Information power and politics – An implicit but real challenge

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

Nearly two decades ago, 1998 to be exact, the library community launched a vigorous campaign in support of “information power.” That campaign morphed in time into the push for “information literacy” as described in last month’s blog post.

(https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/) The distinction is subtle – and the message is clear. Information, misinformation, communication, control and permutations of the truth matter.

More than policy, money, good looks or ground game it is information that will determine the Election of 2016.

On the scale of egregious crimes and/or sins with which this democracy should come to terms is the fact that messing with the facts – the misuse, withholding, manipulating, skewing, or otherwise communicating anything other the truth — is wrong.   The fundamental premise of this and every democracy is the power resides in an informed citizenry. That truth is pretty well spelled out by the Forefathers in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On the one hand, the meaning of information – whether in the form of the great American novel, a database or a tweet — is inherent. Still, that meaning is influenced by the medium of communication and, ultimately determined by the recipient. Individuals and institutions produce information that is conveyed by a plethora of media –all of which have a stake in the information game. The sources and conveyors of information then interact with receivers who bear the responsibility to evaluate both the content and the source. The power of the information rests in the source, the medium of communication, ultimately in the receiver who weighs the complexities then acts accordingly in light of source/content validity and personal values.

Information power and communication power are inextricably linked. Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan, author of The Medium is the Massage, laid out a framework for re-thinking information power. A review of those basics is in order at this juncture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OseOb_wBsi4)

The fact is, instant transmission of information and misinformation leaves no time for reaction or reflection – there is no pause between communication and action! Though we may know how to locate information, we are ill-equipped to assess the information, the source, the channel of communication, the ownership, the relevance, much less the validity or value of the overload of information with which we are bombarded.

Within hours of this post the last vote of the 2016 election will have been cast, counted and verified. The influence of information/misinformation and of communications media is stark and inexorable. This election is a wake up call for this democracy to get a grip on digital age information skills, attitudes and values.

No matter the outcome on Tuesday we have some serious thinking to do. My hope is that we will embrace the challenge to grapple with the some tough issues including information power, the role of the media, and about how we as a democracy shape and share the power of information to create a better world.

As we struggle to restore the soul of this nation it is wise to reflect on the reality that good information in the hands and minds of good people has immense power to heal.

 

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One response to “Information power and politics – An implicit but real challenge

  1. Yes!

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