Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Finding who we are and what we want, remembering Information does not equal wisdom

We live in an exciting time, never before has opportunity been easier to come by and social mobility in the UK even in a time of mass recession is at an all time high. But this opportunity creates a new era of personal responsibility for us all. In the 20s the only responsibility we had was to learn the trade of our fathers. Now in the age of subsidised university, funded apprenticeships and research grants just working out what we want to do is difficult. Arthur C .Clark, a famous Astronomer has this offer us to dealing with information overload in our tech heavy age

"The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these."

So how do we navigate this minefield? I might suggest chasing some of this wisdom that Clark talks about. Firstly we need to re-evaluate what are idea of success is. Success is another word that strikes me that has taken on a rather strange meaning, when we say “David is a success” we refer almost entirely to David’s financial position or status in the community. Yet what we are saying is this person is a success at being a human, yet the attributes we see as humanitarian values, Honesty, Integrity and kindness don’t necessarily factor into the equation. Its quite easy to see why, and its where Clark's quote comes alive for me.

Information does not equal wisdom.

Think about that for a second. What information do we receive everyday albeit passively? It is of course the media which is obsessed with the “American Dream”. Almost every media outlet exclusively talks about those of money and status in our communities. Not a single American sitcom or drama isn’t about Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists or Politicians. We take these fictional dramas and are passively fed money and status and beauty is everything. Here the information doesn’t feed a higher wisdom it serves only to mislead. One of the pitfalls of the information age is the invention of passive media such as radio and TV. Previously many people would read books slowly and at their own pace and as such naturally have a critical eye to it. I've certainly never sat through a class that teaches me HOW to criticise the media that most people are exposed on a far greater basis than books.

Media now is so fast and over bearing we tend to accept what we're given simply because analysing the sheer volume we receive daily would take a lifetime. Passive media's negative impact is that many false premises go through unnoticed to mass audiences. One of these is that successful people have the most money. History seems quick to forget Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Mozart. They all died penniless but they died knowing they had contributed something unique and something they loved doing. If ambition is designed to ensure our happiness through person-development refined by a moral lens then I think it can be said the media often sells us “False ambition”. Developing our sense of self-knowledge is the only true way of understanding our needs and therefore our ambitions. Be aware of what makes you happy.

When did we stop asking ourselves what we want and just accepted that success is those the media deems to be successful? Its an easy trap to fall into, discovering what we want is difficult and varies on mood, where we live and who we surround ourselves with. That doesn’t mean that ambition is meaningless it just involves facing some very disarming truths about ourselves. What am I good at? and perhaps the ugliest truth of all What am I bad at? Some of you may think the answer to that question is easy, but I know for a fact that many students have massive problems facing themselves.

The university systems biggest flaw is that it doesn't necessarily develop peoples innate talents it just ask us all to do the same things. As a result we begin to think are things we should be good at, before examining the things we are good at. Result- I've had at least a dozen friends who have wanted to be university professors who don't like reading. Some of them even hate their chosen subjects. Because they are students they strive to be the best student they can be which although admirable, doesn't have to be made into a career choice.

The sad truth is many maybe even most people I know don't even realise what they're good at, some people can't understand that if you have degree but love cooking you should probably be a chef and not an academic. That if your people skills are off the chart chances are you’ll prefer a job in PR or management than a lonely career as a writer. Science can be fascinating while the reality of working in a lab can be monotonous and far throw from the almost intoxicating depths of scientific theory.

What we study now does not define us or what we want. Its just a phase.

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