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An Original DocumentThe Internet - Information Literacy


I've been doing some research on the WSIS ( World Summit for the Information Society) process as part of the "civil society" input in New Zealand.

I've become aware that the www link"Information Society" is a non-starter because governments and businesses and far too many individuals have a vested interest in making sure that you are so distracted by dis-information that you have no time and energy to do anything really useful or important. 

Information Awareness

Information is the presentation of data in a form that explains what the situation is and allows decision making or action.  We do have the potential to create an "information society" but we seem to be stuck with an anti-information society at the moment.  It's not that the issues are unknown.  It's usually not the case that we don't know what we need to do.  There is a lack of commitment to change as quickly as modern communication demands.  When more people are information aware, the barriers to doing essential things will tend to fall.  Meanwhile we are www linktrapped by past propaganda with ideas that tend to get in the way rather than help develop the future. 

Membership of the information society is claimed by those who not only access data from a wide variety of sources, but they also collect their own data and who can think about or process data and ideas to produce information. 

Information Literacy

On the www linkInformation Society: Voices from the South list, a young Canadian, www linkYaacov Iland identified the need for skills he called "information practices" that people needed to operate effectively on the internet.  I prefer to use the term information literacy. 

Because our education system has poorly prepared people for ICT use, a good deal of public education is desirable to teach people "information literacy" that will in turn develop their information awareness.  Information literacy includes these things together: the confidence to build your own knowledge, to maintain private records of interesting data, to collect important ideas, to discuss your interests with others in an effort to build your own understanding, and to put on public record, if required, your present understanding or knowledge.  These things, together form a set of information literacy skills that everyone has a right to learn and to use. 

If information literacy was widespread in the community the result would be a process of continuous community learning.  People would become more aware that as you learn, some of your working ideas and ways of behaving need to change, and that this process is desirable and not a form of disloyalty or evidence of a person's unreliability and bad character.  Information literacy could act like a catalyst that enables social and political change.  Imagine the potential for society to develop if everyone who made a mistake was allowed to learn from it and helped to act differently.  Imagine that politicians and other public figures might be able to learn from experience, and admit it.  The apparent public insistence that people in positions of responsibility are not permitted to rethink a policy stance is absurd. 

Information

A significant problem is the word Information itself.  The term is badly misused.  You only have information when you learn or are given some new data that fits into your existing thinking or into something you are trying to do.  The data must inform you in a new way so your understanding is improved or your ability to act effectively is enhanced.  Then it might be called information.  If the new data misleads you, makes you believe something that isn’t true, or interferes with your ability to act effectively It's certainly not "information". 

Yet if magazines and newspapers reflect public opinion and knowledge, most of our society pretends that all data is worthy of the term "information".  "In the interests of free speech" we allow all sorts of garbage to fill our newspapers and our television screens.  You become what you choose to be interested in.  Much of what is published for the public to read or watch or listen to is pollution of our mind-space.  It might turn a dollar, but it destroys potential, and we all pay the price of that.  What sort of world is it when monks and shepherds who never watch the news, are often much better informed than those of us who consume our daily dose of media propaganda. 

You have to decide if the data you are getting is or is not "information" and you do that by seeing if the data fits the pattern of what you already know, and if it extends that pattern in some way.   Your defence against the barrage of garbage data is what you already know.  Our education, or miseducation, commonly teaches us to ignore what we know and seek information from other people, from "expert sources".  We have been taught to be information vegetables, actively absorbing other peoples manure (their dodgy data) that's poured over us and around us every day.  We need to take control over what we are exposed too.  We need to be active in choosing the sources of data we allow into our mind-space.  This is the beauty of the internet for me.  Television is almost completely gone from my life, and life is so much richer for that. 

Primary and Secondary Sources

You have for own www linkPRIMARY experience, and your record of that.  Your record?  Ideally something more reliable than your memory.  Keep a journal, diary or notebook.  Local FileMaintain your own files on topics of interest.  You know you can rely on that, and to the extent that It's not reliable, you have a feel for that too.  You have your own data on many topics, and that informs you in a powerful way. 

In addition like everyone else you have access to secondary records.  What’s in the press, on the Internet, or in your mailbox?  You can store files, print, read, highlight, learn about, write notes on or discuss this secondary data and in the process you may or may not accept the "information" It's supposed to contain.  Because of your primary experience, your own knowledge, reinforced by your journal if you have one, you have special tools for detecting propaganda if you care to use them.

Information Literacy Skills

Here is my list of essential skills that "information literacy" demands.

a) Each person having his or her own data.  Primary experience and notes, records and measurements based on that experience.  Journals, diaries, bench notes or memories.  You've probably broken a few things, and repaired a few things (sometimes badly).  Having your own data is your filter against collecting a lot of rubbish from Google.  It also helps you to use suitable key words when you do searches.

b) Collecting secondary data from the Internet, radio, books, television or in conversations and letters, and filling the most interesting documents of that in some logical way.  Access to these records is desirable.  Using Google fits in here.

c) Making an effort occasionally to find the pattern that this data offers.  Trying to understand it, to turn it back into information.  You need to learn what the data means.  Reading material doesn't mean you "know it".  Choosing what to "know" and integrating it with what you knew before is a task that takes time and effort.

d) To Local Filedo something with the new ideas you are generating, to talk about it, to make plans, do something practical, or communicate what you are thinking, maybe by email.  Doing something practical is a good test.  If it breaks, go back to the beginning.  Quite a bit needs to be known about the subject in order for anyone to use the new understanding effectively.  Educational specialists often speak about learning as though immediately after the lesson you can have full understanding.  Often when you learn things, full understanding of what you know comes weeks, months, even years later.

e) This may lead to Local Filepublication in some form. (If fact "d" is also a form of publication)  An essay, a web page, a programme of action, maybe even a book.  Or perhaps your own game, or music composition or artwork or designs or …… whatever creative activity you can imagine.

Making a Beginning

It matters not a scrap where you begin. Computers, family history, football, or aerospace engineering, It's all one ball of wax, you can only start where you are. What interests you now?  You will go on from there to a dozen other things once you develop the skills required.  In fact the whole spectrum of lifelong learning depends exactly on these skills which I'm calling "information literacy".

A person who has these information literacy skills will be connected with several communities of practice.  Membership of these communities will provide new data for consideration and a continuing flow of challenging questions to ponder.  Within such groups the process of lifelong learning seems the natural thing to do.  Over the next 20 years people will slowly learn how to apply information literacy skills using the internet.  The effect will be to change lives, to change communities and the reinvent to range of possible histories for the world as a whole. 

We Will Soon See "Who We Really Are"

Encouraging widespread use of the Internet in a community is a commitment to a process where the outcome is uncertain.  Who can tell what people making free choices will choose to do?  Will they use their access rights to become terrorists or criminals or to trade pornographic images or to encourage a rebellion?  They might just do that.  Of course authorities are uncomfortable with that notion.  But far more likely people will try to learn about things that interest them, they will improve their language skills, they will learn about other people, they will learn some technical things, they will learn some things they can use and apply in their daily lives. 

If there is some reason to have hope for a better future there is also every reason for people to make the best use of the Internet.  Surely in every country the social connection and goodwill toward each other, the desire to sustain a community in which people to have hope for the future is a massive positive force that needs to be enabled to improve the future.  A few malcontents cannot whip up a problem unless there is just cause.  If NGO’s can be effective in a community, if people have the ability to improve their lives, if there is hope for the future, there will be no just cause to be concerned about.  Trust the process of wide peer to peer discussion.  It works slowly but surely. 

A Peer to Peer World

People need the confidence to be able to define themselves easily and simply in a public way.  Such confidence does not come without effort.  It's in becoming members on list servers and in using chat rooms that people will become more confident about who they are and about what they know.  The peer to peer aspect of the internet is the part that has enormous potential and is seriously neglected.  It's direct person to person contact that is most powerful.  Business and government use of the Internet, lacking person to person contact, is of low priority and of low value to most people.  Business and government attempts to have more influence and control over the internet have failed.  The political problem caused by the internet has not been resolved.  Now "the peasants" have access to the sort of detail once only seen by senior officials in government.  As a result ordinary people may be much less willing to accept their lot in life.  In this new world, the truth will emerge, and not everyone will be happy.  We would be disappointed if governments in fear of the power of person to person contact imposed restrictions on use that attempt to destroy peer to peer user freedom. Up

John Stephen Veitch


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