What information skills for the 21st century?

Yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut was a horrible event that no one should ever have to experience and I sincerely feel for the people of Newtown, CT. But, if ever there was an appropriate time to consider the impact of vastly increasing flows of information on society and what “21st century information skills” means, this is one.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the media frenzy quickly turned into utter chaos. Everyone seemed to have a “reliable” (albeit anonymous) resource to back up their claims. Yet, stories changed every 15 minutes or less, accusations flew, Facebook and Twitter profiles of innocent people were splashed across TV screens and websites. Anyone with a name remotely like that of whomever was being named as the shooter at a given time and who had a Facebook or Twitter account was inundated with death threats, wishes for eternal damnation in the fires of Hell, and just downright deplorable comments that displayed the worst of the worst of human nature. When the story of what had actually transpired finally started to materialize late in the afternoon, it bore little resemblance to what had been reported throughout much of the day.

One of the key attributes that we have to consider when processing information is the authority with which the informant speaks. In the past, we have tended to regard formal news outlets as specialists in collecting information, validating it, and producing factual reports on that basis – tell what is known and no more. Those days are gone. Yesterday, news outlets appear to have anxiously blurted out anything and everything that they came across in the hopes that something would turn out to be the major scoop that brings in the ratings with total disregard for actual facts. It turns out that today’s news outlets have little more credibility than the forums on Fox Nation.

The loss of media credibility puts the onus of validating information on the “informed”. This is perhaps the most critical 21st century information skill looking into the near future. Sure, people still need to acquire the skills to find appropriate information to suit their needs and to produce quality information, but at this point, it’s urgent that people be equipped to properly evaluate and validate the information that will find them. Yesterday’s utterly meaningless info-chaos suggests that we’re not doing it right, yet.

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