Surviving & Thriving In The Information Age

Ten suggestions for finding meaning in the chaos
of the Information Age

One of the articles in The Ecology Of Media (IC#23)
Originally published in Fall 1989 on page 62
Copyright (c)1989, 1997 by Context Institute

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the deluge of data, rapidly evolving technologies, changing rules and roles that are hallmarks of the Information Age. How best to cope? The following are ten suggestions for finding meaning in the seeming chaos.

l. Remember Sevareid’s Pyramid. CBS News Commentator Eric Sevareid once told former anchorman Walter Cronkhite something to this effect: "The trouble is, Walter, that with the avalanche of news directed at us, our wisdom is degenerating into knowledge and our knowledge is degenerating into information." He might have added that our information is degenerating into data. We need to reverse this trend and evaluate our personal communications in terms that favor wisdom over knowledge, knowledge over information, and information over data. If we listen for wisdom, we will hear it; if we are a source of wisdom, we will be heard.

2. Consider the Source. You can’t always know what information will be relevant to you, and the best is always beyond imagining. But you can be discriminating about the source. Where is your information coming from? Who’s talking? What are their motives? The lazy listener, reader or viewer who doesn’t ask such questions is more likely to be deceived. Pick your sources carefully, and upgrade wherever possible. And never, ever rely on a single source, or you’ll be poorly informed and more easily manipulated.

3. Apply the Golden Rule of Communications. As technology gives individuals more communications power, we are becoming the media. So communicate unto others as you would have them communicate unto you – in other words, be fair and accurate, stay true to the purpose of your message, and tell the truth always. Remember, your message may go farther than you anticipate. Would you say it again if the whole world could hear?

4. Just Say No. Don’t become an info addict. "You have to learn what is germaine to your life," says Richard Saul Wurman, author of Information Anxiety, "and ignore everything else." You don’t have to know it all, so put yourself on a data diet from time to time: no 60 Minutes, no Newsweek, no NPR. If nothing else, you’ll return leaner, meaner and more skeptical.

5. Resist Techno-Ludditery. Fear of technology is understandable, but try embracing it: you always gain insights by loving your enemy. Consider, for example, that cellular phones have given new power to talk radio by linking stations with their primary audience – folks stuck in cars. One result: it was talk radio’s new influence that helped beat the Congressional pay raise. Support the development and dissemination of technology that makes individuals more powerful.

6. Mine History’s Compost Heap. The opposite of a Luddite is the enthusiast who sees every change as The Final Word. These are the people who predicted the computer would wipe out the book, TV would kill magazines, and radio was washed up. Surprise! All are healthier and more abundant than ever. Don’t be quick to throw ideas out: what gets tossed onto history’s compost heap often comes back in a stronger and more relevant role.

7. Slow Down. The Hartford Courant (Connecticut) newspaper now publishes a Fax edition that gives business people a sneak preview of the next day’s headlines. Says one subscriber, "It’s always better to have information sooner rather than later." Really? If being first guaranteed success, Iraq would still be the center of civilization. Often it’s better to let infomation mellow for awhile.

8. Think Globally. As William Anderson writes in Parabola, "One of the greatest opportunities given us by the explosion of information technology in our time has been the awareness of the earth as a whole." Move beyond local or national perspectives; use the media to jump boundaries.

9. Forget the Myth of "McCulture." One of the most ethnocentric notions of our time is the idea that McDonald’s arches (and other icons of North American cultural imperialism) will soon be everywhere. Global media and communication aren’t homogenizing the world; if anything they are strengthening its diversity. "Information IS diversity," says Stewart Brand. Media access tends to intensify cultural identities, not dilute them. Use it to listen, learn, and share.

10. Listen to the Media Within. A vital source of wisdom is the "media" in each of us: dreams, reflections, imagination, experience, revelation, reason, insight, emotion, intuitions, inspiration. While you may draw your data from the outside world, it is your internal processes that give it personal value. The Information Age is a great cacophony; but don’t overlook the richest source in any age – you.

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