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The (Dis)information Age

The Persistence of Ignorance

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Shaheed Nick Mohammed

The (Dis)information Age challenges prevailing notions about the impact of new information and media technologies. The widespread acceptance of ideas about the socially transformative power of these technologies demands a close and critical interrogation. The technologies of the information revolution, often perceived as harbingers of social transformation, may more appropriately be viewed as tools, capable of positive and negative uses. This book encourages a more rational and even skeptical approach to the claims of the information revolution and demonstrates that, despite a wealth of information, ignorance persists and even thrives. As the volume of information available to us increases, our ability to process and evaluate that information diminishes, rendering us, at times, less informed. Despite the assumed globalization potential of new information technologies, users of global media such as the World Wide Web and Facebook tend to cluster locally around their own communities of interest and even around traditional communities of geography, nationalism, and heritage. Thus new media technologies may contribute to ignorance about various «others» and, in this and many other ways, contribute to the persistence of ignorance.

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1 Introduction 1

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1 Introduction Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink (Coleridge, 2006 [1798]) he concept of the “Information Age” is central to modern thinking. It pervades not only media and communication studies but also much of sociological investigation, business, marketing and even public policy. Almost two decades into the public dissemination of Internet technology, the common social assumption is that we are squarely situated within the Informa- tion Age and that everything has changed because of it (Castells, 2000; Haddon & Paul, 2001). Further, it is widely and uncritically accepted that the assumptions of the Information Age have become part of society to the extent that they largely determine not only our collective futures but also our indi- vidual aspirations (Winston, 1998). However, on closer examination, much of the actual research and think- ing does not support the hype and assumptions surrounding the presumed Information Age. The availability of measurably higher quanta of information in most dimensions of modern life has not necessarily led to fundamental social change on the scale of the transitions to and from the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age or even the industrial revolution (Castells, 2000; Drucker, 1999). Nor indeed does the hype of the Information Age hold true for the vast majorities of the world’s population (Wresch, 1996). While global entities and their informationized cultures spread ever more widely, the one-sided nature of the exchange usually favors the purveyors of information (such as marketers and advertisers for global corporations) over the consumers. Many...

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