A Thousand Plateaus of Information
I’m an information expert. That’s what I do for living. I’m also a political creature, a geek, a book worm, and have an academic background and interest in sociology of knowledge. I love my data raw and my facts credible and well linked, and I truly see value (and not just in salary) in helping others access information for various purposes. In other words, I deal, work and process different kinds of information and data, everyday, and much more than the average bear.
I also see a lot of confusion, disinformation and simply bad use of it all around – from media to bloggers and parties. I don’t think it’s just because people hardly know how to understand and analyse information, or how to critique. I think it goes deeper than that. I think it’s in our culture. I think people got used to a fast culture of information where there’s always “an answer” floating somewhere, if they’ll only bother to Google it. That’s where most people are wrong, though there is a positive side to it: monopoly on information and access to information is a monopoly on freedom and progress. And yet, the idea that random pieces of information equal answers and end of the search is a destructive one to a free society with our entertainment-for-the-masses culture (in a nutshell, here’s why).
Information ≠ answers ≠ ideology ≠ facts ≠ opinions. That simple. And yet, that elusive.
On Finding Answers
Let’s start from the beginning. It’s 2012. I can assure you that whatever your claim is, you can find an Ivy League paper that was just published and supports your claim. Does this mean Ivy League papers, or Ivy League universities are rubbish or worthless? No. It simply means we live in another culture and economy of information, where finding a record is only the beginning of a search for an answer. Because these days, it takes more than a footnote and random gathering of three facts to conclude one has “an answer” to an issue, or a proof to one’s agenda.*
On Opinions and Ideology
There’s this popular notion that you have to have an opinion on everything in the world. In a world where information is everywhere but time and money are still finite, this calls for oversimplification and distortion of facts. Using information as a tool for either of the above in disguise of searching for answers for oneself can turn very quickly into living in a loop of internal demagogy and politics, where lies, truths and lives are tools, not objectives. And in information, such as in ethics, I do unto others as I would have done to myself/work according to Kant’s categorical imperative.
On Opinions, Capitalism and Fast-food Information
I’ve seen the call for slow reading/writing/blogging before. Modern life is soaked with information and meanings. I’m not sure the answer is slow reading such as not jumping to conclusions about “answers” based on three random links. Capitalism makes it harder: in the structure of the “modern” market, where time is money, you can only go certain amount of time with a story before you have to present it to the public and/or your boss. Everything has to be packed neatly, preferably with inforgraphics for easier digestion. When this comes to be an objective and priority, accuracy gets the lesser treatment, and there’s a tendency to forget that behind these numbers, statistics and information there are people, animals and environment. I don’t think getting fast information and getting accurate information should be an either/or decision, but our culture and economics varies. I don’t think that’s our only option of living. I hardly think it’s a sane one.
On Information, Control and Fan-Fiction
As I mentioned before, when information is all around, it’s not that simple anymore to gather a bunch of random facts and present it as a narrative. Sometimes I feel like the newstertainment industry only does that: hardly without depth analyses, even in articles and shows I agree with. We don’t live anymore in a world where old information rules apply (That’s why I usually turn to political and social blogs for such analyses. They don’t depend on ratings for their living. They can slowly chew, analyse, understand and interpret what the hell is going on; Apophenia with nutritional value). But we still understand and digest information “the old fashioned way”, and love to have it neatly and under our control. I think what we face today, as an information society with internet technology, is professionalization of hobbies and “opinions”. Every self respecting blog has an online store/PayPal donate button. It’s not just the logical thing to do, whether you’re a cooking blog, a TV show fan or a single mother who blogs about the Republican party. It’s an act of taking back control on content and information. Fan-ficion goes a step beyond that: it creates interpretation on information that’s always valid.** A variation of this is graphic design (or apps such as Instagram, which paints a picture that’s prettier to digest).
So what’s next? Asking for responsibility, accuracy, consideration or discipline in a fast information culture might sound the same as information diet – but not necessarily. I want news that give facts in an age where a dramatic headline and an aesthetic picture of gore = money. I can say that the logical thing to do is to support, financially, in those bloggers/site owners you like, but that will be duplicating a specific way in which money controls analog world into the digital world. I can say that calling for such responsibility over information is to shoot in the leg of my profession. But I’m tired of meaningless pieces of framed information. It’s worse than living in a world of conspiracies, secrets and lies. These, at least, had thoughts behind them, and tailored beautifully.
* “How long can you keep x food item in the fridge after you’ve opened/cooked it” is not an issue. It’s a question for StillTasty.
** OK, mostly, without RPF and that intrusive crap.