In an age where data is available at the click of a mouse to 1.6 billion internet users (at last count) it seems to me we are becoming more ignorant rather than more enlightened.
The sources of information we are exposed to, either inadvertently or through a deliberate act on our part, are increasingly uncontrolled. For example, blogs are increasing at about 100,000 per day. Email spam is an ever-growing menace in two ways. It clogs up the email boxes and junk folders of the aware and tricks the unaware.
Anyone with an opinion can offer and publish that opinion, as I am doing here, as long as they do not break the laws of the country in which they broadcast. In many cases that is no protection either, using an internet service provider in a foreign country being enough to absolve the publisher of even those responsibilities.
Information we receive has been further and further chunked down to suit the instantaneous nature of the modern official and unofficial news cycles. Twitter has reduced the information limit to 140 characters.
Our evening news is chunked, supposedly, so that we can understand complex information. Some news channels, such as Fox News in the US, seem to not only chunk news but also reframe news to appeal to what seems to be their target market. The “News” is so reframed at times that the report barely represents what actually happened. Some media outlets, faced with “instant” reporting on blogs and Twitter, seem to want to compete on their ground and offer opinion as a substitute for reporting.
Reality television has transformed the way people are entertained. In some cases it is an extension of the oldest form of reality television, sport. People compete, whether it be dancing or singing or some peculiar talent or even cooking.
Much of reality television, however, is in contrived circumstances between people selected for their ability to create emotional interactions with the audience. Many viewers, it seems, carry these emotional interactions to an extreme level, following their fortunes and often uninformed pronouncements with the seriousness of hero worship. The media behind these productions also reframe what is communicated by clever editing and provoke what is communicated by clever manipulation of circumstances. The resultant program is as unreal as it could be but still connects with hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.
What is more, the growth of uncontrolled and uniformed information is not restricted to our personal lives. Business models and business theories continue to grow at an exponential rate.
Psychometric tests which have a predictive validity correlation coefficient of 0.2, implying the relationship between the test and the performance of 4% are used without thought as a means of selecting recruits. Multi-million dollar businesses have been founded and continue to prosper on the back of inappropriate use of psychometric tests.
Economists line up to predict the future of the economy seemingly unaffected by their inability to predict the current situation and having economic models which have never been tested before in an environment of unprecedented public spending and reductions in interest rates. Their predictions are gleefully reported by media outlets to create the conflict or juxtaposition that media require to call something “News”. The label “Economist” is enough to give the information validity.
One thing is clear, we are being bombarded every day with more and more data in our personal and business lives. I hesitate to call it information as that implies the data we receive informs.
What has not matched pace with the explosion of data is the ability of people to discern between information that is relevant and accurate, and that which is not.
The ability to discern between information that is relevant and accurate, and that which is not, is called Information Literacy.
Information Literacy is a relatively new science. You will find that most people involved in its discussion and creation of standards are, not surprisingly, librarians or associated with public and private libraries.
The Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework standards for information literacy state that an information literate person can:
- Recognise a need for information
- Determine the extent of information needed
- Access the needed information efficiently
- Evaluate the information and its sources
- Incorporate selected information into their knowledge base
- Use information effectively to accomplish a purpose
- Understand economic, legal, social and cultural issues in the use of information
- Access and use information ethically and legally
- Classify, store, manipulate and redraft information collected or generated
- Recognise information literacy as a prerequisite for lifelong learning
From my recent experience, managers cope well with elements 1, 3 and 5 and dependent on their organisation, 7 and 8 and occasionally 9. However, I often find that managers:
- Seek only the information that supports a decision they already have made subconsciously – failing element 2
- Do not critically evaluate information and its sources giving equal, or near equal, weight to facts and opinions – failing element 4
- Use information selectively to support their view rather than understand cause and effect to make better decisions, which may be construed as effectively using information for a purpose, but I suspect fails element 6
- Do not see proper and effective utilisation of information as prerequisite for learning
We may or may not be entering a new age of ignorance where not unlike the famous line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere?”, we have data, data everywhere without information. What is clear for me, however, is that organisations need to treat knowledge management seriously to prosper and make Information Literacy a core competency for aspiring leaders.