The insidious rise of the Internet….

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Bob, I think I we should give this up as I can’t get a wireless connection and I couldn’t be bothered to talk to anyone.”
Source of Picture: Faculty.SMU.Edu

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……and the effect on the quality of data and analysis is one of my big concerns – particularly at a time like this when petrochemical markets are becoming harder to fathom (many thanks to Andrew Keen and his excellent book, The Cult Of The Amateur).

The overwhelming volume of information on the Internet has led to the emergence of a new breed of journalist/company researcher/data gatherer.

No longer is it necessary to speak to people on the telephone and/or to interview them face-to-face.

Instead it is possible for the clever writer/researcher to compile an article from an Internet search. You can cobble together a convincing story (on the surface at least) by lifting data, analysis – and even quotes – without checking the accuracy for yourself.

The benefit of direct contact with multiple sources is that with experience and over time you get to work out who is reliable and who isn’t from your assessment of character and motives etc; in other words, intuition.

There is no substitute for getting out of your comfy chair and travelling through the Chinese hinterland in search of the Holy Grail – real inventory levels (that’s unless, of course, you are frightened of someone finding out that you are fraud with very little sincere knowledge of and interest in what you do).

Yahoo Messenger etc have further eroded the need for direct contact – again, taking away the human interaction which I believe is essential to get good quality information.

Now we have a generation of journalists/researchers who are spoilt – and I am sure overwhelmed also – by all the free information out there. Because you’ve never had to get off your proverbial rear end to tell a convincing story to your boss, you quite probably don’t even know how to.

And more recently we have seen the emergence of an army of amateur and totally untrained citizen journalists, researchers and “experts” who can witness the riots in Burma from the comfort of their armchairs and nobody will be able to tell the difference (in other words, they make it up).

I was talking to a corporate relations officer of a certain International Oil Company the other week. He told me how one of his senior executives was so disgusted by the banality of the questions being asked that he gave the interviewer his business card back and said, “I think you should recycle this.”

I once suggested to someone that while the Internet was of course essential (who would want to go back to parchment after William Caxton came along?), an experiment should be tried with young journalists/researchers/analysts etc.

I suggested that we should switch off the Internet, give them only a telephone, a travel budget and a list of contacts, along with some hard-copy resources, and assess whether they were able to assemble original and accurate information.

We could then offer training for those who fell below the mark. He accused me of being an “Old Fart”.

But I am not sure how much of this was motivated by the fear of telling the Emperor he really had no clothes as opposed to a genuine belief that I was wrong.

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