The Information Age is suddenly upon me. Now there is so much information distributed through the broadcast, cable, and now the Internet that I certainly experience “information overload,” (a computer metaphor, by the way). It isn't as if I didn't see it coming. Marshall McLuhan prophesied the information age in his 1960's book, Understanding Media. He suggested that to understand technology, we need to look at it in a different way.
Briefly, McLuhan's theory addresses the process of projection. As human beings, we “project” aspects of ourselves into our creations whether art, technology, social organizations, spiritual paradigms, in effect, the way we see the world. Through the mirror of our world, we know who we are. Our industrial age machines and things, production design, business procedures, and what we choose to bless as worthwhile social values are a projection of our preoccupation with our physical body's bones, muscles, actions, reactions, and desires.
Now, during the information age, our creations, our technologies, our social structure, and our values become a reflection of our preoccupation with, not only our physical nervous system, but, with our cognitive processes. This includes analysis, reflection, awareness, feelings, consciousness and all the more mysterious “things” of human experience that “mechanistic” psychologists try to “nail down” with stick-pins on the walls of their industrial psychology factories.
In order to conceptually handle the information age, it is not enough to simply change our perspective from mechanistic to processional, from “thing” orientation to human orientation. What is required is a shift in consciousness about who we are as human beings and, therefore, every aspect of our lives. This is the magnitude of the paradigm shift that we will experience and “go through” to the next Age.
Any written exploration of this consciousness shift would require a thesis on cognition. In this series, I will deal with issues concerning the communications profession. Hopefully, we can get a picture of the whole by looking at some of the parts of the whole. These parts will be sub-process examples of the greater cognitive process required to make sense of the whole.
Making sense is about having an integrated experience: seeing, hearing, touching, and other senses. Understanding requires an interactive experience, a relationship, with someone, something, some event, or some concept.
The cognitive process is multidimensional, perhaps beyond the four dimensions of time and space. There is no single first step or linear path for our logical mind to follow but a complex of many connections and relationships. The multidimensional nature of cognition is also the reason interactive programs are more effective for education, training, or motivation. Involvement process, as well as data, enhances memory retention and understanding.
Let's look at a portion of the cognition process specific to our perspective on “information.” Information specialists are now considering information as a process rather than a “thing.” Data is not information. Information must have meaning. Meaning is given to data by human consciousness. We take data and organize it into a form that is useful to ourselves or other humans. That usefulness may be for understanding, work performance, or recreation. The form and order we put data into may have several connecting paths that are linear, a productivity work-flow in a training video or as a story line in a movie. But the paths eventually must describe a multidimensional whole, a context that enables the human mind to reason for meaning and purpose.
The task of the creative person in the communications professions is to provide the form of the communication with all the context of meaning, purpose, inter-activity, and relatedness. Some of the elements are composition, action, story line, continuity, rhythm, mood, tone, color. The form constructed by these elements' relationships establish meaning. The creation is a reflection of the creator's conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. That is to say, “If you ain't got rhythm, you can't dance.”
Looking at information from a human point of view is just one perspective of “The” paradigm shift! In Part II: Information is Power , we'll look at the socio-political context of the Information Age.
Originally appeared in “the Script,” the Houston Chapter MCA-I Newsletter, May 1995