Drowning in Information But Starved for Knowledge

I wish I had said that but that is not my line.  It is a quote from author John Naisbitt who said that in his 1982 book Megatrends with Patrica Aburdene.  Pretty much everything he predicted in that book has come true.  The book is still a good read today.  And the quote may be even more important today than it was back then thanks to this thing we call the Internet.  Let’s face it guys, we are being over served by technology.

If you have ever been over served at the bar or a party, you know what that feels like.  Maybe now you know why you feel like you do as we are all being over served information-wise on a daily basis.  The tsunami of information overload.  We are being blitzed from all directions at home, work and even on the go.  We are drunk with excessive facts and data and in most cases we don’t know what they all really mean.  Worse yet, most of us don’t seem to be doing anything about it.  Instead we are just trying to cope.  I wonder sometimes if, as a writer/editor for this magazine, I am just contributing to this problem or helping to solve it.

Of course, it is a good thing to have so much information at our finger tips.  There is very little we can’t find out within seconds with a Google, Yahoo or Bing search on a laptop, tablet or cell phone.  I love the fact I can look up phone numbers, find definitions, or get more details on specific places and locations.  And wikis provide a huge data base of material.  But there are downsides.

Implications of the 24/7 Information Dump

More data less thinking.  The media tells us something and we just buy it without much thought.  Lies become the truth just because enough people are saying it over and over again.  We no longer try to dig out the truth and separate facts from fiction.  We live or die by sound bites.  We don’t have the time to think things through.

Shallowness.  We rarely look below the surface of a new piece of information.  Some new piece of information may be a story in itself but we never look for the story behind the story.  Again no time, or does it really matter? Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Your Brains (Norton, 2010) asks the question “Is Google making us stupid?”  In some ways it is.  A scary book if you are brave enough to read it.

Irrelevancy.  What percentage of the information that comes to you is really relevant?  In my case, it is probably 80% “whatever” and 20% pertinent.  We are wasting our time on stuff that does not matter. Who really cares about celebrity tweets anyway?  Get a life.

Distraction.  With so much information coming forth, we are constantly distracted in our thinking.  I haven’t ever seen any data on this but I suspect the Internet along and our constant online participation produces a massive loss of productivity.  Is ADD and short attention span caused by or just reinforced by the Internet?

Quantity has become more important than quality. The whole Internet measurement system is based on advertising and how many hits a piece of information gets.  That encourages higher volume which almost always is accompanied by shorter or shallower unanalyzed content.  We are there now.  Do we really care?

Managing the Overabundance

How do you deal with all this continuous input?  Since this problem has been with us for decades, we have developed some tactics for keeping ourselves from going crazy, getting too frustrated or giving up entirely.  For example, some of us do actively filter what we see and hear.  If it does not fit our particular needs or situation we tend to ignore it.  This is the reticular activating system (RAS) part of your brain in action.  The RAS is goal seeking and filters out things that do not match your goals.  (You do set goals, don’t you?)  The RAS sees to it that your attention is notified if something relevant comes along.

Next we organize that information that is relevant.  That is done mentally for simple things but it may require collecting the data and making files and folders or whole data bases.  Take time to organize with an outline or a mind map.

Another tactic is focusing.  The power of focus is so great it is often ignored as a way to get things done.  But in our modern world, with its millions of distractions and our totally multi-tasking way of life, it is a miracle that anyone can focus.  We must focus if we are to ever do any deeper thinking or analyses, or make good decisions.  It is easy to get the wrong idea about things if you do not dig deeper.  That means getting rid of distractions and actually taking the time to dig deeper into what is really important.  Easier said than done, of course.

Finally, don’t forget to do your fact checking.  Do what Ronald Reagan told us:  Trust but verify.  That is especially important today as so much of the so-called facts and figures are just wrong, inaccurate or, in fact, lies.  The stuff on the Internet is not vetted so do your due diligence.

Information into Knowledge

There is one main thing I want to point out.  It is what Naisbitt was trying to tell us almost 30 years ago.  What we get mostly from the Internet is data or information, facts and figures.  What you are not getting from the Internet and TV and other such sources is real knowledge.   Knowledge is the end result of you taking all those facts and figures and putting them together to form some kind of framework or context and understanding the meaning of it all.  While we frequently need just the facts, more often what we are really seeking is understanding.  The knowledge we derive from those facts and figures, experiences and thoughts of others, and the context is what we can then beneficially apply to our own situations.  What good is knowledge if we do not apply it for some good?

In any case those of us in the magazine business seek to provide you with current facts and figures (new products, etc.) but more importantly new knowledge.  We take all that horrendous amount of input from multiple sources and boil it down, summarize, analyze, explain, provide context, organize and otherwise process it to give you real knowledge and understanding.  At least we are trying.

So yes, we are adding to the info glut but in a very positive way.  I hope you notice.

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