My father used to share with us stories about how arduous gathering data would be in his years. He would stick himself to the library and bury into tons of literatures, only to obtain pint-sized information. He would order Xerox copies of journals, and get them shipped overseas. He and his team got into up, down and sideways of every tiny data; literally squeezing every information out of it. Result, he can recite several of those statistics even today, because he earned them so difficult yet so solid.
Only 40 years later, we have arrived at information generation where obtaining data have become much more easier. I almost never go to library because I am one thumb-tap away from worldwide information. As a development professional, I come across so many data everyday – MDG data, National Human Development Report, World Health Report, National Living Standard Survey, Global Gender Report, you name it. The sad truth is that I do not even remember most of the data that I use in lectures or training that I facilitate myself. Actually, I don’t need to remember them. One, because I can copy paste into my presentation deck and later read it out from the screen, and two, because new data is coming out almost every other day from different sources. Neither before, nor after the college exams have I ever attempted to memorize national and international statistics.
With zillions of data retrievable from zillion sources, the concern about their validity and reliability becomes imperative. Data from similar population in similar time have been published as different in different sources. On one hand, enhanced research methodologies and advanced mathematical model have aided to generate scientific data and information. While on the other hand, publications, especially blogging, has allowed anyone to reach out to large audience on a click. This has posed greater risk of enormous under-representative, incorrect, incomplete, unverified and bogus data cluttering the space.
The pool of information has become universal, meaning everyone has access to information from the same pool – Internet. So, everything sound like they have been seen somewhere, heard somewhere. There would not be much first-hand to say, much new to do. Deciding my graduate thesis topic was a nightmare in pursuit of making it innovative, but it seemed like one person in the seven billion already had the same idea and got it published. Though all research works are built upon another and these publications serve as reference literature, their validity should always be measured with caution.
My brother once shared that attending classes at college is a waste of time because his teachers simply download materials from Internet, change a word or two and hand it out in class. He claims that there is nothing the teachers teach that he cannot download from the Internet. This is the irony of this generation. Rather than interacting with professors, mentors, parents or friends, we find it convenient to Google. Google not just stores tons of information, but also offers customized search option. However, it also means that we are losing massive information that could have been generated through human interaction and intellectual discussions.
In my computers you will find survey reports and global data sheet scattered in different folders. I hardly refer to them. If I need them, I download them again because that is much easier than searching it on my computer. I save them and later not delete them, which, I believe, is because they are available there and because I have enough storage space. I do the same with my inbox, my playlist, movie downloads and everything else. I do not want to delete anything thinking they are important, but in reality they are actually infoxicating me. Information overload often termed as infoxication refers to the difficulty one can have understanding an issue and making decision that can be caused by presence of too much information (Wikipedia, intended)
Today hand held devices and computers hold more information than the human brain. Focus on numbers has flushed the qualitative dimensions. The capacity to identify correct data, articulate them into meaningful information, efficiently share and sustainably retain them has dramatically diminished. We have been able to count how many calories we eat in a spoonful food, how our heart beats, what is the weather going to be today, how many people live under $1 per day, measure how likely are people to develop colorectal cancer if they stand more than 8 hours per day, etc.; but we have not been able to convert these into meaningful information towards effectual behavior change and decision making. Everyone recycles from the same information puddle, thereby diminishing the quality of the knowledge pool itself.
This is the irony of today’s information generation – too many data, too little information.