Monday, November 17, 2003

Drowning in a Sea of Information

It seems that two researchers at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems estimated that people generated 5 million terabytes of information last year (San Jose Mercury News, 10/29/03). According to their study, that's double the amount generated in 2002. They estimated that in 2002 we created 800 megabytes of information per person, enough to fill 30 books. According to Hal Varian, one of the researchers, "We're drowning in a sea of information. The conclusion from an unnamed wire service reporter was, "The moral of the story? Delete, delete, delete."

It is true that we live in a vast sea of information. And to every generation we're sure it seemed like it was too much to handle. Without context, models and yes, even paradigms, that vast sea of information is just noise. An older person once told one of us that Bach just sounded like noise to her. Yet to us Bach's music is beautiful, sometimes even transcendently so. On the other hand, when we listen to much of youth's popular music of today, it just sounds like noise. It all has to do with context, models, paradigms and values.

Deleting the information is not the answer, at least not the answer that moves us forward. Progress is made by building on the information created by others and combining with our new information.

Information comes in four forms - noise, data, knowledge and wisdom. The goal is to extract data from the noise, transform that data into knowledge and from the knowledge, create wisdom. Each step along the way requires human creativity. This pyramid of information and our human creativity can use some help. We need better tools, models and paradigms of work to enable us to reach the hyper productivity promise of the information technologies. Yet we seem to be stuck, trying to use a hammer on every problem as if the problem was a nail.

Our advice, "Create and elevate."

We'd welcome comments from you about real advances that aid every day work in escalating information from noise to data to knowledge to wisdom (beyond word processors, spread sheets, presentations, data bases etc). Write us at

Paul Schumann & Donna Prestwood

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