Using your critical judgement when learning on the internet

The internet is like that old joke where one person tells another, “I only tell the truth 50% of the time; it’s up to you to decide which 50%!”

There’s so much information instantly available to us, and it’s usually presented in an authoritative, confident manner. (“10 ways to blah balh blah,” “Here’s the definition of this or that,” “Learn how to yadda yadda yadda.”)

But how much of it is true? And how do we know what is relevant for our situation?

A piano student recently emailed me about an instructional video he found on YouTube. He was all excited to learn how to play jazz piano “Oscar Peterson-style,” as the video promised. When I watched the video, however, I immediately saw that the “instructor” was demonstrating a block chord style that was made famous by the great jazz pianist Erroll Garner, not Oscar Peterson. (Oscar Peterson did play in many different styles, but he rarely or never used the particular left hand technique that Erroll Garner made famous.) I did help my student learn to play like this, but only after I had him listen to several recordings of both Garner and Peterson, so he could hear the difference for himself.

A similar thing happens when we search the internet for medical information, for example. Let’s say I notice a rash on my skin. Well, if I search Google for information, I’ll find that I may have anything from a minor scrape to an allergic reaction or maybe even something much worse (hopefully not!). Even if I know this information is accurate, how do I know which applies to my particular situation? I can find the information, but I need a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.

By all means, let’s learn all we can from the internet. But at the same time, we need to use our critical judgement and to seek out expert help when we need it.

The great jazz pianist Erroll Garner isn’t so well known anymore, but at one time he was one of the world’s most famous musicians. Treat yourself to watching him play his song “Misty.”

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