Needed: The Information Skill! These Days, “More” Might be “Less!”

How can anyone NOT notice that we are becoming flooded with easy-to-access information in a technological blur!

No longer do we need to spend endless hours in a library mining data for hard to find information on virtually any topic of interest. All we need to do is “Google it!” and choose from literally thousands of sources – some good and some bad.

It is literally overwhelming.

Nicco Mele has written an excellent book, The End of Big, that explains part of the phenomenon and its impact on individuals, news organizations, the public, and its potential threat to civilized government. Check it out.

Mele’s book crystallized some of my thinking about the changes in the “Information Skill.” The challenge now is to have the ability not to “find” the information, but to “sort” it and determine from the vast overload what information is relevant, accurate, and useful toward beginning the analytical process of developing findings which are dependable for truth.

In a simple “P” implies “Q” analysis, the validity of the analysis depends not on the existence of data to support a hypothesis, but the truthfulness and accuracy of that information. Having sufficient accurate or “true” information enables one to develop findings that hold up under scrutiny and, ultimately, to draw solid conclusions.

On Twitter, for example, millions and millions of tweets occur each day – many of which contain actual information or “data” that, despite a tweet’s short length of 140 characters, can be used without support or context to mistakenly use as a “finding” from which one can easily jump to a conclusion – a conclusion that just doesn’t withstand a test of validity. One might compare this sort of “analysis” as being similar to drawing a straight line through a single data point – or fitting a “smooth curve” through just a couple of data points. It looks nice, perhaps, but is really quite misleading or even meaningless.

Mele shows how news organizations have drastically cut their investigative staffs which clearly diminishes their ability to uncover corruption, fraud, and other forms of behavior that hurts us all. While the “press is free,” it is becoming far less capable of protecting us against shenanigans.

Twenty four hour news organizations provide much more information, but some have substituted analysis and thoughtful fact talking heads and discussion groups who have a bias from the get go and who carefully cherry pick their data points to support findings and conclusions – which they often have developed prior to any substantive analytical process. We hear what they want us to hear – and if their leaning is to the “left” or the “right,” we hear convincing arguments based on predetermined points of view.

The combination of volumes of little pieces of data that can be true or false, fewer real investigative reporters who take the time to at least try to find some truth in their data, and news organizations that start from their point of view or conclusions and cherry pick data to lead one to their conclusion all lead to a misinformed public and polarization.

The “Information Skill” that is needed by all is one that enables individual to question a flood of information and to question the arguments of news organizations that more and more build their cases on whatever information they choose instead of careful and thoughtful analysis.

The trend in this flood of raw information and its ultimate repercussions do not bode well for an informed electorate and for a society as a whole. An informed electorate and society must have the “Information Skill” and they need it now.

~ CCJ

 

3 thoughts on “Needed: The Information Skill! These Days, “More” Might be “Less!”

  1. nicco mele (@nicco)

    Thanks for the kind words about my book! Your comments on changes in the “Information Skill” bring to mind David Weinberger’s excellent book, “Too Big To Know”, about the changing nature of knowledge itself. It is getting impossible to “know” everything about a given topic, and Weinberger explores what knowledge means in the digital age. One of his (many) conclusions is that knowledge is in part about having a diverse network of experts to draw from — and developing the information skills to knit together solutions from disparate knowledge sources. Great blog post.

    1. Charles C. Jett

      Reminds me of the difference between the “generalist” and the ‘specialist.” The ‘generalist’ learns less and less about more and more until, in the end, he knows practically nothing about everything; the ‘specialist’ learns more and more about less and less until, in the end, he knows practically everything about nothing! ~ CCJ

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