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“Ground Control, There Is a Needle in the Haystack!”

By John Mikton

All of us are engaged daily in the process of looking for information on the Internet, or “searching.“ Sometimes, we search for clarification, facts, confirmation, while other times our searches help us broaden our views or come to terms with a concept.
This is now part of our daily digital diet: a quick hop onto our device and off into the Internet to “search” for information. Now consider this...
• 51 million: the number of websites added during the past year.
• 1.2 trillion: the number of searches on Google in 2012.
• 43,339,547: the number of gigabytes sent across mobile phones globally every day.
• There are 5 million tweets per day, enough to fill the New York Times for 19 years.
• 58: the number of photos uploaded every second to Instagram.
• 5 billion: the number of times, every day, that the “+1” button on Google+ is used.
• Bloggers post 900,000 new articles everyday.
• 1.3 exabytes: the estimated global mobile data traffic per month in 2012.
• Over 210 billion emails are sent daily, which is more than a whole year’s worth of letter mail in the USA.
• Around 200,000 videos are uploaded daily to YouTube; it would require over 600 years to view them all.
(Sources: The Economist, “The World 2013”; Royal Pingdom’s “Internet 2012 in numbers”; and Science Daily, “How much information is there in the world?”)
As a human race, we cannot actually view, analyze, or keep track of all the information we generate without third-party digital tools and softwares. We now defer to sophisticated algorithms and intelligent softwares to store, track, synthesize, and deliver information in amounts we have the time and capacity to digest. And most of us now expect to have this available non-stop, over multiple devices.
Information overload, information stress, information pollution, and information anxiety are part of the narrative of the digital age.
With the amount of information increasing at accelerated speeds, we have relinquished any control we once had over its exponential growth; and as we embed ourselves in this vast information landscape and strive to remain critical thinkers, we need to be ready to retool ourselves:
Come to terms with the “filter bubble”
This is where information is processed and delivered through algorithms based on what our viewing and search habits are, thus filtering information to our perspectives and not providing alternative views and information. The balance of information is vital to building a broad understanding of different views. Nowadays however, through the “filter bubble,“ this balance is being diluted. We need to understand this and be able to counter it.
Develop a strong searching expertise
We need to understand the capacity of search engine tools, their variables, and their limitations so as to refine and sift information in a manageable way.
Be able to aggregate
Learn how to leverage news aggregators, real-time syndication, social media, micro blogging, and social bookmarking sites. These tools can help in sorting different formats, culling large amounts of information, and delivering it in digestible portions.
Engage in connectivism
Connectivism is a learning theory constructed on the idea that we can learn with digital, social, and cultural connections, and from this interchange build individual and/or collective capacity to gain knowledge and understanding. Through our social and professional connections, we can create networks of expertise, knowledge, and understanding to support learning. The “cognitive surplus” we have available in our groups will increase our own knowledge and help us create, communicate, produce, and share effectively.
Learn, unlearn, relearn
We need to develop the strategies and methodologies that allow us to engage effectively in this process of “learning, unlearning and relearning” daily. In tandem, we need to ensure that everyone has the opportunity, support, and resources to do this.
From this point forward, there is not going to be any less information—that is a fact. As the world moves into a state of constant change, and the pace accelerates, we have a responsibility to ourselves, our peers, and our communities to make the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning permanent.
If we do not, we could potentially lose our ability to participate as critical thinkers and ultimately to control the information landscape we live in.
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