Information or junk


After a summer break, I have resumed my weekly column in Spanish financial daily Expansión, kicking off with a piece I’ve called “Information or junk” (pdf in Spanish), and which explores the need for each of us to develop personal strategies to manage information.

In a very short period of time our world has changed from one where we had very limited access to information to one where it is available virtually instantaneously on devices that we have with us at all times. Does this mean therefore that a generation brought up with instant access to information is necessarily better informed than its predecessors?

Sadly, the answer would seem to be no. Lacking information management strategies, the majority of us are happy to read heavily editorialized publications that allow us to read “the news that they want”, rather than taking a more pluralist approach; the publications that dominate the internet are not those that offer links providing background and context, but those focused only on going viral. Buzzfeed’s $850 million valuation, three times what Jeff Bezos paid for the Washington Post, is a sad sign of the times, as is the sensationalist garbage that invades our Facebook timelines.

The way that we consume information is important, and provides us with much more than a few things to comment on with our friends over dinner or on the social networks. The information we consume makes us more or less innovative, it opens our minds to new ideas, allows us to see things from different perspectives, and generally makes us think about the world and what is going on in it. This is not the internet’s fault. The internet has the potential to give us more than faster access to larger amounts of garbage. The problem is us, and by extension, organizations. In the final analysis, how we inform ourselves determines who we are and how we work.

Below, the full text:

Information or junk

We live in an age when there is more information being produced and disseminated than at any other time in our history. On the one hand, a new generation of tools allows unprecedented bi-directional communication; on the other, mobile technologies allow us to access that information at any time, from just about anywhere.

And yet we don’t seem to be making particularly good use of all this information. Instead of a second cultural Renaissance, we’re in a hurry, we make value judgments, and we read stories based on sensationalist headlines. Some recent investments put the value of publications like BuzzFeed, which works on the basis of “sexy” headlines at triple that of a beacon of journalism such as The Washington Post.

If we’re going to get anything out of the information age we are currently living through, we need to relearn how to inform ourselves. We need to diversify our news sources, prioritizing on the basis of the benefits they offer us. We need to look for quality information, with links that provide rigor and a range of perspectives. Instead of looking to have our views challenged, we prefer opinionated, narrow views that simply reaffirm what we already believe. And if the article is too long, move on to something else; if we have to think about what we’re reading… We want quick returns: we want to think we’ve been informed, and get on with sharing playlists and videos. Why bother sending a story, the only thing the recipient is going to read is the headline anyway.

Is this the future? Sticking to websites that limit our ideas, instead of opening our minds to new concepts? Our we doomed to just scan headlines, or can we take advantage of the information at our disposals to form a more rounded view of the world?

We live in the information age, but are we better informed? Or do we simply read more junk? Think about it. In large part, the future depends on the answer.


(En español, aquí)

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