There is a distinction between information and knowledge, which is worth keeping in mind.
The Economist’s article, “Too much information: How to cope with data overload,” deals with information overload. (Hat tip Prasanna Viswanathan @prasannavishy for the link.) For a few years I have been concerned about it since I have a very low threshold for information. In 2005, I pondered the matter in a number of blog posts. I realize the irony in writing yet another blog post on information overload, but there you have it. The Economist article underlines my fears.
I received an SMS just moments ago: “A thirteen-year old’s day in Surat: school 7 to 2. Daily tuitions 4:30 to 7:30. Saw ICSE standard 8th textbooks. Detailed and depressing. What a state!”
No surprise to me as I have observed the same sort of insanity in the case of the children of friends and family.
I get to watch TV news only occasionally, mostly at airports, hotels and while visiting friends. Today at my friend’s place in Delhi, I woke up to TV news. It was wall-to-wall coverage of Dr Manmohan Singh’s heart surgery and the gunning down of two Pakistani terrorists just outside Delhi.
On the 24-hour news channels, the presenters have to keep talking non-stop about whatever is the breaking news. Naturally, it is humanly not possible to say something meaningful about any event without some time to think about it. So the need to keep talking incessantly about an event which can only be described in a few words results in verbal diarrhea. There is so little content in the story being told that the TV screen has to be filled with all sorts of other items: there are two or three lines of scrolling texts relating to different issues, some totally meaningless video occupying part of the screen, another part of the screen given to some advertisement, etc.
Information, Not Plastics
The world has come a long way since the 1960s when the future was defined by one word – “plastics” – as Mr McGuire advised the young graduate Ben. Now the future is defined by another word and the word is “information.” Plastics was a wonder product of the world of industrial technology which fundamentally transformed the world of objects. Information is the new thing, the product of information technology, which is going to transform the world of ideas. Actually, information is not a “thing” in the usual sense of the term. So it is the new non-thing which defines the new and exciting future.
I am a big fan of using technology in education. Information and communications technology (ICT) is tailor-made for application in education. What I don’t understand is why some people are going on about the use of “wireless, low-orbiting satellite, fiber-optic” communications in the context of education. Those hi-tech channels are clearly required when the information is dynamic and real-time, such as in the case of market information and sports events. But what does one gain by beaming down static information — say, history or physics content — as opposed to delivering it as a book (if the information is purely text and pictures), as a DVD if it is audio-video-text, or as content on a hard drive (if the content is rich as well as interactive)?