[OUTLOOK]Information age excites, exhaustsIn the Old Testament, God showed his wrath to humans who had built a tower high into the sky for their own glory. Possessing the skills to construct sturdy bricks, the humans tried arrogantly to reach the heavens with their Tower of Babel. In order to stop them, God made them speak in different languages so that they could not communicate with one another and thus had to give up building the celebrated tower.
There is an abundance of information in this age of information. With the development of the information technology, the Internet has united the world and enabled us to be informed of events all over the world, even as they happen. The Internet has made financial transactions all over the world become possible, and it seems that "global governance" will be possible in the future. The development of the information-oriented society means that a new order in which the world is one will be created.
Within Korean society a vast amount of information is being circulated and made available, thanks to the advancement of information networks. But such a Babel of information has brought about what is called the "smog of data," throwing us into a slough of information. You might think that the more information that is available, the better you will know and understand other people. Unfortunately, that is not so.
Before the Internet arrived, we received our news from daily newspapers. Every morning when we gathered in our workplaces, we talked about what news there was in the paper that day. Because there were only a limited number of dailies or weeklies, most of our co-workers knew all about the same news and started a conversation based on, say, a particular item.
Thus, the newspaper held a great amount of social power, monopolizing circulation and the evaluation of information.
Nowadays, there is a host of newspapers and magazines, making it difficult to have conversations on one particular news item. In fact, some online newspapers or news-sharing bulletins deliver information that is completely different from what is being printed on the offline dailies. Thus, your perspective of the world can differ greatly depending on where you get your news.
The generation gap that was experienced in the recent presidential election further widened the distance of mutual understanding between generations. Rather than making people venture after new information, the enormous flood of information available in this age has actually made people limit their dose of information to what fits their subjective tastes.
The gap of information between the older generation, who still depend on the main offline daily newspapers for their information, and the younger generation, who get their news from "sport newspapers" and online newspapers is wide indeed. The older generation might have found the results of the election hard to believe when only reading main, offline newspapers. They might have felt lost, thinking how the spontaneous and younger generations had participated in the election process through the Internet and using their mobile phones. On the other hand, the younger generation must have felt their victory was genuine, gained despite interference by the powers of vested interests. Different information leads to different evaluations and redistribution of the information, and breeds different beliefs.
The more diverse the sources of information become, the wider the gap between information will become and the easier it will be for one to fall under the illusion that the information one has is the only truth. Different information, like different languages, makes it hard to understand one another. The ancestors of the human race had to abandon their plan to build the Tower of Babel to show off their technology and unite the world because their efforts had left them speaking in different languages and unable to communicate with one another.
The opinions people have not only on last year's election, but on the impending U.S. war against Iraq, the threat of nuclear weapons in North Korea, neo-liberalism and the world order all differ because they are all coming from different information. Instead of trying to stop the flood of information with more information, we should try concentrating on providing better information.
* The writer is a professor of public administration at Korea University.
by Yeom Jae-ho