Information’s everywhere so now we have to think
As we reel in the barrage of misinformation, punctuated with provocative spurts of ignorance, it seems ironic – if timely — to note that October 2016 is National Information Literacy Awareness Month. On the positive side, we should be keenly aware by now that this democracy, based as it is on an informed citizenry, faces an unprecedented challenge.
In truth the term “information literacy” makes me cringe, though I can offer no alternative. More to the point, my serious concern is to focus on the concept – that we keep the goal in mind as we struggle to sort through the maze of messages with which we are bombarded. So I use the term “infolit” and think about how we cope – individually and as a society — with the maelstrom.
Since the dawn of the digital era teachers and librarians have led the push to prepare youth to meet the challenge of the information age. The United States National Forum on Information Literacy offers a serviceable definition of infolit — to wit: “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” The story of infolit is well-chronicled in a pair of lengthy Wikipedia pieces that provides references, definition, and basic background.
Still, today’s information-saturated environment presents a challenge for every lifelong learner – i.e. everyone. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent sea of information overload, misinformation, and truncated innuendoes. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of age, economic, social or education status, to hone the skills of discernment, to stifle the spontaneous reaction, to share information responsibly and thoughtfully – in a word, to think.
Though the month of October offers far too little time to overcome our digital gaps, we can begin by focusing on the reality that we are at a critical moment in the history of this nation and the world. As never before we engage as producers, intermediaries, receivers, and processors of information; it is incumbent upon us to consider the dimensions of our responsibility, to realize that all information is not created equal and that funding source, authority, intent, verification, and a host of other factors shape the content of the messages that bombard us. As citizens of the information age we must also recognize and respect our role as sources and sharers of information and ideas.
The challenge of the Information Age is to internalize the fact that information matters – and to act accordingly. Exchanges of ignorance are inane at best, potentially dangerous. To honor the intrinsic value of good information is not instinctive; it must be taught, learned and applied – until it becomes habitual.
At one point I thought to create an ad hoc list of materials to help young people sharpen their infolit skills. During that initiative it came to me that these exercises would be appropriate for any one of us. Masters though we may be of digital manipulation we might well take time to think critically about what’s known in some circles as “critical thinking”.
So this launch into Info Lit Awareness Month begins with titles for adults who may hope to hone their own thinking skills before sharing them with 21st Century learners. There nothing conclusive about this, the point being to encourage readers to think about thinking.
One starting point might be a dip into the website of The Critical Thinking Community for their thoughts on the subject: http://www.criticalthinking.org//
Though this library-centric reference may compound the info overload it offers a comprehensive overview of information seekers and their interface with resources and it sets the stage for thinking about the broad scope of the challenge:
Following is a pot pourri of approaches to logical thinking, coping with fallacies, intelligent embrace of the Net and the scourge of intentional misinformation – needless to say this is the proverbial tip of the infolit iceberg:
- Almossawi, Ali and Alejandro Giraldo. An illustrated book of bad arguments.
- Bennett, B. Logically Fallacious: The ultimate collection of over 300 logical fallacies.
- Cryan, Cran and Sharron Shatil, authors, with Bill Mayblin, illustrator.Introducing Logic: A graphic guide.
- Mintz, Ann P, editor. Web of Deceit: Misinformation and manipulation in the age of social media. Numerous contributors.
Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; It is thinking that makes what we read ours. John Locke