The great information overload

The great information overload
There’s a humorous little piece in USA Today about the dramatic growth in stored knowledge in the world today, thanks to computers and the Internet. In 2002, the world created 5 exabytes of information, according to a recent report by the University of California-Berkeley. As the article points out, “An exabyte is 1,000 petabytes, which is 1,000 terabytes, which in turn is 1,000 gigabytes, which finally gets into the range of today’s PCs. One gigabyte equals enough books to fill a pickup.” While the author has fun with the subject, the reality is the information explosion is one of the key factors in the cultural change known as Postmodernism. When I was a boy, the only knowledge I could access immediately was that which was in my head or in the encyclopedia we got at the local A&P store. That’s why the emphasis was on acquiring knowledge. In today’s world, the emphasis is on using knowledge, because it’s right there at the end of your finger.

This confuses people of my generation, because the laws to which we were subject seem to no longer apply. It angers others; those, for example, who refuse to accept that their grandchildren can multi-task while doing homework and still get good grades. Mostly, though, it just scares people, those who cling to Modernist logic that says it can’t be so. I think this is why my generation created science fiction films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey where the computer went berserk, and heroes like Mr. Spock, whose computer-esque brain often saved the day onboard the USS Enterprise when something went wrong with the Star Trek technology. We insisted on Modernist limits to technological advancement.

That’s fine for fantasy, but in the business world, Modernist limits blind us to potential, and this information explosion is accelerating with each passing month. Disruptive innovations — thanks to those who don’t see the limits — are an imminent threat to institutions whose power and position within the culture are based on protected knowledge.

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