Data to wisdom—it’s a long path

Is information the same as knowledge? If we have data and information at our fingertips, do we have knowledge at our fingertips? What are the differences between all these by-products of human activities?

By-products, they sound like something you may not really wanted. I see by-products of human activity as—never mind what you are really thinking—data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. When I took a few minutes to consider what each is, I discovered that it’s a long complex path from data to wisdom. Do you know and understand the differences between data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom?

I get annoyed when I hear someone say that the Internet is ‘knowledge at your fingertips’ because, contrary to what the purveyors of Internet services in the Technojungle tell you, it can’t really be knowledge that is at your fingertips. What I find through the Internet is data and information. That’s why they called it the ‘Information Superhighway’, not the ‘Knowledge Superhighway’. In my mind, if it is knowledge, you shouldn’t have to look it up. It is not your knowledge unless you know it, understand it, and can use and apply it. How would you define knowledge?

I have always found that obtaining knowledge is a rather difficult bumpy road for me. It is a complicated process. However, when I finally know something, I have a pretty good understanding of that something, or even of someone. We sometimes refer to the knowledge of a group, even all the knowledge of humankind. 

Way back when I was nearing the age of 16, I decided I wanted to become part of a group of people who know how to drive a car. I couldn’t exactly look up how to drive and then claim to know how to drive. I couldn’t ask someone to send me the knowledge of how to drive a car. To learn how to drive I had to go through a complex process that included Driver Training School. I needed, not only information, but, skill acquisition and experience. It took more than simple information before I could say I know how to drive. Eventually someone had to test my knowledge and skills to consider how well I actually knew how to drive.

When I want to know how to spell a word, I have to look up how someone else spells the word, usually in a Technojungle dictionary, to get the information as to which letters to use and the order they need to be arranged. When could I say I know how to spell the word? When I have the information, or when I have spelled the word following the information? Or, is it when I can actually spell the word on my own? If I want to say I know what the word means, I need to be able to use it correctly in constructing a sentence. 

I have been playing music in a few bands, until my Essential Tremor condition worsened, and often had to learn tunes. There were situations where I just needed to play from printed sheet music, so I needed to be able to read the music. If it was a complex arrangement, I needed to understand where the arrangement was going. There are other situations where I needed to play from memory. Fortunately, I can play a lot by ear, so after hearing the tune several times, I can usually play it. There are other situations where I needed to make up my own part to accompany other players, or to play an improvised solo. In all these cases, I need particular information, knowledge, skills, abilities, and understanding.

Who is actually your friend? I have watched as Technojungle social media, for example, has utterly destroyed the traditional meaning of the word ‘friend’. I’ve always believed the term friend held special importance in forming a relationship with someone. It has meant I shared more than casual knowledge about someone. With social media, I may have a digital Technojungle cyber-friend whom I know very little, if anything, about. There could be no actual relationship involved. 

‘Likes’ in the Technojungle are collected as if they are endorsements, when they are seldom any sort of thoughtful opinions of interest. Do Likes in social media seem more like meaningless casual careless clicks? What about endorsements? I remember someone asking if I would endorse them and all the expertise they listed on their social media site. In return, they would endorse me. I looked over the list and realized that I barely knew the fellow and certainly had no idea if he could do what he said he could do. I politely declined.

We are going to learn to spot, clarify and understand some of the misconceptions presented in the Technojungle. 

What is out there in cyberspace of the Technojungle that people so often call knowledge? I have to always remind myself on my safaris that what is out there is somebody else’s knowledge. That other people have taken their knowledge, usually including their own opinions and perspectives, and turned it into data and information. It is just Technojungle data and information to you until you know it and then it becomes knowledge, usually through some combinations that include education, training, skill acquisition and experience. Let us not allow the notion of knowledge to be degraded, but let us hold it in high esteem as that which we strive to attain. 

I notice something peculiar about looking up data and information in the Technojungle. I usually have to look it up again because it did not become actual knowledge to me. Because information is so easy to look up, I didn’t bother to learn and create my own knowledge. My understanding of how learning occurs is that it really helps to have an engaging experience with the data and information. I encourage you to relish your own safaris with observations and experiences to make your life in the Technojungle real and as human as possible.

Keep your eyes open as you safari and as you read on in this book, for other misconceptions of information, knowledge and understanding versus truth and reality. These misconceptions create confusing, dehumanizing dilemmas in our Technojungle world. I’m sure you can think of one right now?

Data and information come in many forms including signs, symbols, graphics, sounds, text, and much more. To a computer in the Technojungle, everything is simply data—technojumble—and that is how it is stored. If you are old enough, you might remember that early computing was called data processing and usually dealt with large amounts of simple data. 

Data and information are closely related, so how do they differ? Data usually refers to facts, figures and statistics. Information is often also associated with facts, but more to some form of prose or artistic formulations of data. Could we say then that when data is assembled into formations that can be more easily recognized by a human, it forms a message and thus it becomes information? Doesn’t information usually convey meaning while data may be more obscure? Do they both convey meaning?

Let us not allow the notion of knowledge to be degraded, but, let us hold it in high esteem as that which we strive to attain.

So what exactly, you may ask, is knowledge? From my perspective, knowledge is meaningful information that you know and can apply—hence knowledge. Do you see the difference? If you know something, shouldn’t you be able to do more than simply repeat it, but apply and use it? You may be able to repeat something and still not understand it. You can learn that 1+1=2, but until you can explain why, demonstrate it, or use it, I would say that you do not understand. This little arithmetic example results in something like a statistic, and that is simply data. We could say that you know that 1+1=2 as a tidbit of information. I would say that to have this as true knowledge, you should be able to apply the method for producing the equation and understand how to do 2+2=4. As knowledge, shouldn’t we know the answer without having to look it up or use a calculator? Does the level we know something depend on our understanding?

What about situations when we memorize something and then say we know it? An actor needs to know their lines and this is generally done through memorization. However when acting, the lines need to be delivered with meaning, understanding and feeling, so there must be more to it than simply memorization. Doesn’t an actor who memorizes lines also have to have some understanding of the character and situation? Isn’t that more on a level of knowledge and understanding? I’ve noticed that one of the downfalls of some education delivery is that people can memorize and achieve high grades, but, they often turn out to do poorly as an employee doing a job.

Is it possible we are being told that the Technojungle Internet brings us knowledge so we will no longer bother to learn anything because we can always look up data and information we need when we need it? It is important not to get lazy. This would be dehumanizing. 

We still need to strive to learn. Just because you have looked something up on the Internet, doesn’t mean you have learned it and thus know it, or even understand and use it. Isn’t learning a complex human process that does not necessarily occur from looking at information once on a Technojungle webpage? What does learning mean to you? 

…it is not really knowledge that is at your fingertips.

What happens when you feed the Internet and the Technojungle with information from your human life, or about you? First, your information, or message, gets broken-down into somewhat meaningless data. Next it is wrapped into many packets and dispersed through various paths before being re-assembled at the destination into your original message only in raw data form. In a way, it gets chewed up and digested in some way. This in itself sounds dehumanizing. 

Once a request for the data is received, such as when you instruct your computer to load a webpage, the data is sent to your computer and re-assembled into meaningful information. At the storage site, it sits forever. Or does it? Once you have put your knowledge into storage as data and information somewhere on a data storage medium, it is there ready for somebody to look at and even learn, thus making it knowledge to them. 

Let’s not allow technology, the Internet—the Technojungle—to replace our human brains. It is important to keep your eyes, ears and mind open on your safaris. 

We still have two others to define, understanding and wisdom. 

For me, with a background in education, the best way to explain the topics in this chapter is to relate them to learning. On the first week of class you learn terminology and on Friday can list the terms. This is data. During the second week, you learn what the terms mean and can define and explain in your own words with examples. Now you have information. In the third week, you learn to recognize the use of particular information by someone else and use your knowledge to know why it is used. By the forth week, you are able to apply information yourself in particular situations because to have a full understanding. By week five, you go out in the world and, not only use what you have learned in all four weeks, but you know when and how to do so in significant ways and even make modifications. This is mastery or wisdom. You would be using more than knowledge, employing your own experience, understanding, common sense, insight, judgment, compassion, and even ethics.

It is a huge leap from data to wisdom, but humans are good at this. Machines are not. We can protect our humanness and humanity by seeking and nurturing wisdom. The Technojungle might be able to handle data, information, knowledge, and even seem to understand. Wisdom, however, is another matter. Could machines one day exhibit wisdom? What would that seem like? Would it be real, or imitation? How would a machine show true compassion in wisdom?

Wisdom—this is being human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

Now we should be clearer on the differences between information and knowledge. We might even better understand what data and understanding are. Now let’s look at what we can do with information and knowledge and at how they get communicated. How do we transmit or share our information and knowledge?


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