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The information dark ages

January 24, 2012

Everyone has a specialty.  Or maybe a better word would be interest.  Something that is really important to you.  Something you know everything about.  Maybe its a profession like a doctor, lawyer, or librarian.  Maybe it’s a hobby; gardening, painting, photography.  Maybe its movies, or TV but whatever it is it matters to you.  When something matters to a person they take joy in learning about it.  They get the “why” behind what is done.  The other day I began to wonder what happens if we lose the “why”?

We live in the Information Age.  An era where people can find information on any topic at any time.  As a librarian this is exciting for me.  I’m not really afraid of technology making my profession obsolete (though I do think it is and will continue to change drastically)  in fact, I love technology.  But the other day I was walking through the halls of our campus thinking about how many students don’t really get research or information literacy.  Not even all our faculty understand the difference between research and reference.  I was starting to take it a little personal which I try not to do.

“Don’t they know how important this is?”  “Why doesn’t anyone really teach learning via information literacy?”  “How does anyone expect people to know how to think if they can’t get this?”  And suddenly it hit me, we are forgetting how to ask and more importantly answer why!  Holy cow!

Imagine how much individuals cut corners just to “get by”.  Oh well that’s not really important so we don’t have to worry about explaining it.  What?!? Really?!? It’s not important!?!  For some reason that seemed to have ironic ring to it for me and the Dark Ages.  Think about it.  We have this huge spur of innovation and expansion (Greece and Rome) and in fact we have so much we feel like we don’t need it all, I mean we can’t possible know it all anyway right?  So we have a massive decline in knowledge and understanding (the Dark Ages).  Not that this is a perfect metaphor but it made such perfect sense to me.

Then I dug a little deeper and thought about the concept of an elite society, which got me to thinking about colleges which got me thinking about for-profit schools.  And suddenly I was struck with the clarity of history repeating itself.  How ironic is all I could think.  We live in an age where we have more access to more information than any other time in history and yet we also choose to be ignorant to so much.  What would it be like to not make that choice I wonder.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. tbridwell permalink
    January 24, 2012 5:44 am

    If I weren’t on my phone I’d wrote much more, but suffice it to say I think what has made info so available and creatable has also shaped our thinking as you describe. Information is viewed as disposable or at least replaceable. Fantastic and frightening insight you’ve made! And true librarians will adapt! Great post!

    • January 24, 2012 2:29 pm

      Thanks Tim. Seth Godin has had several posts that speak to this trend as well. It can really be scary sometimes but you are totally correct “true librarians will adapt”. Thanks for the comments! And Via la bibliothcaire!

  2. Terry permalink
    January 24, 2012 2:49 pm

    To take it a step beyond…

    “But it is vital to remember that information is not knowledge; that knowledge is not wisdom; and that wisdom is not foresight.” (Arthur Clarke)

    Religion and politics are great examples. The is a vast difference between the knowing of the thing and the doing of the thing.


    • January 24, 2012 2:53 pm

      Yes Terry, that is it exactly! If we fail for generations to teach the wisdom behind the information we will end up with a very select few that get the implications of what is done. If that is true then the question must be asked – has the information age really improved the spread of this knowledge and wisdom or further limited it??

  3. anotherkindofdrew permalink
    January 24, 2012 4:20 pm

    Because of my job I see the amount of thought and the amount of intelligence displayed by the average “expert.” It seems now that expert is a term given to someone who google search faster, copy/paste more accurately, and broadcast their message more widely. The practical knowledge is not there anymore. For instance, you follow a garden master on Twitter. You also follow him on Facebook. He is a source of great links and blog posts. But you have never actually seen his garden or his crops. You aren’t sure if he even has dirt under his nails. His practice is not justified (in this context) by his philosophy.

    It is as I say about American academia. We live in an over-educated nation. We are so smart we are actually becoming dumber.

    • January 24, 2012 4:32 pm

      Great points Drew. Major difference between distributing information and having knowledge of something. Interesting to think about in terms of libraries and librarians too because we aren’t generally subject experts. We are really about understanding how and why people need information and instructing the best ways to get it. All that said academic libraries are where the subject expert librarian comes into play and typically these individuals play the reference library (or some variation of it) to a specific department within the college. When you hear about say, the changes to Harvard’s library system, you have to wonder what the implications will be in 50 to 100 years. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Lee permalink
    January 24, 2012 6:03 pm

    “Then I dug a little deeper and thought about the concept of an elite society, which got me to thinking about colleges which got me thinking about for-profit schools….”

    But you realize that the question/problem/condition/dilemma you describe is not peculiar to career colleges (becoming my preferred term of art…)?
    It’s a pretty regular theme in “the literature”.

    • January 24, 2012 6:57 pm

      You’re right Lee. It can happen in any type of situation. In reality it becomes a really circular question. Some individuals don’t WANT to know the “why”, they are more comfortable without it. Others obsess over it. And truth be told those that don’t know the why aren’t necessarily “unproductive” to our society. We do NEED technical labors to keep society moving. That kind of technical skill is what we specialize in career colleges (also my preferred term) and the purely philosophical question I was pondering was if that’s a problem. As a librarian it seems foreign to me to not understand implication behind information but I work with individuals everyday that really and truly don’t care about it. What does that mean??? That question is way bigger than me for sure. Thank you for your comments!

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