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Information is money but knowledge is power

DUVALL: Information is money but knowledge is power

Eric DuVal

Eric DuVal

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s become cliche to describe the American economy as an “information economy.” I suppose that’s true. But if information is the currency, knowledge is the real power. And while the former exists at our fingertips, the latter seems more and more elusive every day.

We’re bombarded by information nearly every waking moment. Every email, every text message. Radio, television, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook. Our smartphones can carry the equivalent of a pickup truck’s worth of documents and enough music to fill you father’s basement with vinyl records. (Remember those?)

And that’s just the stuff we actually took the time to save for ourselves. The Internet is a portal to all the information in the world, sorted and searchable, poised to satisfy whenever an inquiring mind wants to know it.

There’s so much information we have to self-select which of it we actually pay attention to. The overwhelming majority of sensory data our brains encounter goes unnoticed by the conscious mind. Do you really remember what the billboards on the Youngmann advertise? Or what song was playing on the radio while you were driving? Maybe, but it’s unlikely. Your brain has to prioritize things and the proximity of the next closest machine rolling 65 mph down the road with the power to kill you is more important than how much it costs for a car wash at Delta Sonic.

The point is, yes, information is vital to our economy. All those billboards cost money. Bands and record companies hope their song registers enough you’ll buy it.

But information, while expensive in many respects, is also cheap and getting cheaper every day because there’s so much of it. With iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Youtube and the endless number of illegal downloading sites, you’re able to access any song in the world. Garage bands on the other side of the world are there, waiting for you to find them.

The real question is how do you find them? That’s where knowledge comes into play — and that’s why it’s so much more important in the long run than the raw data it helps you sort.

Let’s continue the music metaphor for a moment.

So you can listen to just about any song in the history of mankind using your handy dandy computer, tablet or smartphone. It’s a daunting task, especially for indecisive people like me who can spend a half an hour in the shampoo aisle debating which brand to buy.

That’s where someone with actual knowledge of a subject is vital. Maybe you subscribe to Rolling Stone or some other music magazine. Maybe you read blogs about your favorite type of music. Maybe you’ve got a friend who knows a lot about music and let them make a recommendation. Either way, confronted with an almost impossible choice, you needed someone with more knowledge about the topic than you to make a decision.

And that’s the person who really should be making the money.

I’m sensitive to this topic because I believe newspapers — and more importantly the people who work to create them — are intensely knowledgeable about a number of subjects that should (but probably don’t) matter to people. Our reporters possess the knowledge of, say, your city government, enough so they can identify what is or isn’t newsworthy and then pass along the information to you, the reader.

Maybe the newspaper itself is just information but there’s an immense amount of knowledge wrapped up in making it each day.

The world values information greatly but rarely wants to pay for it. It’s a paradigm shift that shapes our society today and it’s one of the most important changes in how we view the world.

As information grows more plentiful exponentially every second of the day, it becomes less and less valuable as a commodity.

I fear we’re reaching a tipping point where the ability to produce it — to convert knowledge into tangible, trustworthy, useful information — is no longer a profitable endeavor. You’re seeing it in nearly every form of media. The people who produce it are being squeezed, paradoxically, by both the insatiable demand for the product — more than we could ever supply — and the prevalence of cheaper, easier and ultimately less satisfying alternatives.

Want to see how the information economy falters? It starts when the people with the knowledge of how to make it can no longer afford to do so.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

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DUVALL: Information is money but knowledge is power

Eric DuVal

Eric DuVal

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

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Tonawanda News — It’s become cliche to describe the American economy as an “information economy.” I suppose that’s true. But if information is the currency, knowledge is the real power. And while the former exists at our fingertips, the latter seems more and more elusive every day.

We’re bombarded by information nearly every waking moment. Every email, every text message. Radio, television, newspapers, Twitter, Facebook. Our smartphones can carry the equivalent of a pickup truck’s worth of documents and enough music to fill you father’s basement with vinyl records. (Remember those?)

And that’s just the stuff we actually took the time to save for ourselves. The Internet is a portal to all the information in the world, sorted and searchable, poised to satisfy whenever an inquiring mind wants to know it.

There’s so much information we have to self-select which of it we actually pay attention to. The overwhelming majority of sensory data our brains encounter goes unnoticed by the conscious mind. Do you really remember what the billboards on the Youngmann advertise? Or what song was playing on the radio while you were driving? Maybe, but it’s unlikely. Your brain has to prioritize things and the proximity of the next closest machine rolling 65 mph down the road with the power to kill you is more important than how much it costs for a car wash at Delta Sonic.

The point is, yes, information is vital to our economy. All those billboards cost money. Bands and record companies hope their song registers enough you’ll buy it.

But information, while expensive in many respects, is also cheap and getting cheaper every day because there’s so much of it. With iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Youtube and the endless number of illegal downloading sites, you’re able to access any song in the world. Garage bands on the other side of the world are there, waiting for you to find them.

The real question is how do you find them? That’s where knowledge comes into play — and that’s why it’s so much more important in the long run than the raw data it helps you sort.

Let’s continue the music metaphor for a moment.

So you can listen to just about any song in the history of mankind using your handy dandy computer, tablet or smartphone. It’s a daunting task, especially for indecisive people like me who can spend a half an hour in the shampoo aisle debating which brand to buy.

That’s where someone with actual knowledge of a subject is vital. Maybe you subscribe to Rolling Stone or some other music magazine. Maybe you read blogs about your favorite type of music. Maybe you’ve got a friend who knows a lot about music and let them make a recommendation. Either way, confronted with an almost impossible choice, you needed someone with more knowledge about the topic than you to make a decision.

And that’s the person who really should be making the money.

I’m sensitive to this topic because I believe newspapers — and more importantly the people who work to create them — are intensely knowledgeable about a number of subjects that should (but probably don’t) matter to people. Our reporters possess the knowledge of, say, your city government, enough so they can identify what is or isn’t newsworthy and then pass along the information to you, the reader.

Maybe the newspaper itself is just information but there’s an immense amount of knowledge wrapped up in making it each day.

The world values information greatly but rarely wants to pay for it. It’s a paradigm shift that shapes our society today and it’s one of the most important changes in how we view the world.

As information grows more plentiful exponentially every second of the day, it becomes less and less valuable as a commodity.

I fear we’re reaching a tipping point where the ability to produce it — to convert knowledge into tangible, trustworthy, useful information — is no longer a profitable endeavor. You’re seeing it in nearly every form of media. The people who produce it are being squeezed, paradoxically, by both the insatiable demand for the product — more than we could ever supply — and the prevalence of cheaper, easier and ultimately less satisfying alternatives.

Want to see how the information economy falters? It starts when the people with the knowledge of how to make it can no longer afford to do so.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.