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Don’t Leave Home without It!

2011/02/13

Joseph, your post on Geek Cred in an “Economy of Meanings” Universe, raises many thoughts (as you often do). I particularly like the closing conclusion you wrote, a conclusion that ought to be somebody’s signature line:

“Information is cheap. Knowing which information has real meaning is expensive. Knowing what meaning to act on?”

I’d like to expand a bit on your comments on the current standard of what passes for information and knowledge in our society.  Over the past weeks many people were excited by the prospect of social media’s role in promoting popular uprisings that overthrow authoritarian rules.  I am not so optimistic.

Almost a year ago I posted my views on the quality of information supporting the educated electorate so essential to a democracy.  (See Hey, techer, leave those kids alone…)  My concern then was that we are losing the ability to separate fact from fiction, to weigh both sides in a debate, perhaps even to know what we think and why we think it.  As you put it in your recent post, “you need to understand the source of what you find as well as that source’s legitimacy and accuracy before accepting what you’ve found as valid information.” Such understanding is critical to the informed electorate that a democracy requires.

The proliferation and Balkanization of information sources in our society, the lack of quality standards for any of this information, and the increasing tendency to just “follow” those you “like” can mean the loss of any insight into what’s in my best interest, let alone that of the best interest of my fellow citizens. The value of knowing what meaning to act on, particularly when that meaning may affect long-term economic and civil well-being in a democracy is becoming very precious indeed.

I very much hope that the Egyptian and Tunisian citizens will be better off in the future, but I very much fear that they will not have an adequate forum for a meaningful exchange of ideas … one that will help them consider what form their governance should take in the future.  Yes, social media can provide a new, very open forum for people to gather and have their say.  But this does not mean that any of those standing on the virtual soap box to have their say are themselves worth listening to.  And the audience may be uninformed or disinclined to “fact-check” what they hear/read.  In the age of social media, what expectations can and should we hold for an informed electorate?

How can we help emerging democracies build the broad base of information on issues that would be democracies require?  The technology is clearly available, but is there the will to use it wisely?  And, in any event, what do we “know” in this country anymore about rational discourse and informed decision making in public policy and governance?

Democracy, is there an app for that?

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2011/02/14 10:35 am

    Excellent gauntlet grabbing, Dr. Lent.
    I especially love Democracy, is there an app for that?

    Joseph

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  1. Democracy, is there an app for that? « An Economy of Meaning

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