Monday, October 12, 2009

data is not knowledge

no rest for the weary.

let's rewind back to june. i was complaining that i didn't have enough work, and now i can't stop working. i've essentially been on tour since july, with very few breaks in between. i guess we're all hypocrites, right?

i don't have much to talk about at the moment. we go through phases, don't we? we constantly absorb all kinds of data, which then gets transferred into information, and then that becomes knowledge. if you're lucky, it turns into wisdom. i had a fascinating conversation about this with juilliard composition professor philip lasser. he believes that the iphone, or the internet in general, has ruined that critical process. the terrifying ubiquitousness of a website like wikipedia allows us to import all kinds of data into our digitally wired brains, and most of time it slips into some synaptic cleft without advancing to the "information" stage. as an ambassador of the A.D.D. generation, i agree with this sentiment in some ways. when i want to "learn" about something, i type the search words into google. i peruse the first 3 websites, and then i feel sort of satisfied. the problem is that i can't back it up with any empirical wisdom - it just gets lost in the constant influx of data. my memory is intrinsically selective, and although i'd love to retain information about the minutiae of russian futurism or even the different genera of tree finches, i simply can't do it.

hmmph. unless i read a book on the subject. that's where the argument takes an interesting turn. is it the medium or how we digest it? perhaps other people take away true knowledge from wikipedia summaries, but i find myself getting distracted too easily. i aimlessly click on links within links. for example, i may start with a search on the personal life of james joyce and end up guffawing at the synopsis of pee-wee herman's troubled career!

this is why i've been leaning more towards books this year. they stick to the ribs. here's last month's reading list for all you nerds out there:

magritte by bernard noel
the way of liberation by alan watts
straight man by richard russo

right now i'm reading 20th century harmony by vincent persichetti. oh boy!

and here's my list of listening:

tyondai braxton - central market
bela bartok - string quartet no. 4 in c major
micachu and the shapes - jewellery
skeletons - money
kurt weisman - spiritual sci-fi

that's all for now. if anything crazy happens on this tour, i'll write about it.


Kram said...

I love Alan Watts! Used to listen to him on the radio while working in the darkroom. I also love Magritte.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Joana said...

Data IS information. Depending on your interest in that piece of information (or how you filter it, if you prefer), how you make it "grow" gathering it with other pieces of information and how long you keep it in memory, then makes it knowledge. Even if you read about 4958406803 thousand different things in a day, in wikipedia or other users blogs or whatever, the ones you care more about are the ones you'll go back to eventually - by buying a book about it or continuing to search for it on the internet. And then these things you really like - the 3 or 4 you kept in your memory may turn into knowledge. Reading a book doesn't make it more "true" than if it's written on the internet.
Ok, I don't want to make this post too long so I'll finish it by saying that the web is a powerful tool, you just have to know how to use it. But don't get too smart on the subject, or else I won't have a job...

Eric Slick said...


i dont see it that way.
data = facts, information = facts learned, knowledge = facts learned through personal experience.
i think that reading a book validates it in a way, but that may just be my poor focusing habits. the internet is too distracting...a book is something i can sink my teeth into away from the computer! it helps me focus. or at least i remember things better. who knows.

Joana said...

Well, yes, in the book you don't have links to youtube which makes you finally watch something else from what you were originally searching. If you were at the library, you'd have to constantly pick up other books or magazines but we don't do that because is harder than just click that blue underlined word a.k.a link or search for info with google. But the idea was to make information more complete although yes, it can easily distract you from your original goal.
I don't think people should limit themselves to internet or just to books, one should complete or help understand whatever you find in the other.

cyrus ghahremani said...

really interesting that you mention you can't back up digital information with "empirical data" - the age of enlightenment philosophers were typically up in arms about this idea. for instance, locke's assertion that knowledge is acquired through experience applies here. he believing understanding is facilitated by sensation and reflection of the data in question ... perhaps what you and professor lasser are getting at is that through google and the internet an answer may be produced, it bears no indication of the speaker's intellect because the real facilities of knowledge are [typically] annulled. memory versus understanding.

and what i'm getting from joana's comments is the idea that whether you read it online or in print, wiki or cliffnotes, you are still deriving information second-hand. to answer that, and your question here, i think it's not the medium but "how we digest it". knowledge is not just the ability to regurgitate such information - either through a google search or fantastic memory - but the processing and understanding of it in terms of other ideas and concepts. accordingly, i think the reason you seem to retain more from books rather than the net is because the content is more thoroughly explained and backed up than in a brief article or wikipedia entry.

BLAH BLAH BLAH. sorry for rambling. epistemology aside, i'm glad you're feeling good musically again. if and when you enter another creative lull, remember these days and keep patient - it's hard not to dream of winter in the summer heat wave, and vice versa, but don't get caught up in it.

you kicked ass last night / your heel-toe technique is ridiculous / it was great to meet you - best wishes to you and the rest of the pack!


Eric Slick said...

hey guys,
i'm so glad that the blog post has opened up a fun discussion!
there was a lot left unwritten, and i'm thrilled that people are interpreting it in different ways.
i've come to my own conclusions about books vs. internet (and books + internet)...and i may share those conclusions later...maybe not.

i'll do more blogs like this in the future though. i love open forums!

davidly said...

Definitely books. Dog earing every page (as if) would never slam the book shut.

The Internet is to the printed page, what Bay is to Berman. Except with the WWW there is the added insult that we are responsible for our own crappy movie!

You've given me an idea: Something like the Kevin Bacon game, but with virtual links between people. I'd love to see the string that led from Joyce to Pee Wee. Okay, I didn't say it was a good idea.