Data is not information

Before Evernote, which I am now weaning myself off of, I used to keep copious amounts of notes as plain text files, usually loosely organized by project. Unfortunately being a poor excuse of a student or academic I often forgot to include any valuable meta-data as to it’s origin. I’m assuming that the text fragment below is from a textbook of some sort, likely written by Richard Saul Wurman or Edward Tufte, as I read most of their books at that time.

This is paramount to realize. Though we use the two terms interchangeably in our culture-mostly to glorify data that has no right to be ennobled-they mean distinctly different things.

Data is raw an often overabundant. While it may have meaning to experts, it is, for the most part, only the building blocks on which relevance is built. It also should never be produced for delivery in raw form to an audience-because it has no inherent value. Until it is transformed into information (with context), it’s meaning is of little value and only contributes to the anxiety we feel dealing with so much information in our lives.

An unfortunate fallacy we live under is that this is an “Age of Information.”

Never before has so much data been produced. Yet our lives are not enhanced by any of it. Worse, this situation will only become more pervasive.
What we tend to measure is only data and while this has increased in our society, it has not-and cannot-improve productivity or anything else because it lacks the value to do so, or the value to make meaningful change. Once we re-educate ourselves as to what information really is, then we may be able to find the opportunities for increased understanding and productivity.

Data is so uninforming that we can liken it to heavy-winter clothing, enshrouding us as we interact with each other, It doesn’t completely stop us from communicating, but it makes it much more difficult, and it surely makes any complex interactions more laborious.

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