An interesting metaphor for this state is a type of "data smog" that hangs over our information rich culture serving to disguise and confuse far more than clarify. As David Shenk notes in his provocative book Data Smog, as we have accrued more and more information, it has emerged not only as a currency but also as a pollutant. He terms this unwanted and unexpected result of the information age "data smog." This data smog gets in the way of truth and wisdom today by crowding out quiet moments and obstructing much needed contemplation. "It spoils conversation, literature, and even entertainment. It thwarts skepticism, rendering us less sophisticated as consumers and citizens."
The information overload has more of an effect of distraction than enlightenment. This result has tremendous consequences on political and consumer culture. As Shenk notes, people are much more susceptible to persuasive appeals when they're distracted. Advertisers want people to be under information overload where they rarely have time or the focus to go back and question something. Advertising and political claims are all more likely to be believed in this environment of information overload.
There is the possibility that not all data leads to segmentation, that data itself might be of a contentual and contextual nature, concerned with internal analysis or external relationships. The use of data for internal rather than external purposes may be a critical factor in the increased segmentation and confusion in the modern world.
This is the view of legendary management theorist Peter Drucker. For Drucker and a number of other leading management theorists, the real hope of the computer revolution was to provide better business strategy for management decisions. The reality, though, has been the use of the computer and the data it creates for internal control purposes such as finance. As Drucker notes in Peter Drucker On The Profession Of Management (1998- Harvard Business School Press),
"We have concentrated these past years on improving traditional information, which is almost exclusively information about what goes on inside an organization. Accounting, the traditional information system and the one on which most executives still depend, records what happens within the firm. All recent changes and improvements in accountingsuch as activity-based accounting, the executive scorecard, and economic value analysis (EVA)still aim at providing better information about events inside the company. The data produced by most new information systems also have that purpose. In fact, approximately 90% or more of the data any organization collects is information about inside events."
Drucker sees the growing importance of data about the external environment. "Increasingly, a winning strategy," he notes, "will demand information about events and conditions outside the institution: noncustomers, technologies other than those currently used by the firm and its present competitors, markets not presently served, and so on. Only with this information can a business decide how to allocate its knowledge resources to produce the highest yield. Only with such information can a business also prepare for new changes and challenges arising from sudden shifts in the world economy and in the nature and the content of knowledge itself."
Peter Drucker foresees that obtaining external information will become a new focus of management. "The development of rigorous methods for gathering and analyzing outside information will increasingly become a major challenge for businesses and for information experts."
The problem of the segmenation and confusion of our modern world is magnified in the Drucker scenario. Not only is it a quantitative problem of too much information but it is also a qualitative problem of the wrong type of information.
The management/business focus on internal information may be a modern variation of a historical trend in Western thought which has moved from broad questions of why to specific questions of how.
This is the premise of renowned historian and former Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin in The Seekers (1998). The book represents the final one of a trilogy began with The Discoverers (1983) and The Creators (1992). The Discoverers covered explorers, scientists, and historians in their quest for raw knowledge. The Creators described writers, painters, and composers in their pursuit of inspiring art.
The Seekers describes exploration in the area of religion and philosophy for an understanding of human existence. Boorstin begins with the prophets of the Holy Land and the philosophers of ancient Greece, particularly the "matchless trinity" of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as Herodotus and Thucydides, the men responsible for the "birth of history." He covers the life of Jesus, the evolution of Christianity, and the rise of the church as the defining force in European civilization. Boorstin then continues through the Renaissance and revolutionary figures such as Descartes, Voltaire, Marx, Carlyle, and Kierkegaard and concludes with the modern era of the social sciences and seekers such as Malraux, Beckett and Einstein.
If there is one overriding trend in the great seekers of Western culture it is As Boorstin concludes, "In this long quest (for understanding), Western culture has turned from seeking the end or purpose to seeking causes - from the Why to the How."
While most would agree that segmentation is one of the key characteristics of modern culture, finding agreement on the cause of segmentation is a different matter.
It can be seen as a natural result of the historical process or a natural component of psychological growth. As the saying goes, phylogeny recapitulates ontongeny and it may be very much in evidence regarding segmentation. It can also be viewed in an economic and political perspective and seen as a product of an ideology of consumption created largely by the business community and its handmaiden the advertising industry. In a larger perspective, it can be viewed as a type of logical result of the advanced stage of a capitalistic system.
Within any debate about the causes of segmentation, there are a few key "suspects" or broad common strains of thought.
One of the greatest scientific works of all time, Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, arguably provides the key metaphor for segmentation in the modern world. To Darwin, the key segmentation in the world was the diversity of various species of animal and plant life.
But the most revolutionary idea of Darwin was not in the diversity of life but rather in the creation of diversity over a period of time by the evolutionary process of natural selection. The argument that time created diversity had repercussions in many areas of knowledge and belief systems and challenged basic religious assumptions that diversity was created at the same time. Darwin found a certain nobility in the evolutionary idea remarking, "When I view all beings not as special creations, but as lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled."
To Darwin, diversity helps ensure survival. While most are familiar with the Darwinian phrase "survival of the fittest" few know its corollary "survival of the most diverse" but this was also a key conclusion of Darwin. As noted in Origin of the Species:
"Therefore during the modification of the descendants of any one species, and during the incessant struggle of all species to increase in numbers, the more diversified these descendants become, the better will their chance of succeeding in the battle of life."
This major movement in nature from a few to many, and the survival rationale behind this movement, is at the heart of the revolutionary Origin of the Species. In fact, the final words in the book reinforce this view. "There is granduer in this view of life," writes Darwin, "with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
Apart from the evolutionary trend in nature from few species to many, cultural history also demonstrates a broad trend of development away from simple, unified systems towards complex and segmented ones. Associated with the unified systems are the primitive cultures which are linked closely with nature and the outside world. Associated with the segmented systems are modern cultures separated from nature and the outside world. On the historical level, primitive cultures might be compared to the American mass culture period while modern cultures can be compared to the modern American culture of segmentation.
The move can be viewed symbolically as one from what we term contextual symbolism to one we term contentual symbolism. Evolution has moved from context to content, from a unity with nature to a separation from nature. Primitive man was involved and concerned in the context of nature while modern man is caught up in the content of culture. One key trend of history has been the production of more content in the form of man-made objects and products. Consciousness and content are really the same thing both growing in a linear manner. Culture is made from the content of the objects and products it produces.
The difference between ancient and modern man might be seen in a clearer manner by seeing it as a difference is simply the number of objects contained in the context of the world rather than the quality of the objects. In the early years of mankind, context had no competition from content for mankind's attention.
The move from context to content has psychological as well as historical dimensions and is mirrored by the growth from the unconsciousness of childhood towards the consciousness of adulthood. Primitive cultures have a symbolic correspondence with childhood while modern cultures have a correspondence to adulthood.
This relationship between the development of historical consciousness and individual consciousness is brilliantly explored in Erich Neumann's The Origins and History of Consciousness. The conclusions reached by Neumann in his revolutionary book led Carl Jung to write in the Preface that Neumann arrived at "conclusions and insights which are among the most important ever reached" in the field of analytical psychology. The major insight of the book is that individual consciousness passes through the same archetypal stages of development that has marked the history of human consciousness as a whole.
In other words, the life of each individual shows a movement from context to content. We might say that each life moves from mass culture to segmented culture with the accumulation of consciousness and objects. The original context is both mother nature and the biological mother.
This movement from context to context is demonstrated by Neumann by the psychological stages in the development of personality which move from an original unity to ego development and then separation. Separation brings with it a fragmentation of the archetypes. The evolution of both individual and civilization is from a unified, contextual unconsciousness to a fragmented, contentual consciousness.