• Anne Pemberton

You Say Potato, I Say Sure! Defining “Information Ignorance” and the “Information Ecosystem"

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Dear Interwebs,

I do not know if you feel this way but I hate not fully understanding what someone is talking about even if it becomes obvious that they themselves do not know what they are talking about. I get anxious and begin to lose my listening capabilities and start to travel down Self-Flagellation Highway at a good clip.

A classic example: I have some kind of mental block when it comes to understanding digital humanities (DH). When DH is being discussed, this small but mighty part of my brain starts shouting: “Are there analog humanities? What exactly is this again? Why can I not grasp this!?”

To spare you from a similar angst and to invite you into the pool of shared meaning, which sounds sketchy but is not, here I define two phrases that I will use throughout this blog.

Information ignorance” is the label I use for the problem I am exploring in this blog and “information ecosystem” is the label I give to the environment in which the problem exists. There are others who use and/or have used the same terms but they are certainly not universally accepted or widely known. There are plenty of other terms, probably more suitable or cool, but this is the jargon I have come to use.

Information Ignorance

I use “information ignorance” to characterize an individual’s inability or unwillingness to accurately classify information as fact, opinion, or biased; determine if a source confirms, challenges, or disputes their current viewpoints; and dismiss or report any information designed to mislead, incite hatred, reinforce tribalism, or cause physical harm.

I see this as a huge problem in the United States (and beyond). This ignorance stems from a lack of education or through an intentional choice or both. At its worst, it is an absolute refusal to participate in democracy. Just my two cents. This ignorance has potential for real harm.

This is not a new problem nor will it ever cease to be a problem. I do not feel that we have clearly labeled or defined this in higher education but it is prolific, evolving, and widespread, not unlike the pandemic. But also like the pandemic, there are interventions and solutions.

I distinctly remember reading “Information Anxiety” by Richard Saul Wurman in the early 1990s and immediately creating a workshop on how to combat information overload so that I could help! The PowerPoint that I likely saved to a Zip Disk (my fav!) is long gone but many of the same issues have only gotten more complicated. And I still am looking for some way to help.

Some related, interesting stuff:

Other terms I have seen used: Digital Ignorance; Information Anxiety; Information Disorder; Infobesity; Information Overload

Information Ecosystem

I use “information ecosystem” to label the changing-every-second-of-the-day environment that facilitates our information consumption, creation, production, sharing, and storage.

Some related, interesting stuff:

Other terms I have seen: Digital Age or Digital Landscape or Digital World; Infodemic; Information Age or Environment or Landscape; Information Society; Media Landscape: Post-Truth World

Moved into the ecosystem in recent years: Algorithm Bias; Alternative Facts; Amplification; Conspiracy Theories; Debunking; Disinformation; Echo Chambers Fake News; Filter Bubbles; Malinformation; Media Manipulation; Misinformation

See more terms and their definitions in “Information Disorder: The Definitional Toolbox” by Claire Wardle.

Also, this is a good reminder of the various information literacy models that are out there at the moment:

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