Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Information and its discontents

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary have been at work on information. From an essay by managing editor Michael Proffitt:

The adverse psychological impact of the information age manifests itself linguistically, in information overload (1962) and in the entry for information fatigue (1991). Although those two last phrases are simply the latest additions to OED’s coverage, for those engaged in any form of online research they could just as well describe the arc of a working day. Perhaps this is why the OED definition of information fatigue, while entirely accurate, also sounds faintly heartfelt:
Apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information, esp. (in later use) stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the Internet, or at work.
In dictionaries, as elsewhere, a statement can be at once plainly factual and profoundly human.
I cringe a little when I hear students refer to college work as a matter of — dire phrase — “retaining information.” Pick a field, any field, and think of people who are competent in it: are they “retaining information”? No: they know stuff. They understand the contexts in which “information” may be meaningful and are thus able to draw relevant conclusions and solve problems.

comments: 2

Gunther said...

I second your thoughts. In Germany, quite a lot of people in the education consider it absolutely necessary that even small children find their way around in a world of information. They deem it advisable and promising to expose the poor little mites to PCs running e. g. Microsoft Word, and I am still waiting for the officials to emphasize learning, understanding, assessing, applying and imparting without stressing that amorphous and almost meaningless phrase of "information".

Other Elaine said...

Ah, the 'higher-order thinking skills'.... where have they gone? (Bloom's taxonomy...see? I did retain some information from those abysmal education classes. tee hee)