|by James L.
[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
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,
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).