Exploring knowledge in the digital age
By Katharine Beaulieu
It’s 2016, or, as the kids say these days, “2k16” #yoloswag amirite? But, because it’s 2016 that means we are smack dab in the Information Age, the Cyber Age, the Computer Age, if you will. Up until the last 50 years or so we had been subsisting off of both the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment. We learned things from words on pages and we ran our capitalistic economy with industrialization. These days, we learn things through technology and our (unfortunately still capitalistic) economy is powered by the computerization of information.
Our school system is powered by the computerization of information as well. How many of us no longer write things down but rather type our notes on our laptops? (This very article was written as a “draft” of an email). How many of us scroll through the results of the library catalogue and click “journal articles” to filter out the books that we would actually physically have to go to the library and lift off the shelves? How many of us “ctrl-f” through those articles to highlight specific words and phrases so we don’t have to sift through the whole article to find what we need? Some might argue that “kids these days” are lazy because “in their day” they had to walk uphill both ways to the library through a snowstorm and climb up the library ladder to get the largest book off the tallest shelf. Perhaps they have a point, but aren’t we rather just using the technology that has been given to us to its greatest effect?
One of the most important things about this new Information Age however is not that we can “ctrl-f” through our journal articles or that we can type our notes on laptops. The most important thing is that it has allowed information from all over the world to land squarely at our fingertips. The Western world has a long history of being fairly “Western-centric”. Theories and ideas were developed based almost purely on information that had been proliferated within the community that it was attempting to serve. This, of course, led to a fairly cyclical production of information that often failed to take into account other viewpoints or ideas. Today, while certainly the Western world still has issues with being rather Western-centric, the ability to dive into and extrapolate information from all over the world and from all cultures and ethnicities is here. The global information age has arrived. No longer do we need to search through the possibly limited selection of books that a library may once have had for an opinion on a different culture or ethnicity from the viewpoint of someone who has never experienced that culture or ethnicity (this of course is not to say that we shouldn’t search the library – books are still a valuable source of information). But, today, we can search the web for all of the information we need and more importantly, we can get it from an incredible variety of sources and source types.
Additionally, no longer are we judged purely on how much we know, on how many books or encyclopedias we have read and can regurgitate. These days, since the addition of hundreds upon thousands of resources has enabled us to draw conclusions and create theories, we are judged more on our ability to extrapolate and analyze. We need to be able to engage with the world around us, not just understand it. This Information Age that we find ourselves in today asks us to engage with it, rather than just reading it quietly in a library corner. We are asked to comment, to discuss, to interact, and to analyze. Information, now more than ever, is a community-based experience, and our community is the entire world. So get out there, use those fingertips and learn something new. Engage, experience, understand, extrapolate, analyze, expand, and if you can, strive to understand and unpack any bias or centrism that you might be bringing to the #table.