Growth of Information and Communications
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(1), 10. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

We now have more information than we know what to do with. Like the old agricultural policy of the United States, which left grain rotting in silos while people starved, the United States' information policy is allowing "warehouses of unused information" to sit idly by while critical applications for that information go unmet. For example, during the last 18 years the Landsat satellite has taken a complete picture of the earth's surface every two weeks. The information in those photos would be invaluable to agriculturists, environmentalists, geologists, educators, city planners and businesses. "Yet, 95% of those images have never been seen by human eyes. They are left to rot in their digital silos in Sioux Falls, SD."

The problem, according to Al Gore, is that while we have automated the process of gathering information, we have not found a correlative means of making it available. "The amount of data now available--somewhere--to answer almost any question imaginable is staggering. But the sheer volume we have collected on almost every issue now threatens our ability to provide a definitive answer on anything. We're forced to deal not only with information, but also with "exformation": data existing outside our conscious awareness which nevertheless keeps us slightly off balance because we know it exists, even if we don't know where or how to use it.

Gore argues that we have the tools necessary for digesting and using this information--supercomputers-- but because we lack the communications links required to make them truly useful. They by and large reflect an unrealized capacity. Gore claims that the primary problem is that the "our current network of telephone lines will not carry the elaborate graphic images that make supercomputers useful." What Gore is calling for are "information superhighways. . . a nationwide network of fiber-optic 'data highways' to link supercomputers and digital libraries." Whereas information lines currently transmit about 56,000 bits of information per second, what Gore envisions, and what is presently within the realm of possibility, is a communication network capable of carrying several million bits of information per second. The importance of such a network is seen when it is realized that we are in the initial stages of "a truly global civilization based on shared knowledge in the form of digital code. The ability of nations to compete will depend on their ability to handle knowledge in this form." [Gore A. (1990, July 15). Networking the future: we need a national 'superhighway' for computer information. The Washington Post, p. B3.]


Skill in critical thinking is paramount as we face information overload resulting from the rapid growth of information and technical sophistication. Not only must we teach students how to access all forms of information, but also how to use information. Although many professors will argue that they teach critical thinking skills in their courses, many would argue that it is difficult to teach these skills in lecture classes. Furthermore, students must be taught the necessary techniques for filtering, organizing, and absorbing the desired information from the "overload" that they access--skills such as those offered by Richard Saul Wurman in Information Anxiety (Doubleday, 1989) and by Michael J. McCarthy in Mastering the Information Age (Archer, 1991).

All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 7/1/2003 8:33:33 PM. 16075 visitors since February 2000.