[VIEWPOINT]Stay afloat in the flood of information

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[VIEWPOINT]Stay afloat in the flood of information

A foreign national in Seoul was sitting in a subway. When he put his newspaper on the shelf above him for awhile, a passenger sitting next to him immediately picked up the paper and started to read it. It was an embarrassment for him, but he patiently waited until the man finished reading it. To his great dismay, however, the man left the train with his paper.
In time, the man said, he could slowly adapt to Korea’s culture and practices.
In Korea nowadays, newspapers or magazines on the shelves of subway cars are considered free for anyone to pick up. The practice of considering the papers on the subway shelves as a kind of “public information folder” has been firmly established since free newspapers began to be distributed in the late 1990s to morning commuters.
As far as information is concerned, South Korea is a very generous country. Korean people generously provide the information they have gathered to others ― just check the information search sites on the Internet. They deal with almost every question, offering expert knowledge, the latest news and even miscellaneous daily chores.
Of course, there are some incorrect ones, but these sites are useful because we can get necessary information quickly. And sometimes, we come across answers with a sense of humor.
For example, when someone was asked to recommend a book full of thrills and mystery for the hot summer season, there was the reply, “For me, math textbooks are the most mysterious.”
Regarding communications and information sharing, South Korea seems on its way to becoming an passionately information-oriented society.
But is this true? Recently, it has become common for university students to seldom take notes in class. Words written on the blackboard or in PowerPoint programs are the only written things in most students’ notebooks.
It is felt that their ability to arrange necessary facts and put them in order while listening to the lecture is decreasing drastically.
On the other hand, an increasing number of students are writing reports by combining materials they find through the Internet or just by copying them directly. Faculty members must be upset when they read reports that seem like plagiarism. They feel uncomfortable, and it becomes difficult for them to have confidence in their students.
For adults, too, when their reading is converted to Internet searching and thinking is diverted to a click of a mouse, the performance of their brains gets gradually worse.
Though people fail to digest the overwhelming flow of information, they consume it like it was a disposable good. Thus, it devastates our spiritual world.
The more the amount of information or knowledge increases, the more people hate thinking. The more visual images overflow, the faster imagination drains.
If we don’t overcome this historical irony, we will find ourselves wandering endlessly about in the vast ocean of information.
When people surf the Web blindly for information to temporarily escape from boredom, their spirits drift.
We must restore balance in our minds. Does the information that rushes to us today add to the confusion in our minds? Or oes it widen our viewpoints and our mental horizons by being incorporated into our own database? That will depend on the way how we manage our brain, the so-called “last black box of mankind.”
Creative intelligence becomes sound and healthy through practice in our daily lives.
Instead of being inundated by miscellaneous news in free newspapers, we can build up our brainpower by reading books we select carefully. If we note or memorize necessary information while reading newspapers or books, they will become an enormous asset.
Let us collect information on certain subjects for specific purposes and reassemble it to make it our own. Thus we will be able to enjoy intelligence of our own rather than the entropy derived from those mixed-up pieces of irrelevant information.

* The writer is a professor of anthropology at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Chan-ho
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