Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Where Is The Knowledge We have Lost In Information?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? -Eliot

The ‘Radia Tapes’ and Wikileaks aggressively ask these questions. 5,000 taped conversations of Radia administrating the country and untold lakh cables of diplomats sending their reports Stateside, many of which seem to be after a bloody good bottle of red. Does this unprecedented access to sensitive information make us wiser political citizens than generations before us?

Eliot wrote those immortal words in 1934 when the information revolution was barely at the smelly student, getting grumpy at the coffee house stage. During this era, Pandit Nehru was writing considerably more than 140 characters, but only when his fellow convicts would return his stolen Parker pen. His receipt of information was through smuggled newspapers and Chinese whispers. A drop, of a drop of the bottomless oceans of zeros and ones that now entomb us. Did this make him less effective?

Gandhiji would have ruled Twitter. He would have made Stephen Fry’s disciple count look like a rent a crowd after the cheque had bounced. His immortal sayings are well below 140 characters -What do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea. #Swaraj #Mountbatton #Quitindia. Devastatingly effective, even whilst largely starved of formal information dissemination, we can only speculate how all encompassing his power would have been with a Facebook account.

But was that the quality of the man? Was he a lesser political activist for not having high speed broadband? Would Jinnah have backed down on his demands if he could have read the New York Times on-line? No! Because their subjective wisdom, with varying degrees of quality, was founded on knowledge. Not information.

In this information age we are so terribly under tooled to mine for this erstwhile wisdom in a swamp of information posing as Wikipedia knowledge. Mountain ranges of gravel, with every man and his dog with a shovel, but no pans to sift the elusive shining nugget. No all wise, Google equivalent, search engine that instantly churns out a one page philosophical analysis of a billion results.

The explosive Twitter reaction to the Radia Tapes is typical. The Twitterati became a million strong posse before Vir Sanghvi could even reach and draw for his Blackberry. He was shot dead standing. His slow and clumsy defence, made in the traditional media, was just too glacial and unfashionable for Twitter, and demanded some linear concentration without any toilet breaks. Because of his attempt to take time and put wisdom in the information, even if he didn’t suffer from miraculous co-coincidences of opinion with Radia, (After asking her what he should write) he would have been strung up.

If you are older than thirty and spend five minutes analyzing Barkha Dutt's involvement in the scandal you can only conclude she is considerably less tainted by the corporate, media nexus. Tell that to a pimply citizen journalist, sitting on the throne blogging, who has only known information.

Would Eliot pen another line if he were still alive? ‘Where is the information we have lost in time?’. Time is the penultimate consideration for the new citizen journalist. Even more so for the matrix of Indian news channels. To get the information out before you can say “Tweet” is so much more important than any considerations of accuracy (knowledge) never mind a thoughtful analysis.

This surging compulsion to set free the flimsiest of information in the internet zoo, in a Mumbai minute, can be electrifying. Like the ‘Radia Tapes’ Wikileak’s Cablegate again set Twitter well ablaze. Julian Assange was the best thing since the MacBook. But like the machine he can miraculously store information not process it into abstract thought. A living illustration of the information, wisdom paradox. Commendably setting loose information that he believed citizens should enjoy but very unwisely further upsetting the relationship between the nuclear powers of Iran and the US, not to mention her Gulf neighbours.

In ancient times, ships leaving the Port of Alexandria would be searched to see if any of the precious scrolls from her legendary library were being smuggled to the outside world. The Greeks jealously guarded their written knowledge. Well meaning, half-wits like Assange threaten the introduction of a contemporary equivalent. It may be necessary. Our unprecedented access to a web of information has not made us wise and better citizens. It has made it drive thru easy to scream our stupidity. ‘Power to the People’ cannot be power to the twits.

Tweet:- Radia picked up the phone. God! Oh God! It wasn't her imagination. She looked at the van outside and the phone clicked again.


  1. Nice read, Sir.

    I believe, every system has in-built mechanism which helps it correct on excesses. This whole idea of information and its storage and dissemination will also have to go through it, sooner rather than later.

  2. Thank you very much Shivji. I enjoyed your concept of self regulation, I really hope it continues. Cheers