Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflections on "Information Rich & Attention Poor"

Today's post centers on Peter Nicholson's Information-rich and Attention-poor (Toronto Globe and Mail). The samplings below provide a context for my reactions, but the entire piece is worthy of contemplative reading:

The three technologies that have powered the information revolution – computation, data transmission and data storage – have each increased in capability (and declined in cost per unit of capability) by about 10 million times since the early 1960s.

This has unleashed a torrential abundance of data and information. . . . .The primary consequence is the growing emphasis on speed at the expense of depth. This is simply because depth and nuance require time and attention to absorb.

There is also under way a shift of intellectual authority from producers of depth – the traditional “expert” – to the broader public. This is nowhere more tellingly illustrated than by Wikipedia, which has roughly 300,000 volunteer contributors every month.

The result is the growing disintermediation of experts and gatekeepers of virtually all kinds. The irony is that experts have been the source of most of the nuggets of knowledge that the crowd now draws upon in rather parasitic fashion – for example, news and political bloggers depend heavily on a relatively small number of sources of professional journalism, just as many Wikipedia articles assimilate prior scholarship.

. . . . Access[ing] efficiently what you need, when you need it. . . depends, of course, on building up a sufficient internalized structure of concepts to be able to link with the online store of knowledge. How to teach this is perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity facing educators in the 21st century.

The hyperlinked and socially networked structure of the Internet may be making the metaphor of the Web as global “cyber-nervous system” into a reality – still primitive, but with potential for a far more integrated collective intelligence than we can imagine today.


*I think the article emphasizes to educators how poorly we are served by the notion that students are techno wizards and only need to be liberated by their keepers to roam the Net in order to optimize their futures and serve society. Instead, teaching them how to access, assess, and pool information is of paramount importance.

*Though Nicholson argues convincingly for the continued need for trained journalists and academic experts, it certainly calls into question the usefulness of traditional academic "departments" and anything that resembles the traditional newspaper.

The article reinforces my opinion that teaching technology in a vacuum is nearly as great a waste as requiring students to memorize information from textbooks-- information that is accessible with a few keystrokes. Both a liberal arts education and the ability to operate within the global network are absolutely essential....and I will have more to say about this in my next post!

This article came to me through my personal learning network. The recommendation and link came from two different sources. In the olden days (two years ago?) I would have depended on a newspaper or magazine to bring Nicholson to my attention, and then search for it in a library database (quite unlikely). I'll be running a staff in-service on pln's in a couple of weeks. More fuel for the fire.

"Atrappée dans l'information #1" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by ton3vita

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