“In our Internet-driven society, surfing the network is not the most difficult step in the process. The really difficult step lies in knowing where to go, where to search for what we want to find and what to do with what we find. And this requires training.”
Searching for information on the Internet has become an inherent part of our daily life. The digital revolution changed relationships in the production and transmission of knowledge as much as the printing press did back in the 15th century, or even more so. Innovations unfailingly change the course of history and determine how future generations will live. In the past, many people could see the reason for learning to read and write thanks to the widespread, cheaper distribution of written texts, and now we are facing the need to be skilful in searching for and finding information on the Internet.
This process is rather more complex than just introducing a few keywords in a search engine. The user should acquire and develop skills that enable him/her to precisely focus the search goals (what do I want this for? Which format do I prefer?), choose the most suitable instruments (generic search engines or specialized search engines, alternative electronic sources, etc.) and thus lay out a global search strategy that enables him/her to reach the desired goal by choosing the most appropriate terms.
Once we have reached this point, we will need to validate the reliability, update status and rigour of the information we found and contrast it, if necessary, with other sources or formats. In the final stage, we will need to know how to manage results to focus them and use them properly.
Searching for and finding information on the Internet is, therefore, a step-by-step, thinking-intensive process, and by practicing it we will be able to strengthen essential skills and abilities, in particular if our interests focus on knowledge areas that are somewhat complex.
The digital arena has some particular features, and for this reason information research requires several strategies and protocols that allow for obtaining the desired results. Some of the most relevant aspects in this dynamic environment are listed below:
- The increase of the information flow, which tends to grow exponentially.
- The decentralisation of the contents available on the Internet, which turns each user into a content producer and that even fosters the collective creation of information.
- The changeability of contents, whereby they may never be considered finished and require constant check-ups and modifications.
- The lack of validation and certification for much of the information that may be found on the Internet.
These specific features push users towards honing their critical thinking skills and questioning the elements they find so that they may consider themselves proficient in finding, processing, validating and organizing data that allow for a real creation of knowledge.