Saturday, April 4, 2009

Are we smart yet?

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2006 alone, "the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010, it is estimated that this number will increase to 988." That's give or take a few thousand terabytes.

These numbers are as unfathomable as "trillions of dollars," a phrase getting even more play these days.

But, back to the exabytes --- Is this a good thing? The CJR article says an AP study showed people have "news fatigue." Not surprising, given that there are "70 million blogs and 150 million Web sites today—a number that is expanding at a rate of approximately ten thousand an hour. Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day."

Even considering that 200 billion are selling pharmaceutical products or body part enhancement, and 9 billion are from representatives of dead Nigerian clergymen wanting to deposit millions into your bank account, that's still a lot of friggin' e-mail.

On top of that, people have to tweet and update Facebook and check Bloomberg on their iPhones, while having dinner, chatting with their significant other, and watching Newshour on TV. We live in an "and" world.

So, are we smarter, wiser?

Better informed, yes, I'll give you that. I am exposed to more information in a day, than my dad was in five years or so. But on the data ---> information ---> knowledge ---> wisdom continuum, I don't think we've made much progress toward true enlightenment.

In fact, most of this just distracts us from working through the really important stuff. Engineers talk about the Signal-to-Noise Ratio, a concept that can also be used to assess useful information vs. irrelevant data. In the wired world, noise is drowning out the signal.

Wisdom is the capacity to apply knowledge, understanding, experience, discretion, and intuition to finding solutions to problems.

I have information, maybe even knowledge. Dad had wisdom.

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