Information Age. We exult in the availability of information.
We wallow in it, like the proverbial pig in a puddle. We've gone
from faucet to floodgate, from drizzle to downpour, from trickles
to torrents of information. This is good, right? Information is
the oil of the new economy, lubricating the engines of commerce
and turning us from know-nothing Neanderthals into bit barons
and number-crunching data wranglers.
last decade, the global reach of the Internet has created an information
clearinghouse of staggering proportions. But consider:
as e-mail comes to be used by most everyone (didn't take very
long to happen, did it?), fewer seem to be able to keep up with
the flow. The signal-to-noise ratio has become increasingly unbalanced,
and if the Subject line doesn't grab us we just [Delete] instead
>> electronic scanners search millions of resumés
submitted to thousands of Web sites, but if they don't contain
certain keywords they're invisible. And more organizations than
ever say they can't find quality employees.
>> search engines keep falling further behind in their
Sisyphean efforts to index the Web, and it's a formidable challenge
to glean meaningful information while online.
>> the use of e-mail faces increasing restrictions,
as those who create destructive viruses exploit the weaknesses
of systems created with something less than security in mind.
point in history, our ability to generate information has outpaced
our ability to comprehend it. We're driven to make sense of it
all, to shape and sort and classify information into systems we
can use. From the days of writing on cave walls to the creation
of XML, we've tried to do a better job of comprehending the information
at hand. The thing is, we've become so good at creating information
that it's piling up faster than promises in a political campaign.
has become indiscriminate, miscellaneous with a capital M, composed
of all sorts of things--it has become cheap, and it knows no restrictions.
It has become promiscuous. If education has been cheapened through
the distribution of diplomas, perhaps information has been cheapened
by the explosion of the Web and the distribution of Web browsers.
limits to the amount of information we can comprehend? Perhaps
in a restricted period of time, yes, but I don't think our brains
spill like overfilled glasses of milk. Instead, they seem to exhibit
the on-or-off, yes-or-no characteristics of binary data systems
(hmmm--better be careful here), although we also absorb information
without being aware of it, as anyone who has ever worked a crossword
puzzle can testify.
But as we
dig deeper, the tapestry of digital information seems to be somewhat
limited, perhaps because the fibres from which it's woven are
but one-dimensional threads. Perhaps it's because we see information
in binary terms, and we haven't yet comprehended its other dimensions.
Perhaps it's because we're focused on "the only real numbers--the
ones and the zeroes," as songwriter Danny O'Keefe so deftly put
started deriving knowledge from information, and gaining wisdom
from knowledge is a challenge of significantly greater magnitude.
T.S. Eliot, one of the more notable Western poets of the 20th
century, wrote the following more than 65 years ago:
is the Life we have lost in living?
is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
from The Rock
envisioning the future, or just reacting to the information overload
of his time? I don't know for sure, but I'm fairly certain that
wisdom can't be taught--it comes from an internal place.
voice can be drowned out as easily as any other, and it won't
shout to make itself heard. As the cacophony of knowledge and
information washes over us like a great tsunami, we should listen
more carefully than ever.
© 2000 Stephen Wacker. All Rights Reserved
Stephen Wacker at email@example.com
regarding use of this copyrighted material.
Wacker writes about technology, culture, society and music from
the upper left-hand corner of the United States. He's a writer,
a communications technology analyst, a songwriter and guitarist,
although not always in that order.
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