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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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4 Information Age Paradoxes 49

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4 Information Age Paradoxes he modern Information Age, even if taken at face value, provides examples of several self-contradictions. It is an age where information is at once freely available and completely inaccessible (as noted above in examples of the Digital Divide). It is an age of science and reason in which unreason and superstition are spread by the very same information technolo- gies that define it as scientific, an age of increasing information accompanied by increasing ignorance, and one in which several paradoxes have emerged to challenge traditional and accepted concepts about the social roles of informa- tion, knowledge and ignorance. INFORMATION (OVER)LOAD AND THE INFORMATION IMPACT PARADOX The ability to process information is as important as how much informa- tion one is exposed to. In the modern globalized media environment, people linked to the networks of communication are bombarded with information. The fundamental question remains whether this increased flow of information necessarily results in a more informed populace. Despite the widespread assumption that it does, scholars have made several arguments that associate increased information with reduced knowledge. These arguments are often predicated on various notions of what is widely termed “information over- load.” Although the term “information overload” denotes one of the most com- monly perceived Information Age paradoxes, Bawden and Robinson (2009, pp. 182–183) noted that “there is no single generally accepted definition of information overload” but that it is “usually taken to represent a state of affairs where an individual’s efficiency in using information...

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