Tackling the problem of the ever widening gap between "what we understand - and what we think we should understand", the book offers tools to sort ...Show synopsisTackling the problem of the ever widening gap between "what we understand - and what we think we should understand", the book offers tools to sort through daily data and offers suggestions for print media, meaningful charts, graphics and statistics. From the author of the "Access" guides.Hide synopsis
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By Richard Saul Wurman
Information Anxiety 2
By Richard Saul Wurman
Ever since the futurist thought leader Alvin Toffler coined the term `information overload' in his ground-breaking book, `Future Shock', in the early seventies, not only I know what it is, but also know how it feels like: overwhelming! I have since then become more fascinated by the subject & have read widely on it. A few good books come to mind. `Information Anxiety' is just one of them.
I have read `Information Anxiety' in the late eighties, just before the internet era. I went on to read the follow-up edition, `Information Anxiety 2', about a decade later. The latter edition captured the impact & ramifications of the internet, desktop computing & advances in digital technology. Personally, I still think the first book is a comparatively much better book. Although I have also read the author's `Follow the Yellow Brick Road' as well as `Information Architects', I still like his `Information Anxiety' very much.
From my personal perspective, I reckon `Information Anxiety', although intended as an exposition on information anxiety, covered a relatively broad spectrum particularly in terms of critical lessons: learning, understanding, creativity, problem solving, questioning, information processing, information design, and stress & anxiety management. As a matter of fact, an adequate understanding of each of these aspects will readily help one to deal with the complexities of life in the information age. Putting them together, they generally reflect the principal message of the book.
The author defined `information anxiety' as a condition "produced by the ever widening gap between what we understand & what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data & knowledge, & it happens when information doesn't tell us what we want or need to know."
His definition did not emphasise `information overload' as a cause of `information anxiety' but portions of his book did so. He cited several situations likely to induce `information anxiety', including "not understanding information; feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information to be understood; not knowing if certain information exists; & not knowing where to find information."
For me, there had been many vital lessons from the book. I would like to say that two vital lessons, at the time when I had read it, had cast a very strong imprint in my mind, which subsequently became my guiding philosophy in helping kids & teens to succeed in school.
One came from Chapter 8: "You only learn things relative to something you understand." (This is sometimes known as Richard Saul Wurman's Law)
The other: "Learning can be seen as the acquisition of information, but before it can take place, there must be interest; interest permeates all endeavours & precedes learning. In order to acquire & remember new knowledge, it must stimulate your curiosity in some way."
I had also enjoyed reading about the author's approach to problem solving:
"Before any solution to any undertaking can be developed, a movement must begin to discover its beginning. Understanding the vein of the problem is the course to solving it. The best way to accomplish any endeavour is to determine its essential purpose, its most basic mission: What is the endeavour supposed to accomplish? What is the reason for embarking on it? This is where the solution lies.
There are two parts to solving any problem:
- What you want to accomplish;
- How you want to do it;
Even the most creative people attach issues by leaping over what they want to do & going on to how they will do it. They are many HOW's but only one WHAT.
You must always ask the question `WHAT IS...?' before you ask the question `HOW TO...?"
The author's personal comments about asking questions were revealing:
"When you sell your expertise...you have limited repertoire. On the other hand, when you sell your ignorance, when you sell your desire to learn something, to create & explore & navigate paths to knowledge - when you sell your curiosity - you sell from a bucket that is infinitely deep, that represents an unlimited repertoire. My expertise has always been my ignorance - my admission & my acceptance of not knowing. My work comes from questions, not from answers!" This reminded me of the spiritual insights of Zen Master, Suzuki - Beginner's Mind vs Expert's Mind: "If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind, there are few." I fully concur with this learning attitude.
Lastly, the author outlined the following tell-tale signs of information anxiety?
- chronically talking about not keeping up with what's going around you;
- feeling guilty about that even higher stack of periodicals waiting to be read;
- nodding your head knowingly when someone mentions a book, an artist, a news story that you have actually never heard of before;
- refusing to buy a new appliance or piece of equipment just because you are afraid you won't be able to operate it;
- giving time & attention to news that has no cultural, economic or scientific impact on your life
The author also warned that `information anxiety' would limit people to being only seekers of knowledge because no time was left for them to be reflectors of knowledge. This is very true.
At the time I had read this book, I had actually distilled & jotted down more than fifty useful & workable insights, some of which have already been revealed in this review. Many of the insights had already been assimilated into my life & my work.
In my end analysis, `Information Anxiety' had been a very stimulating book. The book is very easy to read as you can breeze straight through or peruse in random bites. Even the many marginal notes in the book are real gems on their own!
[Recommended readings: For professionals, 'Survive Information Overload: The 7 Best Ways to Manage Your Workload by Seeing the Big Picture', by Kathryn Alesandrini; for everyone, 'Surviving Information Overload: The Clear, Practical Guide to Help You Stay on top of What You Need to Know' by Kevin Miller, are definitely worth exploring!.]
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