Question 213 of 365: Where is the asterisk?

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Asterisk
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I have never understood infomercials. While they may be fun to watch or poke fun at every once in a while, I have never for a moment wanted one of those products bad enough to want to “call and order right away.” I know that there probably is a market for the products that they are selling, otherwise they wouldn’t be so ever-present. I just never could see myself as their target audience. I always just assumed that their target audience weren’t the type of people who looked for an asterisk. They weren’t the folks who really paid attention to the fine print or the incredibly fast talking at the end of every infomercial that explained just how different actual results and the results on the television could be. I have always looked for and listened to such things, even if I did not head their advice.

I first started looking for asterisks when I bought a super long range frisbee called the Arobe (or something like that). It claimed to be the farthest reaching frisbee in the world. I learned very quickly that this claim was pretty false whenever I threw it. Sure, it went farther than most of the frisbees I had thrown, but it was all in who was throwing it that made it a world record holder. I couldn’t propel the thing much further than the length of my parent’s lawn.

That first asterisk led me to be skeptical of nearly every claim that came after, including those infomercials. But, I have been noticing a severe lack of asterisks in the claims that people are making every day now about their value and their contributions. For example, there are almost no asterisks in either the Android or Apple app stores. The apps do what they claim to do, except when proven otherwise. There are no claims of “your results may differ” when it comes to describing or creating the new “killer app.” And frankly, without the healthy dose of skepticism that I have learned from buying frisbees and watching over the top infomercials, I would be buying a whole lot of crappy ideas and applications.

I would like to start seeing asterisks at the bottom of blog posts and news articles with the biases of the author. I would like to start seeing them crop up as links to opposing viewpoints. To me, the web is one big claim that each idea holds the same amount of truth as the next. Every site is proclaiming to have the right information or the right tool or the right context to fit your needs at the moment. But, without an asterisk on each on of those proclamations, there isn’t anything that can be said to be fully true.

It is the asterisks that make our claims believable. While they may not be entirely convincing with them in there, it is what makes it okay to go out on a limb and state fantastic successes without being delusional. The asterisk is what gives us the freedom to go from ingredients to finished product without having to show all of the steps in between. And yet, the asterisks are so implied online that we forget that they are there at all.

Twitter is not a life stream. (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for all of the times that are not spent tweeting).

Wikis are not completely democratic (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for all of the edit wars and bias of any given article.)

News websites do not have the definitive version of the news (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for citizen journalism).

Comments and Web Traffic are not the measures of success or importance (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for quiet authorship and appreciation that goes beyond simple popularity).

You get my point. The missing asterisks online are too numerous to count. And I would like to start seeing them pop up so that we can proclaim loudly that “results may vary”, even online*.

*I would like to state my bias for this post. I do not believe everything I read online, but I know a lot of people who do. I look down on those people, and in that sense, I am an elitist.

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