Information or Misinformation?
by Ray Strackbein
Many times, information is really misinformation or non-information. Misinformation is factually wrong. Non-information is valueless fact. Here is a strategy to tell the difference.
The media often report items in books or articles without ever independently testing their validity. You probably remember news features you personally knew were in error.
Another source of misinformation is traditional lore. Before the year 1500, everyone "knew" the earth was flat.
Information overload does not exist if you redefine the word information. Information is a fact having at least one of these qualities:
- Information directly affects you
- Information tells you something you did not know and need to know
- Information answers your questions
- Information explains your experience
The fact that your house is on fire is information. Little else matters except for how to put it out.
GRAF - Generally Recognized as Fact
The United States has a classification for chemicals called GRAS -- Generally Recognized as Safe. We should have a GRAF list: Generally Recognized as Fact. Just as we have discovered on closer
inspection that some chemicals on the GRAS list are in fact hazardous, we can use a GRAF list to identify and test our assumptions about the validity of traditional lore.
Misinformation is becoming even more commonplace because people are gathering content according to Industrial Age rules even though we live in the Information Age. Content is not information simply because you saw it:
- on the Internet
- on TV
- in a book
- in a movie
- on the blackboard
Most of our "authorities" were educated in the Industrial Age. I certainly was. Traditional thinking overwhelms my ability to discover real information. To quote Paul Simon: "After
all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all."
Non-information is a fact which
- Does not directly affect you
- You do not want to know
- Has no value to you
Much of what is called information is really non-information. Although usually irrelevant, non-information does have value in making a logical argument, to synthesize, or to validate information.
Certainly what the media presents for information on the news and in advertisements is not information. An advertisement contains information only if you are making a purchasing decision and you can verify the facts.
News is information only if it is about something or someone you care about.
Learn to separate information from misinformation or non-information and you will prevent information overload.
Someone reads a few books and writes one of their own using what they just read. The "information" you read in such a book is several generations removed from actual knowledge or experience. Book reports
about book reports are not information.
I have heard really astute, brilliant information. When I ask the person who said it, "That was great. Can you tell me where I can read more about that?" the answer is often, "
I didn't read it in any book. I just learned it on my own."
Try this: when someone tells you something they think is information, ask that person to explain to you how they learned it. If they explain their actual experience
to you and it makes sense, it is information. It may not be true or factual, but it is information about their belief and experience. It is information about how they think. It is metainformation:
information about information.
Primary Knowledge or Secondary Knowledge
Primary knowledge is knowledge gained from your own experience. Secondary knowledge is gained from books, television, computers, or other people.
In the Information Age, think of secondary knowledge as hearsay or mere content. Check the information for yourself. The more senses you use the better.
Content is not information.
Content is stuff put in the media so advertisers will buy advertising space. Media makes money from advertisers. The more people the media attracts, the more money the media can charge for advertising.
People will not usually buy a newspaper or magazine that has only advertising. To entice you to buy their products or watch their channel, the media provides content
On the local news, content can be the report of a traffic accident in another country. Content can be a report of a murder in another state.
Media uses free content to make a higher profit. Free content means content-free.