The Information We Seek

March 13, 2014

HighWire at Lancaster University has requested a series of six blog articles.

 

The Curiosity Bureau’s Partner Rebecca Taylor responds to the Narratives and Meta-Narratives seminars on Digital Innovation - its impact on the world, the economy and society.

 

Article 1: Digital Innovation Series

 

 

 

We have access to so much information.

 

We hunt for information online and offline.

 

We spend our time seeking and wallowing in information.

 

For centuries scholars, philosophers and scientists were our information assimilators and disseminators, they were the studious, diligent search engines sense-making the information, which - with academic intent - they appeared to be able to access more readily than we could, but that was then.

 

What about now?

 

Perhaps you look to your bookshelf, or to your Internet explorer. Return to your connection with the space where lots and lots of information is accessible to you. Look at where it exists, and also where it co-exists with yet more information that intrigues, teases, distracts you. Perhaps some information leads you off-piste, and into a whirlwind of information that you didn’t even care for in the first place.

 

In a meeting of minds at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in February 2009, Latour held that it would take “several decades” for humans to use the Web to its full potential for interactivity and “virtual witnessing.” Today, he told the interviewer, it remains little more than a means of “reproducing pages.”it remains little more than a means of “reproducing pages.”

 

And so we add to the age-old conversation of the consumption of information, a knowledge economy in which we swim amongst the push, pull of information. Darwinian neuroevolutionist Jaak Panksepp suggests that our ‘SEEKING system’ that ‘…encourages foraging, exploration, investigation, curiosity, interest and expectancy’ fires dopamine when we explore our environment, and whether that be online or offline, we are natural born seekers.' Panksepp’s research argues that the adrenaline that we experience when we seek is majority formed in the process of seeking as opposed to upon finding our end result.

 

So as we seek information, we find, and then we seek again. The supply and demand model is now firmly routed in the consumption of information as much as it is in the production of objects and things – it is modernity as we know it, with its pro-consumerism and capitalist tendencies and the need for more.

 

However, let us not forget here that as a society of consumers, of information, we also share in a turbulent past. In some countries people continue to be forbidden access to information, and we cannot ignore that we continue to live in a world where freedom of access to information, knowledge and understanding – our curiosity – continues to be considered a threat by some political and religious leaders.

 

Whilst (some of) the world welcomes a democratic society with access and freedoms to information, we appear to be opening up the space that was only frequented by those considered an expert and as we become familiar to having access to copious amounts of content it is our search for meaning that requires further consideration.

 

In Search of Meaning Statistic Brain provides an average number of daily Google searches. In 2013 it recorded at an average of 5,922,000,000 searches per day - we can only imagine the number of answers this then presents you with.

We search for answers. Whether our chosen search engine is Google or Yahoo, or the church, or the scholar. We are becoming more reliant on other means to provide us with the answer, but what does this say of our curiosity? Do we stop being curious when we have been presented with the answers? Is our search for meaning ever complete? Some religious leaders would go as far as to say your curiosity is dangerous to you.

The website for 'Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction' (one of many 'agony aunt' style blogs on spirituality - scarily accessible to all) people are asking questions such as; 'Is Curiosity Bad? I seem to have an endless appetite for information about all things'.

 

In his (unsurprising) response, Father Bartunek responds by saying:  "Curiosity stops where learning begins. It’s like the butterfly that flits from flower to flower without gathering any nectar, whereas the bee will settle into a flower and drink up, taking time to gather all that the flower has to offer. Curiosity is often associated with other vices – gossip especially, inordinate attachment to fads and fashions, wasting time, and tale-bearing – vying to be the first to pass on juicy rumours."

 

Is your curiosity a threat to your search for meaning, or would you consider it as an opportunity to investigate further?

It is because of statements such as Father Bartunek’s that The Curiosity Bureau believe it is vital we offer space for curiosity to exist in the acquisition and management of information - or, the learning experience. For if we treat curiosity as a luxury, as a treat you have access to only when you have time to indulge in it, then we run the same risk of seeing it as fast food. Before we know it we will be obese and sluggishly wallowing in the world of information, sadly blaming our curiosity in the same way we blame our will power when we are trying to give up what is ‘bad’ for us.

It doesn't have to be this way.

 

Our last blog entry looked to the AntiFragile. The thread here leads us from looking at alternative coping strategies in the current worldview of modernity, to being driven by an alternative mind-set – rather than searching with the intent to consume information, let us search with the intent for meaning, sense-making. This becomes a shift in our approach when managing content and information, managing our curiosity.

 

Rather than restrict our access to our curiosity in the hope that we will arrive at a complete answer. Let us dwell in this space for a while. If we continue to flit amongst our curiosities it can become counterproductive, but at the same time if we leave curiosity behind and forget to continue our inquiry we run the risk of being content with what we are presented with.

 

If we slow down and communicate, find points at which we share in curiosities together and form community, we might just find common ground, we might find meaning and we might just shift these norms of over-dosing on information and start finding meaning and purpose together in the information we seek.

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