I have written before about the power of information, but I am continually reminded of it as I watch world events unfold. We recently posted an article to Facebook contrasting soft power, meaning the power to change a position with information, and hard power, which uses guns as the means of persuasion. Using information as a soft power often results in a more permanent solution to the immediate problem. Using violence, or hard power, often begets violence and escalates conflict. With that in mind, I want to discuss a few examples where information truly is power.
The New Digital Age
In the 2013 book The New Digital Age, authors Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google executive Jared Cohen talk about a future where information will be used by peacemakers and terrorists alike. “The power of information is underrated,” says Schmidt. Their premise is that the use and dissemination of information (or disinformation) will be one of the new war fronts and the side that can deliver trusted information about situation will have the upper hand. Political regimes have physical power, but it is possible to overcome that with timely and persuasive information. Schmidt warns that there is a dangerous gap between the technical world and the geopolitical world. I believe that the gap is closing with the help of information and the Internet, even in countries that traditionally suppress technology and free speech. Information is political power.
Information is being used to minimize the impact of natural and human created disasters. Applications such as Ushahidi can play a big role in collecting and disseminating information so that emergency and relief agencies can make smart decisions. Ushahidi is an open source platform that was originally developed in Kenya to track areas of violence and was used after the 2010 Haiti earthquake and other recent disasters and conflicts. This application depends on crowdmapping, social media, and visualization to present vital information. The collection funnel includes social media data points such as Twitter feeds to pinpoint areas of stress and generate a map that guides aid groups to critical areas. This is an example of ideas and information developed by concerned individuals to assist others. Information is collective power.
We have more health information than ever before. We have the opportunity to learn about our personal genetic makeup and understand our health risks before they become problems. We have unprecedented access to nutritional information that could help us to live healthier and longer lives. It is remarkable to me to think of the progress that we have made in combating diseases over the last 100 years, due in part to the timely information available to us all. Even new viruses are quickly isolated and contained, partly by sharing information. We have become empowered to be responsible for our own health and not rely solely on the medical community. Information is personal power.
Information is power. Our world of understanding has expanded since Gutenberg created the printing press in the 1400s and ushered in a new age of literacy and information sharing. Sometimes it feels like we have access to too much information, but if we can learn to glean the relevant and the useful points, it can help us personally and as world citizens. Have you been able to use information to make your life better or to help others? Let me know.
About Kelly Brown
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and professor of practice for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.