Saturday, September 26

Information overload

We live in an information age where knowledge grows exponentially. The effect is for an increasingly reliance and trust on a dwindling number of specialized individuals -particularly in science and technology. The potential for large scale crashes and unmitigated disaster is apparent everywhere - just as we saw in what many would regard as feeble regulatory efforts due in part to the inability to understand what was going on and the potential for disaster by a few overwhelmed investigators. The explosion of available and mandated information is reaching plague proportions as we become inundated with larger and larger data bases.In the area of business to day I have seen this explosion and specialization subdivide subjects I once studied with authoritarian texts that might have run to a few hundred pages expanded to dozens of volumes. In our everyday lives we are attempting to avoid the responsibility to trust in the integrity of one another by lengthy product disclosure statements, huge information gathering exercises for prospectuses and in the increased regulatory complexity that impose burdensome reporting on to specialists.In spite of this additional information the same glaring inequalities and injustices continue to exist. We are in danger of thinking the provision of additional information can supplant the central importance of human integrity.

What appears to be enigma in our western culture is we no longer take information from divergent disciplines to inform philosophical debate.The reasons relates to our specialized knowledge based society with its’ esoteric information for each disciplinary area which is not easily applied elsewhere. The growth of knowledge in every discipline means we will soon reach the stages where increased volume will ensure any research effort will involve an extraordinary amount of weeding to finally smell the flowers you are searching for.My conclusion is ironically we are at risk of almost returning to the pre printing press days when few people could read or write – but now because of information overload few know enough to know what to accept about different topics presented by varying experts in that field.
The contextual nature of information to a particular discipline is necessary for its integrity but nevertheless I see a danger in continued specialization to create the potential for a cultural desert within the self perpetuating isolationism of the various schisms’ within such a structured society. Indeed the search for the “facts” and total reliance on independent experts to support government decisions is increasingly becoming popular and neatly sidesteps any obligation to simplify and clarify the benefits to a country and its electorate of any intended changes. It is almost impossible not to make a reference to fairness, value and purpose when debating change if you want to argue philosophically why those changes are needed. Nevertheless such basic aspects are often lost or glossed over in a debate consumed by the veracity or otherwise of information.

In other words who has the correct facts or who is right and who is wrong. Ultimatedly voters like to be able read and understand enough to decide who they trust to make the best and fairest use of our scare resources and information and who they don’t for the reasons of ……….. . As we find leaders who can be trusted than we make real progress just as those leaders find experts who can be trusted and so on. It was always a matter of who could be trusted – or not!

There is a need for those in power to reduce the information overload so that what it made available is in a easily digestible format to support a particular policy, its value and overall purpose. If it’s too complex or difficult to be understood than its back to the drawing board until such time as it’s easily understandable.

Understandably I think whilst Science is fascinating, enhanced by books which lead the bestseller lists, there is equally the danger of a community backlash to derail its advances to a retreat into fundamentalism - unless information is presented in an easily understandable way - to include how it is to be used to enhance fairness value and purpose.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Here here!

Not only information overload, but
- immediate issue overload (missing the big picture)

- if it bleeds, it leads journalism overload (rather than analysis or insight)

- facts without vision overload (as if numbers and polls could pass for wisdom)

I spend some of my worklife helping clients take 50 page reports and writing them in 2 pages. As Churchill once wrote, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time."

You're very thoughtful.