Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Advancement of Information and Quality Ideas in Society

Although it is the primary responsibility of those that seek information to properly acquire and utilize it by filtering out bias and misinformation, initial information providers can make these tasks easier and increase the efficiency of information collection by presenting information in a straightforward and organized manner. In general there are three categories of information presentation based on the intent and motivation of the provider: review, problem solving or debate. Each presentation method has its own strengths and weaknesses that need to be explored.

Information in a review form is the simplest means of transmission because there is no motivator the information is simply presented without opinion. In this style the goal of the presenter is to ensure as much accurate information about the given topic is made available to whoever wishes to acquire it. There are no judgments made about the information presented, outside of its factual accuracy, and no significant attempt to apply the information for any type of solution. There are three key points to maximizing the importance of distributing this type of information. First, define the exact context of the subject matter for presentation. Second, create a hierarchy outline of what information would be required to or aid in understanding the presented information and what information could be better understood after understanding the presented information. Third, the easiest step to say and most difficult to do, present all of the relevant and accurate information on the defined subject.

Currently the online dictionary Wikipedia does an excellent job at covering step one and a good portion of step three largely because of the efforts of the entire global community who continue to add information and continually check the accuracy of that information. Wikipedia has an advantage in raw information availability over print material, which should be taken advantage of when supplying information without application. This advantage allows Wikipedia users to continue to add information without having to subtract information that may not be as important, but still relevant.

Thus the information library regarding the particular subject matter is continually increased increasing the probability that individuals who seek out this information will find a lack of gaps in the overall amount of information pertinent to the overall subject. Two elements that Wikipedia could incorporate to improve its already significantly useful information distribution system would be to integrate step two indicating what specific knowledge would enhance the ability for a user to understand the current topic. Also the addition of a more specific categorization regarding what information is essential to understanding the basics of the topic at hand and what information is supplemental and what exactly does it teach.

Problem solving is a motivation that strives to solve a problem and presents all of the necessary information and methodology to solve that problem. The goal of problem solving is to first find at least one significant and workable solution and then to identify the optimal solution among all solutions, if multiple ones are found. When presenting information with this motivation the first and third step utilized in the review motivation is presented to act as a base for understanding the solutions presented later. Next the provider presents a number of different solutions to the problem highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Unlike debate none of these solutions are presented with bias or any level of emotional favoritism, but instead just “cold hard” facts. Defining strengths and weaknesses for certain solutions can be difficult because responses to certain problems may rely on anticipating how outside parties will react which, despite what a number of individuals want to believe, are frequently unknown. In such cases it is best to simply present what would be the best course of action for the particular party based on how the presenter interprets the behavior of that particular party. Due to the lack of bias it is important for the presenter to clearly define the boundary conditions that will be applied to the presented solutions.

Solving problems can also be difficult because if one wants to create elaborate and specific solutions significant details will have to be provided. For smaller problems that only affect a single individual or a very small community these solutions can be crafted by a single person; however, when addressing large societal problems it is very difficult to expect a single person to devise a detailed solution methodology that will be successful both because of factors that may evade said person due to a lack of experience and knowledge or just the pure labor intensity of documenting the steps themselves.

Therefore, to solve the large much more meaningful problems successfully numerous parties need to study the issue and contribute solution pieces which can then be incorporated into a grand solution. Unfortunately this mindset for creating effective solutions has been abandoned in most sectors, especially the political sector, in recent years in favor of entire solutions being created by individuals who derive their experiences from only a small collection of knowledge and life events. Not surprisingly solutions born from these individuals are ineffective and a waste of time and resources, yet because they speak to a specific group of individuals egotism allows them to gain undeserved traction.

Currently there is no Wikipedia-like database that focuses on solving problems using the aforementioned methodology, but such a database could be and should be created. Overall the creation of such a database would be an extremely useful tool when making decisions and drawing conclusions on complicated matters such as foreign or domestic policy, economics and technology. With access to such a database of potential solutions for various concerns and problems it would allow the citizenry of a given country more control to pressure their government if they believe the government is not attempting to solve a given problem with the best solution. Knowledge is indeed power and it is time that people give themselves the means to acquire and wield that power in a more effective manner.

Debate is obviously driven by intent to convince others that the viewpoint of the presenter regarding information or a solution is correct. This method can be a useful motivation because those that utilize it are typically very passionate about the particular subject at hand and can potentially be receptive to new information about the subject. However, it can also be dangerous and counter-productive for the probability that the presented information contains unnecessary bias is much higher than review or problem solving motivation. Also the presenter may be invested in his/her particular viewpoint to an extent where it will not listen to any opposing evidence and/or even be willing to carry out an inferior solution just to get his/her way even if it creates negative consequences for others. Unfortunately these negatives have come to cast a large pall over the positives in modern times for debate information motivations.

Since the goal of debate is to convince listening parties that a particular viewpoint is the correct one, the presenter should focus heavily on highlighting key issues that demonstrate the strength of that position relative to the applied realistic boundary conditions. Significant weaknesses should also be identified and their flaws mitigated through the use of facts and logic regarding the existing boundary conditions that will be present when the solution is applied and during the source of its application. One of the worst things for an individual can do when questioned about a weakness in an argument is to utilize cognitive dissidence or something similar to avoid acknowledging it because it is impossible to improve an idea if one ignores its legitimate problems. The point in a debate is not to “win” the discussion, but to produce the best idea that matches an individual’s core beliefs; being stubborn and clinging to a clearly flawed idea disrupts the very point of a debate in the first place and cheapens the beliefs of those who retain these flawed ideas.

Overall more details can certainly be provided in the discussion of these different motivations behind information distribution, but the purpose of this post was simply to introduce the concept and argue for a more public venue of organization for the problem solving perspective. Current organization largely involves various scattered message boards or blogs (like this one) that offer little efficiency for those new to the topic at hand and can become environments of groupthink or needless conflict. Society is facing bigger problems as it continues to grow both from itself, wealth inequality and food distribution inefficiencies to name a few, and from the environment, human-induced global warming. These problems demand a concerted effort to develop effective solutions that cannot be solely assigned to academia. Therefore, it is important for the public to actively involve themselves in the development of these solutions and one of the most important steps is creating a public arena that is able to sort through the bias of arguments and apply the contents to reviews and problem solving.

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