Home > Current issues in Education > Mr. Information- Is he a friend or a foe


By G. Balasubramanian

When someone calls you a ‘well-informed person’ or observes your decision as a ‘well-informed decision’, you tend to put your color up, for ‘information’ today is being associated with a white collar; it bestows on you a privilege of being superior to someone, or as one who stands on a higher pedestal of a ladder. “Information is power” is an age old saying. For several centuries, the human quest for power has been associated with activities and programs that brought more information in the hands of those who matter. “As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the one who has the best information” says Benjamin Disraeli, an eminent philosopher and statesman. No wonder, in modern times, the focus of education has largely been on the supply chain management of information, its management tools and acquisition, storage and delivery in ever-renewable packages that is decorated with a market value.

“Information is the currency of democracy” says Thomas Jefferson. He is perfectly right, provided that the information that is on circulation is correct, factual, authentic, useful and impactful. On the contrary, if the information is incorrect, provocative, biased and perilous, it has an equally adverse effect in the democracy. History is witness to the fact, how fake information which were provocative and played with the emotions of the people had done a great damage to the social well-being. So long the information is not converted into knowledge, it remains like a body without a soul. “We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge” says John Naisbitt, an author and an expert in Future studies.

From the stone age, the evolution of information, its dynamics, its articulation, its delivery systems, its speed, its purpose and objectives have all been an intense modern of study, not only among historians, but sociologists too. The passage of information through bugles and drums was possibly a primitive step. Communicating personal feelings and emotions as pieces of information to others acquired several new caricatures with the progressive ‘thinking’ society. Training ‘birds’ and ‘animals’ to convey messages was yet another design of the pre-medieval society. Collection of ‘secret information’ through ‘spying’ acquired a new dimension with social organizations seeking their dominance and hunger for expansionism. ‘Handwriting’ and ‘calligraphy’ added a sense of beauty and value to the passage of information. “Packaging” of information facilitated smart ways of communication and innumerable number of tools developed to articulate ‘body of information’. Tools of technology brought information to a highway so that the speed of information could be appropriate to the emerging impatience of human psyche. “Information” as money gave a new dimension to a society’s competitive storage and processing of the information at ‘cost’ to enhance the personal and social wealth. “The most valuable commodity I know of is information” says Gordon Gekko, the famous film character of the film “Wall Street”.

The late twentieth century emerged as ‘the information age’ with humans’ world over working an extra time on the tools, techniques and on ‘the cyber space’ to create a new universe for information which is largely ethereal. Consequently, the emotional content attached to the information through human delivery systems got sidelined and it emerged purely as ‘fast food’ for knowledge construction with added colours, chemicals and nutrients to create both a market value as well as a consumer anticipation. “Information Managers” became the ‘Chanakyas’ of Corporate Kingdoms to create new perceptions of handling information and its wealth value. “The clouds” with droplets of information could gather ‘to rain information’ whenever and wherever there was an ‘area of depression’ in economy, business, industry and other areas of human engagement.

“The fog of information can drive out knowledge” says Daniel Boorstin, the noted American historian. The above observation is so intense that it speaks volumes of the current dynamics of information laden society. The volume and the speed of information at the disposal of individual has been so much that the load of information has become sickening causing unbearable stress, anxiety and challenge to human life systems. “it is not information overload, but it is filter failure” says Chay Shirkey. The flow of information in split seconds has deprived the people even to manage the flow, leave alone adequate time to examine its relevance, necessity, utility and need. In contrast, it has created an insatiable urge to access as much information and store at one’s wit’s end as some kind of wealth, however useless or disastrous it could be.

While the modern society is fighting a failing battle with the overload of information, it also acknowledges its helplessness to fight it as ‘the control of information’ is converting individuals to modern mystics writing new epics of the digital age. “Everybody gets information all day long that they lose their common sense” observes Gertrude Stein, the American novelist and poet.

“Information overload is very real and can have lasting effects. It most definitely has effects on our mental health. The amount of time we spending scrolling through constant flows of webpages of people with ‘glamorous lives’, ‘the perfect bodies’, ‘accessible and beautiful foods’, and all the other things that the surfing the internet provides is targeted right at the core of us and deeply affects our self-esteem, our self-worth, self-image. These images find homes in our thoughts, emotions, and our behaviors. We underestimate the assault that information overload has on our senses. When we scroll pages of content daily, they bury themselves in our psyches and connect with the fears that we are all already struggling with and amplifies them.” Says American Counselling Association. No wonder, Mitchel Kapor, the American entrepreneur and the architect of Lotus 1-2-3 says “Getting information from the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” Forecasting the future of the world in his book “The Future Shock”, Alvin Toffler observed “Information overload will lead to ‘future shock syndrome’ as an individual will suffer severe physical and mental disturbances.”

Taking advantage of the exponential growth of human dependence on information and its associated technologies, there is a huge attempt to create ‘fake information’ both for entertainment, creating fear, anxiety and exploiting social inequities. This industry of creating and spreading fake information has caused ‘information pollution’ even affecting safe and sane thinkers as it has the power of emotional gravity. The role of such fake information players through various instruments of social media has impacted the social order extensively in many countries. While the role of mass information communication systems cannot and should not be underplayed for good and lateral entries, it is equally important to examine the fast impact it could make on human emotions, especially in a negative environment, creating disorder, disharmony and chaos.

The impact the information deluge could cause at the formative years of life appears to be more disheartening. While the info-tech can indeed be a most powerful and impactful enabler for growth, the ‘make- believe’ information styles create a false imagery on healthy minds and triggers not only fast consumerist tendencies, but unhealthy competitions leading them to cutting edge life-styles and experiences promoting defeatism, mental depressions and other mental health issues. People unfortunately believe ‘information availability’ is communication which is totally absurd.

So, Is Mr. information – a friend or a foe? Do we say, “A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy”? Or do we go with what Shakespeare says through his hero Hamlet “: "...meet it is I set it down, that one may smile, and smile, and be a villain."

In short, it is important to learn how we handle the information.

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