So there we are last Sunday listening to an educated author and he says (I paraphrase):-
“Even with all the information available on the internet people still don’t seem able to think ...”.
And therein lies the problem.
THERE IS NO INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET.
THERE IS ONLY DATA.
Now you might have grown up, like me, thinking of data as numbers that were to be plugged into a trigonometric formula to calculate the temperature of a ladder leaning up against a cloud, whatever.
Or you might have been sausage-machined through a Statistics course at University and made to understand the differences between mean, mode, median, and all those other muddling monikers that are manifest with “m”.
But Ian Sharpe, of I.P.Sharpe Associates set me on The Right Path of True Understanding back in, oh, 1985, when he drew a diagram on a whiteboard in the Exchange Tower of First Canadian Place:-
“We Process” he said “Data to obtain Information”.
For my part I processed his statement and the penny dropped.
That’s why we used to call it Electronic Data Processing!
That’s why we used to call it Automatic Data Processing.
It wasn’t about Punched Cards at all. It was about the Data that were punched onto those cards, and it was about the Information that arrived (that was my information) as a result of the Processing.
And that is why I often feel that “Information Processing” is a bad term. And “Information Technology” not much better.
Back to the Internet.
Every web page or email that ever was, is, or ever will be, is simply Data to my eyes.
I read the data that is on my screen and my brain processes the received (and perceived) data to produce new ideas in my brain.
I have the option to pound that Information through my keyboard and stuff it back onto the internet as Potential Data for someone else to read.
FWIW last Sunday’s speaker pushed data into my brain; the information from the data, produced by a process in my brain, is now being hammered, one two-fingered character at a time, into a newsletter and I have tricked you into absorbing My Information as Your Data, and whether you are miffed or tickled pink, you have processed my data and produced your Information.
The Information can produce any number of responses:-
(1) Greaves again; scroll down to the next page.
(2) Hmm. I can steal this idea for my next talk.
(3) Twit! Time for a Letter To The Editor (after all, if they’ll print Greaves’s stuff they’ll print anybody’s)
The bottom, as I believe ICL salesmen used to say, line is this:-
When we read something on the internet, it is merely data. Not unless we process it do we obtain information.
Folks who take everything on the Internet as gospel are legion; they circulate scare-letters by email, drum up funds for starving programmers in Toronto, swear on (or off according to the parity of the decade) flax seeds, and so on.
Mindless behaviour based on un-thinking acceptance of the latest datum (Jean Hacket please confirm) put before them.
Leaders in society, and that’s us, ought to process everything we read on the internet. We ought to seek a contrary opinion and weigh the data. We ought to engage in discussion about the issues off-line, over a coffee, a beer, or a cigarette. Or, at a pinch, snuff.
Blind acceptance of what is on the internet has a better-than even chance of derailing us. I suspect at least a ninety percent chance, because the proportion of Chris Greaves to Richard Dawkinses and Steven Pinkers is at least nine to one. You should ignore anything Chris Greaves writes about DNA or the mind; you should embrace what Dawkins and Pinker write.
You could, of course, accept what you have just read as being spot-on.
Or you could question it.