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View Full Version : It's the apex of the Information Age...



Mota Boy
08-04-2007, 10:36 AM
...and we have a fucking problem.

This is something that's been bothering me a bit lately, and I wanna try and get it all down, sort it all out and expound upon it. I'd appreciate it if you'd indulge me by reading through it and offering your opinions/insights.

Part 1

First, what the hell is the Information Age, and why is it so important? Some armchair (or, more accurately, faux-leather couch) posturing: historically, each "Age" has taken its namesake from the fundamental technology that has achieved temporary supremacy, usually the latest and most advanced material or method of conquering both nature and fellow man. The Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Age, the Steam Age, the Nuclear Age, the Space Age, the... Information Age? What of this, that this latest era of humanity is defined by technology related not to a blunt material or a new realm to conquer, but by an utterly abstract material such as information? How has information suddenly vaulted to such great heights?

The truth is, information has always played an immensely important role in human society. It was the very information concerning how to make iron into weapons, or atoms into bombs, that separated the more "primitive" societies from the ones more advanced along the continuum. However, information is tricky. The human brain is a goddamned unbelievable device for storing, processing and connecting a truly mind-boggling amount of information, from the linguistic taxonomy of the entire world, to assigning each of those names further value and knowledge of proper usage. However, it remains imprecise. Memory is notoriously faulty, subject to merely to the erosive forces of time, but also to subjective quirks that alter a piece of information to more comfortably fit an overall worldview, preventing pure objectivity in most cases.

This physical limitation on the accurate storage and transport of information, demonstrated for laughs in the game "telephone", has led to necessary safeguards in the way the material is handled. Methods were devised to improve accurate memory and overall storage capacity, and the best-suited individuals were chosen to cultivate such a propensity. This technology, however, had the unfortunate side effect as to exclude many members of society. As the overall necessary amount of information became much larger in larger societies (religion, philosophy, history, science, biology and botany, technology itself...), an increased amount of dedication was required by each individual that needed to store this information so that it could be accurately passed on to the next generation, so much so that only an elite few who benefited from a crop surplus were able to dedicate their entire lives to memorizing reams of information before prior generations took it with them to the grave. This, of course, gave enormous power to those scholars - a mere farmer, whose worth depended on his hands, could be easily replaced, but a scholar, whose worth resided inside his head, was much harder to quickly substitute...

and now I've gotta go run and meet some people for lunch. Until again.

JohnnyNemesis
08-05-2007, 09:24 PM
It's the Age of Aquarius.

All About Eve
08-05-2007, 10:54 PM
Maybe you're overthinking it. It could be in terms simply of accesibility to information. While for the longest time farmers would go by traditions or the Almanac, now, lots can look in one of the databases you mentioned for documented facts about where and when to plant what. Aside from that, the internet has only become prominent in the past couple of decades, and has vastly increased the transfer of information. Instead of person A letting persons B and C know, and leaving poor person D on his own, now persons A through zzzzzzzzetc. have access to the information.

Skinny
08-06-2007, 08:40 PM
whoa those are some big words Mota Boy, great way to end it though... "and now I've gotta go run and meet some people for lunch. Until again."

if you do read this reply, What did you have for lunch?

sKratch
08-07-2007, 12:14 AM
The answer to what he had for lunch is "My dick." It filled him with information.

Good thread, I liked reading it, but I sadly don't have much to contribute. I'll read it again after I sleep ;o

Mota Boy
08-07-2007, 01:24 PM
Yeah, sorry. I wrote that during a bit of downtime on my last full day in town, before saying "goodbye" to a host of friends (for lunch I had penne al fresco and insight into the environmental movement), then, the next day, hitting the road for my hometown. Also, lately I've been alternately feasting on the steadily brilliant insights of Jared Diamond, the manic prose of Tom Robbins and the rich kick of coffee, which may invite a certain excitability to my own words. Anyway...

The introduction of the technology of writing dramatically transformed this landscape. With writing, information could be outsourced, allowing much more of it to be stored and transported much more accurately. Like all new technology, however, writing required many successive generations before its potential could be fully realized, and the much slower pace of technological progress in that era meant that making writing pliable for a large variety of uses would take hundreds or even thousands of years, from simple tally marks nicked out on clay tablets to complex, abstract ideas such as philosophy and religion preserved on scrolls. Still, however, the information was closely guarded - only an elite few could read (less than one percent of people in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt).

However, as the technology and innovation improved over the ensuing centuries (languages where each character represented a sound rather than an entire idea, the printing press, a public school system), literacy became widespread, and words became of greater and greater importance in our life. At first, these inventions were largely used to disseminate information from the top down. As mass-production methods became cheaper, however, it became increasingly common for information to move in the opposite direction. Each private individual could, potentially, infect the rest of the population with his or her own peculiar perspectives, or bring to light previously unheralded events (take, for instance, Rachel Carlson's "Silent Spring").

Likewise, as we entered the Computer Age, humanity acquired the ability to process immense amounts of information, delving into facts and figures from a broad variety of events in order to draw relations between events and a greater understanding of the world. With computers have come the internet, and with the internet, a quantum leap in information technology. Now, for the price of a computer and an internet connection (which I'm currently siphoning off from a local bakery) I can shoot my ideas out to anyone in the world.

Concurrently, this flood of information has become immensely powerful to the consumer. Product reviews, restaurant reviews, competing prices, the latest styles, the average price of a house in my neighborhood... all of this is within my grasp in a few clicks of a button, erasing in an instant the advantage long held by any seller. Likewise, any dirty secrets are up for air. When BP finally paid for years of shoddy upkeep in the form of a burst pipeline, it flew around the world in a flash, undermining a decade-long campaign to present themselves as the "green" oil company.


Part 2 - where I get to my point.


But therein lies part of the problem - for a decade, they had successfully positioned themselves as a "green" oil company through a brilliant marketing campaign, despite not being much cleaner than any of the competition. The world is awash in more information, more easily accessible than ever, and yet there is absolutely zero oversight of what goes into the machine.

One interesting side effect, to me at least, is that no idea ever seems to die. Once recorded, an idea will almost always remain, even if a bit marginalized, hoarded by some fringe element of society. Even the most extreme, ridiculous ideas, such as the Flat Earth Theory (http://www.alaska.net/~clund/e_djublonskopf/Flatearthsociety.htm), remain popular among a small but vocal minority. Most philosophers still find adherents, religions divide and subdivide amidst a steady eruption of fault lines, and political ideology blinds all. One of the interesting effects of this is that we can't agree on anything. Despite the fact that we have the theoretical ability to access more, and more accurate, information than ever before, we remain firmly ensconced in our islands of ideology.

The Earth is round! The Earth is flat! The Earth is six thousand years old! No, six billion! The Apocalypse is nigh! The Apocalypse occurred sixty-five millions years ago, and we survived! You can find information out there to support all sides, to support anything you wish! What to make of it all? Who to sort it out?

We are, I believe, in a crisis of confidence in information. Not only can people not agree on information, we can't even agree on an institution to verity it for us. The government? Ha! They're the biggest bamboozlers of all! The media? Ha! They're in it too! Any way you want to see it - as liberals kowtowing to ideology, as big corporations protecting their own interests, as unwitting saps buying government and corporate propaganda, or as fallible human institutions, burdened with their own unique set of psychological tripwires and incentives in the form of the 24-hour news cycle, the primacy of celebrity, the every-falling public attention span, etc. Even the Old Gray Lady has proven capable of conveying misinformation, culpable of joining in the false drumbeat that pushed us into war (of course, certain parties had long ago given up it as a ringleader for the Left).

That's one of the biggest issues today, as I see it, the deficit of trust. This deficit, which plays out most sharply along political lines in the United States, is leading us down a path, ultimately, of choosing two separate realities. Though they're more complicated than that, I'll just call 'em the Left and Right realities. The thing is, this happens on every position, and not everyone takes the same side, but there are always two sides. One side effect of the popular media is that the public seems to equivocate a lack of bias with the presentation of two sides: the Left and the Right. One one, evolution does not exist,,asfsdf

Exacerbating this is the fact that so much information exists that it's difficult to have an informed opinion on everything. However, due to the permanence of information in the public sphere, it's easy to outsource all of it. For instance, in the latest health care debate intensified by Michael Moore and the Democratic primary, I can tell you that there are problems both with the US system and with government-run public health care. In fact, I think that the best solution is set up by Singapore. however, I don't really know how it works. Something about $5,000, I think. It's a mixture of both, designed for... something. I don't really know. I do know, however, that when I did spend the time to research it, I was came to the conclusion that it was ideal. I don't need to remember it, because I feel confident of the decision I reached, and I can look it up again (which in this instance I probably will, but only because I've had to repeat that caveat so often in the past few weeks), but mostly I just sit secure with an opinion I can't really back up.

Likewise, we outsource many of our decisions to talking heads or experts (for instance, I came to my decision based largely on reading "The Undercover Economist" which walked through a practical guide to efficiently distributing health care). Without all the time required to be knowledgeable on every issue, we must find our own individual or institution on which we can rely to guide us through the misinformation miasma. And so we remain privy to only a select channel of information, biased knowledge built upon biased knowledge, until, at some extremes, it becomes entirely impossible to communicate - we each, essentially, live in different realities, in different worlds built on completely separate assumptions, existing and running parallel to each other, sloshing over in increasingly-vitriolic debate.

So what's the solution? What institution can we trust? Interestingly, some of the most trusted institutions in the Information Age are Google and wikipedia, both of which are essentially designed to filter through the sum total of all information out there, relying on the masses to produce the most accurate results. Google, by finding out what people link others to and wikipedia by running through many different personal views of the facts to ultimately weed out bias and arrive at some fundamental, neutral perspective (though even then there is controversy (www.conservapedia)). And yet, with the possible exception of the venerable snopes.com for sorting out urban legends, there are precious few authorities to whom a majority of people will defer.

Part of me is curious if such a fact-checking institution will arise in the future, and what it will look like. Part of me had more to say, but thinks that I've already said way too much considering the format. So: thoughts? What to make of this - a paradoxical era in which more is known than ever before, yet less is known for certain. Hell, I don't even know if moderate drinking is healthy. Or eggs for that matter. And as information becomes even more specialized, we increasingly have to defer to authority figures (it's hard to replicate on your own experiments at the atomic level), yet the public remains highly skeptical of "so-called experts". What is true? How do you know it? How will we ever?

HeadAroundU
08-07-2007, 02:27 PM
You're all wrong! It's the Age of HAU. The funniest BBS member of all time.

It's good to read. While reading it, I felt like I'm watching some TV serial questioning the existence of the universe. It's kinda philosophical and at times it goes slightly off-topic--AAE is right about overthinking but it doesn't mean that you should delete it, it's a good stuff.

Here is my simple point of view. Let me quote you,
"historically, each "Age" has taken its namesake from the fundamental technology that has achieved temporary supremacy, usually the latest and most advanced material or method of conquering both nature and fellow man. The Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age, the Industrial Age, the Steam Age, the Nuclear Age, the Space Age, the... Information Age?"

Well, you can't deny that computers accomplish that. They are comprised of many materials so it makes sense not to name them this way. I don't know what's the dominant material, silicon maybe? Do you want the Silicon Age? Computers are all about processing of informations. Input/processor/output, it's all jizzed up with informations. So here's the Information Age.

Z-Speak
08-07-2007, 03:04 PM
I've heard that the age we live in know is starting to be called the Communication Age, but I never heard it announced officially.

Meg
08-07-2007, 03:28 PM
It's blatantly just the "myspace generation". Admit it. Scary, but true. At least where I live.

wheelchairman
08-10-2007, 05:11 AM
Don't worry Mota, someone will try to reply with relevance! To show that they read your piece (and enjoyed it!)

Not these Brits

Anyways, to get to the point of your point. I found most interesting the part about two realities being created. And while it's something I've been aware of, you brought forth the idea of what would happen if this were allowed to continue. Where the democrats and republicans (left and right, communists and fascists, liberal and conservative, toma(y)to and tom(ah)to).

What you could worry is that it would divide everyone into two irreconsilable camps both ignoring reality and constantly in contradiction while both party leaderships are probably closer than we actually think. Ironic but that's probably not what would happen. What is most likely would be a continuation of what we have now. The political college students would subscribe more to the views being espoused by the parties, the staunch supporters would continue being staunch, and the rest of us would stop caring. If we haven't already. I mean the dawn of the spin doctor is what started this, the denial of reality in favor of your own more preferable reality. And where does it end, Paris Hilton denying drug use on Larry King? Celebration, Florida?

Fuck if I know, it's just really annoying.

What would the fact checking institutes look like? Anything worth it's beans would be something like an ombudsman, wouldn't it? A publicly run institution, and by public I don't mean governmental, but by public people. An NGO I guess. Would it affect public opinion? I hope so, but I doubt it. How many more people watch the Daily Show instead of CNN or Fox News? Well more is the wrong word. How many watch the Daily Show instead of CNN? And why? Because it agrees with their own personal understanding of reality? Or because they think it's more honest.

And how is this any different than the Christians who drop out of the theological faculty because it questioned their faith? Or the Marxists who dropped out of Political Science 101 for the same reason?