Monday, 18 June 2007

How has Information-scape Changed?

David Warlick was challenged by Gary Stager on "How is information changing?” He gave a few very good points about how the information-scape has changed.

1. Information has become increasingly networked. I suppose he meant there are increasingly more hyperlinks within information. We can find referred or linked information more easily via such hyperlinks.
2. Digital convergence of information is continuing at rapid pace.
3. We are overwhelmed by information.

I can think of some changes as well.
4. Information can spread rapidly these days. News published at one end of the world can be read instantly from the other end, usually by almost everyone connected to the Internet.
5. Because of 1 and 4 above, we are now capable of reading multiple viewpoints of current affairs. [Bloggers play a significant role in this.]

Back to how information has changed, I think:
1. Information creation is increasingly collaborative, e.g. Wikipedia, and hence more information is a manifestation of a community instead of an individual.
2. A few new information genres have evolved over the past years. Email as a format of information (cf letters), webpages (full of hyperlinks see 1 above), blogs (cf with personal diary) ... More and more information is now written as first person observation of world rather than from a third person description.
3. More information are published by novice, students and other groups which traditionally do not have a platform to reach millions. (Is it part of the explanation of 3 above?)

Implication for learning: [obviously an incomplete list]
Two life-skills:
1. ability to evaluate accuracy, authentication and viewpoints of information
2. ability to filter, yet have a general "feel" of a vast amount of information and make sense of out such a body of work.
A learning strategy:
3. participation of information production is now a necessary strategy in learning

Some other good points from the comments in David Warlick's post:

I also think one area that has NOT been touched upon is that that teachers need to be preparing more for the PRESENT and the FUTURE…..and many still teach in the comfort of the past.

I would add to your Item 2 about information becoming digital the discussion of SIZE and DUPLICABILITY. E.G. the book War and Peace can be shrunk to an electronic footprint that is so small we can pass it to others with little regard to the taking of physical space. Duplicability allows us to make one thing and provide it to millions of people almost instantly.

At the very least the tangibility of “frozen” media (whether print, video, etc.) gives it a different affect than the purely oral tradition that preceded it.
The distinction between print and electronic forms has, perhaps, some small relevance, but in the end it is all physical (physical pits on a DVD, electron transfers in RAM, etc.) At most we might be talking about the difference between “light through” media (stained glass) vs. “light on” media (paper), and volumes have been written on this topic, none of which have enlightened me much on the issue you raise.

As David says, the print vs digital question is a false dichotomy.

Information is information is information, whether its from the neighbor, the teacher, the Weekly World News ( as we all need a little Wolf Baby now and again), or some other source.

Taking my lead from Danny Hillis, ‘The Pattern on the Stone’, Gregory Bateson defined information as “the difference that makes a difference”

Hillis goes onto argue that computers have made a difference. So I agree with David Warlick’s second point, about the importance of the change to “being digital”, a point made long ago by Negroponte (book title)

I also like the McLuhan / Alan Kay / Philip Armour suggestion that the important thing is that we are undergoing a shift in the dominant media that we use to transact knowledge. Philip Armour said it this way:

“Software is not a product. It is a medium in which we store knowledge. Historically there have been 5 such media: DNA, Brains, Hardware, Books, Software.”

Software is a superior medium to print, more powerful things can be elegantly represented (eg. simulations of systems), it is more readily searchable etc. So I disagree with David Thornburg in playing down the importance of this shift. The future is (almost) here it just hasn’t been distributed yet.

It’s dangerous to talk about information in isolation and I agree with Tom Hoffman and David Thornburg that we need to be clearer about the terms and also look at the interplay between “data, information, knowledge and understanding” (David Thornburg)

But this is not the only perspective. Hugo (in Hunchback) provides a brilliant analysis of how printing competed with the architecture of the church. Grand cathedrals, with their stained glass and sculpture, were books built of stone and glass, telling the story of the bible. To “read” this story, one had to travel to the church. As Hugo remarked, the book let ideas be more like a flock of birds in the square that would scatter themselves way beyond the edifice. To Hugo, print destroyed the power of the edifice, and THIS was the threat to the church.

Again, the point was access.

We have perhaps been deceived by the relatively stable texts of the print-age into thinking that information is static, but surely it isn’t. Change the reader of the Bible, for instance, and you generate different information. Convert the Bible to a Charlton Heston movie, and you have yet different information. I’m certain that the Bible in Japanese or modern English is different again from the Bible in Hebrew. Decide that the Bible is written not by God, but by Moses, say, and you get even different information.

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