Mary Matalin and James Carville, consultants to political campaigns, offered some interesting insights on their activities and especially the role that information plays in their work. Matalin led off by noting that although we are experiencing a paradigm shift in information, the same physiology and rules continue to apply that have applied for many years.
Objectivity is still important. In politics there are unchanging rules for information use. For information to impact politics, it has to address the issues of relevance, time, and clarity, and clarity means that it has to be understandable clarity. There has to be order to it. She noted that aggregators are very useful to her, especially those that are concerned with poll data, such as Real Clear Politics and Pollster. She also likes sites that present numerical data on their stories, such as the most read, most forwarded, and most commented upon. (The Wall Street Journal often does this.)
The irony of the info age is that access and availability do not necessarily lead to advances in politics. An increase in the outlets for information does not lead to more discrete stories because humans have a herd mentality, and often more people are reporting on the same story. People are self-validating and self-segregating.
The most promising about information age tools are those that can merge and connect separate ideas and organize them into unified ones. We may be moving into a new universe because the tools are changing our brains and are enhancing our capacity in ways that make us self-contained aggregators. But librarians have the skills that can teach us how to bring order into chaos. (Matalin noted that she is still a fan of catalog systems like the Dewey Decimal System that can bring disparate items together and organize them so that they are available to users.)
Carville followed Matalin (they are husband and wife) and said that we now hae an availability of info unlike anything we have ever known. But, he wondered, what is happening to knowledge? Are people more knowledgeable than they were 40 years ago? People now use information for validation of their ideas, and no matter what they are, with today’s search engines and information tools, you can always find something to support your opinion!
Carville works with politicians all over the world, and he is amazed at how much people know. He also noted that offering an opinion is cheap, but producing news is really expensive. For example, offering an opinion costs nothing, but having a bureau in Afghanistan costs a fortune. Newspapers are going out of business, and every time a paper cuts back, they are not covering the local news, and are taking shortcuts. But he paid tribute to libraries: “You can be the best information disseminator, but you are no better than the information you have in your library.”
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