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|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|March 9, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 215
What's worse than ignorance?
Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher
Two weeks ago, Daniel J. Boorstin, prize-winning author and librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, died. I didn't give much attention to this news, until I heard a replay of an interview he had given Jim Lehrer on The NewsHour in 1987. Many points were made, but one statement stands out in particular: "Worse than ignorance is the illusion of knowledge."
My first thoughts were of the weapons of mass destruction and the evidence U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell provided to the United Nations Security Council a little over a year ago, Feb. 5, 2003. Though much information was provided, knowledge of what was actually happening in Iraq was elusive at best.
With the explosion of the information age, we have more information available than we can imagine. But do we have more knowledge? We often act as if information and knowledge are synonymous. For instance, the newly formed U.S. Office of Homeland Security would have us believe that the combined information provided by the 22 separate information-gathering agencies is a wealth of knowledge for defending the United States against future terrorist attacks. Yet most commentators on the matter have questioned the legitimacy of this notion.
As a child I remember being told that ignorance was a very strong and destructive force and that the pursuit of knowledge was a necessity for the development of society. But over the years, it seems more the case that knowledge is beginning to bow to the pursuit of information. It is often heard that those who control the information control the power -- information is king.
The information age is a relatively new phenomenon. Though personal computers have been available since the late 1970s, the emergence of the Internet as a household entity is at best 10 years old. Yet, even in this short time, the amount of information and the rate at which information is exchange is beyond imagination.
But here's the crux of what I think Boorstin was referring to in his statement "Worse than ignorance is the illusion of knowledge." With so much information coming at us so quickly, have we lost sight of the need for critiquing this information? We have become inundated with outside stimulation, so much so that we may be drowning and do not yet know it. 24-hour news, books, e-mail, cell phones, fax machines and Web engines have left us little space for reflection and the synthesizing of the information coming our way.
Is it possible we risk being little more than information processing machines ourselves? Are we becoming the computers we are creating? As someone once said, "To err is human, but it takes a computer to really foul things up."
While we face many challenges in our tumultuous world, the illusion of knowledge may be the greatest of them all. Information is vital, but without the soul of knowledge it is a lifeless body of facts and figures with little meaning. Our task is to rediscover the soul we have lost. The information age is a necessity, but hopefully not the final chapter.
Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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