Information vs. Knowledge

In this age of electronicity (a word I like to use to encompass all things electronic, including news, programming, and other forms of communication…and I think it’s a word I made up specifically for this purpose one day recently), we are inundated with information.  News, sitcoms and drama, commercials, internet, online social networking…all of these embody the idea of information.  Julian Assange and the creation of Wikileaks exploited sources of information in order to, as Assange once put it, reveal “the truth.”

But is information really truth?

We get so much information minute by minute, but automatically filter it into mental categories: rumor, gossip, news, chatter…  There are many.  What we need to keep in mind is that information is not knowledge. Simply because we have heard something doesn’t mean that we know it to be true, not even if it comes from a source we believe we can trust.

Knowledge involves personal experience. This might sound like fuzzy logic, but let’s explore a bit further.

A person reading the results of an experience is relating information, and does not have firsthand knowledge of the experience.  The person who actually experienced the act has knowledge, for their experience involves the senses, and is stored in the brain as memory.

Angie works in an office where gossip tends to be how information is disseminated.  She heard that Robert – a friend of hers – was going to be laid off.  The source was a partially overheard conversation in the lunch room the day before.  The information caused her stress and anxiety, because she knew she should tell Robert, but also knew that the information was probably confidential.  Should she tell him or keep it to herself? She didn’t have firsthand knowledge of a pending layoff, and therefore, the information she possessed was office gossip at that point.

What would you do?

When we are in possession of information that we believe no one else has, it gives us a sense of power.  Some might exploit that powerful feeling and try to coerce another into doing something that will benefit the information holder in order to buy their silence.  This is called blackmail.  Subtle and overt forms of this are used in politics all the time.

Angie, being so engaged by the information she’d overheard, might try to do some research on her own to determine if the information was correct.  She approaches another colleague in administration, where the information is confirmed, though no specific names had been mentioned by the board of directors, so her information about her friend Robert was likely untrue.  Having only heard part of the conversation, she couldn’t know that the “Robert” in question was one of the gossiper’s friends who worked for another company.  Angie might’ve caused undue stress and anxiety in her friend Robert by spreading the information to him prematurely.

When we engage in spreading information we have not verified ourselves through firsthand experience, we cannot know if the information is true.  We allow ourselves to become embroiled in the rumor mill that is present everywhere.  However, if we remember that information is not knowledge, we can avoid stress and strife in our lives.  If we’re the sort to believe everything we hear, we can fall into destructive patterns that affect us in negative ways, including making us unhealthy in physical, emotional, and psychological ways.  When we choose not to engage in such practices as spreading information, we remove ourselves from the drama that ensues.  In this way, we can feel better about ourselves and, most likely, about the world around us.

For more reading, check out this article.