November 15, 2012

Today's Problem Revisited

The world has problems.

We all know this, right?  The only place that's ever been perfect is that strange nameless location that Fox News keeps insisting that America can "return" to, but only if you do everything they say right now.  Bummer for those who believe it, but given the nature of the time-space continuum, it just ain't gonna happen.

So we have to keep moving ahead (or "going forward", as far too many self-important jackasses put it) because that's the way time works.  Fine.  What are we going to do about it, then?

Well, the world has, as they say, gotten smaller: we can reach most corners of it, have mapped all of it, are flying high above it, and if not personally at the lowest depths then our proxies are.  I personally am a member of the microlending site Kiva, shipping $25 off to help someone build their bookstore in Sri Lanka, or fix their motorcycle so they can run a taxi service in Bolivia.  It's fun, and I can tell people I'm an international investor without lying this time.

But in the ability to do this, wouldn't it be just as true to say that the world has gotten much, much bigger?  Personal opportunities abound, and despite the best efforts of some folks, information about nearly anything can be accessed by almost anyone, almost anywhere.  This expands the worlds you can reach beyond all compare, and people think the world has gotten smaller?

Which leads to a more common issue, one variant of which was brought to the popular mind over 40 years ago: Future Shock.  The shock Toffler is warning about (for those of you who haven't read it or its follow-up works) is the technological change overwhelming people, and the social structures that had been put in place generations previously were not built to anticipate or adapt to these changes.  Just look at the difficulties governments have had with copyright in the days of the internet.  Or the fun that has been wrought by Wikileaks.

On a more intimate, social level, the most difficult issue may well be the overload of information available to us.  The filters restricting our access to information that were applied in "the old days" could have been anything: your parent's disapproval meant specific ideas weren't discussed; lack of a market for certain ideas meaning the media in your local area deciding not to cover a story or issue; the classic "history books being written by the winners" problem.

But now?

The problem isn't so much history books being written by the winners as it is history books being written by anybody, no matter how qualified (or not), biased (or not), or intelligent (or... you know).  Sourcing aside, there is still the problem with there being far more sources than any single person could be expected to absorb.  In a digital age, how can information be made palatable for human consumption?  Fortunately, there are people working on that.

Allow me to present, if I may, this years Information is Beautiful Awards.


posted by Thursday at 11:00 pm


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