09 June 2006

Information to Knowledge

From the ever-impressive Dave Pollard, in How to Save the World, comes this fascinating exploration of the relative impotence of most information. Dave states a point The Jenius has also stated before about information requiring a personal context for it to acquire meaning (become knowledge.) The problem is that We are overwhelmed by "information" and underserved as to context, therefore We are woefully under-informed.

I have excerpted Dave's post, but I urge you to read the whole thing. And explore Dave's blog, for I assure you, it's a journey through a brilliant mind.

The Impotence of (Most) Information

Information has meaning only when we have enough context to understand its import, what it 'brings to us'. Implicit in import is that this information enables us to live better lives, either by better understanding why things are the way they are, or by realizing what we need to do as a result of it...

So we're left with thin, context-free information that is meaningless and un-actionable, whose only effect is a (brief) emotional charge, lingering information anxiety, and a case of 'information impotence'.

What can we do? Three things:

1) Acquire the personal discipline to stop reading and listening to and watching shallow information media. Avoid especially the sensationalistic stuff that doesn't even try to inform, just to shock us, but also avoid content that isn't either (a) actionable (immediately or likely at some point in the future) or (b) presented with sufficient detail and analysis to at least get us to the point we understand much better why something is the way it is. Don't avoid fiction -- stories are the best way to provide detail and context, and even invented stories based on an author's personal knowledge, in-depth research or exceptional imagination can be enormously informative.

2) Re-evaluate your personal information networks to find (and then trust) people who can filter out the crap and point you to genuine information -- detailed, well-analyzed, context-rich stuff that either is actionable or significantly deepens your understanding of subjects you care about. One of the greatest advantages of a blog is that it makes it easier to find such valuable friends. No one can keep up with everything that's important alone.

3) Develop a personal method to keep track of information that is important, and what you're going to do about it, so that when you need it you can find it, and so that you act on it appropriately and promptly. This is my pet peeve with weblogs, del.icio.us etc.: Stuff disappears into the archives and gets lost, and too much focus is placed on how current information is, rather than how important it is.

Information impotence is another example of learned helplessness -- we get overwhelmed, so we just give up. There are a lot of people out there exploiting that. Some of us need to stay genuinely informed to keep them honest. Or at least a little less dishonest.

The Jenius Has Quoted.

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