Tag: Information

For Information’s Sake

Those who know me, know that by day I am a librarian. You may not know that librarianship covers a wide range of disciplines. My main draw to librarianship was, and still is, studying how people interact with information. The events of the last year have really given me concern over that choice.

Recently we’ve been beset with information to the point that we can’t possibly take the time to process and evaluate it all. Worst of all we have taken to tuning out any information that would give us cause to reexamine our opinions. This is anathema to everything I’ve worked for and stand for as a librarian.

As I see it there is no such thing as fake news. There are facts and there are conjecture. Willing one to be the other so that your opinion is validated is the utmost in ignorance. Yet we accept this every day. Have you seen Facebook? Why is this? Is it just that much easier? Do we need so much validation that we are perfectly happy locking ourselves in our own echo chambers oblivious to when we are being lied to? Then again that just may be my inner librarian talking, but at times this is what it seems we have fallen into.

The academic in me is interesting to see how this experiment plays out. The librarian in me screams at every meme that passes disinformation off as fact. Never mind truth, because that is often in the eye of the beholder. A democracy lives or dies on the ability of it’s people to make informed choices. Sadly I  fear information has taken a back seat to opinion. Until that is recognized we can only slip further into our self defined fog.

A Glut of Information

binary code holeGlut is an interesting word, it even feels funny on the tongue. Some would think a glut of something as vital as information would be a good thing. As a librarian I used to think that. Now I’m not so sure. We have so democratized information that facts have become open for debate. Pick any major issue and you will find articles, reports, studies all refuting and supporting at the same time. The only difference are the bodies behind and responsible for them. In science empirical evidence, (empirical anything actually), is that which is observable. One would gather that if you see, hear and feel it no further argument is necessary. That’s all cotton candy and rainbows for things you can see feel and touch but what about the rest? No amount of information is necessary for the believer and no amount of information can convince the skeptic. So instead we drown in a sea of information. Where once information was the weapon against ignorance it is now the tool of the ignorant.

Enough proselytizing. Where does this fit in with writing? When you are writing a scene, you have at your disposal a whole host of information to convey to the reader. Is the floor carpeted, hard wood with a scratch where a piano used to sit? Are the walls covered in a peeling flowery wallpaper or a bland utilitarian beige? Is there a lean man sitting in a chair smoking a pipe, or holding a teddy bear? All of this information can either help or hinder the reader. We want to help the reader. That detail about the wood flooring and the piano while interesting may not be relevant unless said piano is crucial to the story. The color and fabric of the drapes, while nice word padding, is about as useful as a shovel in a swimming pool unless it causes your character to reminisce about something important to the plot. Writers have to balance the amount of information they reveal to further the story and set the scene against inundating the reader with useless facts. Information can make or break an argument, well it used to anyway. Do not let that fact cloud your writing with unnecessary or contradicting information.

Filter Out the Noise

This past election season I have kept my politics off this site. My intent for this site has always been to focus on the art, craft and business of writing. Having said that, I do have one comment to make on what has transpired but from the perspective of a writer and someone interested in communication and information.

One of my daily tasks at work involves creating a daily email of recent news articles of interest to the state library. In doing this I frequent many news sites both local to Arizona and national. I am dismayed to see the number of headlines that on clicking take me to either an editorial page or a blog post. My expectation of an informative and researched article is now dashed on the rocky shore of personal opinion. I am agree there is a time and place for opinions, but I don’t see opinion as a substitute for a news story. Maybe I am just showing my age, a time when we watched the evening news at six or eleven o’clock and read a daily, usually locally owned, newspaper. A hallmark of the information age is access to twenty-four hour news, Twitter feeds, status updates and the blogosphere; information at the speed of light. Are we better off with quantity?

Naturally we gravitate to facts and opinions that agree with our personal views, but what happens when it becomes difficult to tell facts from opinions? We seem to be entering a period when opinions have become facts. A part of that has to do with recognizing the value we place on the source of the information above and beyond what would normally should be applied to the information itself. Think about this, if our Secretary of State issued the following statement’ “I think (insert spooky country here) may be days away from a nuclear device.” This story would be all over the news networks and fuel endless debates and finger pointing despite the flag that this is an opinion, “I think,” and the ambiguous, “may be days away.” We instantly assign weight to it when it comes from someone we recognize as having inside information or someone who should know. What does it do when it comes from the everyday Joe? What happens when this little tidbit gets echoed in Tweets and posts all around the blogosphere to the point where no one knows where it originally came from so that it then becomes fact? Welcome to the miraculous world of misinformation.

I became a librarian because of my interest in research and finding things out. You may not know this, but the first thing a librarian at the reference desk does after finding an answer to a question is look for another answer. This way the librarian knows if the answer has been refuted or reinforced. Librarians have an inquisitive nature or maybe our bullshit alarms are just that much louder, either way we weigh the information presented to us very carefully before accepting it. What factors into that? Well, where the information comes from, why it is being provided, what it hopes to communicate, and who benefits from it are all starting points.

As Americans it should not matter if any one of us votes for Remington Charles Silverspoon III on the extreme right or Ernesto Chico Rodriguez on the extreme left. What should matter is that we made a sound choice based on an examination of all the information available. I fear that did not happen, for many, in this last election and we only have ourselves to blame.