The information black hole.

Not too long ago Philip Zimbardo wrote a book called: The Time Paradox in which he describes the ways in which individuals think within the framework of their “time-orientation”. Some people mainly relate to the past, some people live in the now, and some people are predominantly future-oriented.

In my opinion it also depends on your age, the older you are, the more of a past you have to relate to 😉

It so happens that he lives in a time where information is produced at an incredible rate, mainly through the Internet, which makes large-scale distribution and exchange of information possible.

But we tend to forget how much information is lost at the same time; books and papers crumble to dust, libraries close. Microfiches, who can read them still? The same applies to floppy disks, diskettes and almost to CD-ROM. But also hard disks and memory sticks crash or become unreadable.

The half-life of information carriers seems to shorten all the time. In this way information seems to disappear into a black hole.

Working a lot with a younger generation of coaches and exercise scientists, I noticed a general phenomenon: they seem to suffer from near-sightedness as time is concerned. Everything written or published more than 5 years ago is “old”, redundant or not interesting anymore. They seem to have a limited view into the past as well as into the future. Classical books, brilliant concepts, and founders of great concepts or successful coaches seem to be “forgotten”. And as the expression goes: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

From time  to time I get presented “innovations”, which make me think of the reinvention of gun powder. Concepts, ideas, or products that have been done, tried, or invented long time ago. You could have known if only you had taken the effort   to see whether somebody had already been thinking along these lines before you did. More of this in the next message.

In this way dependence on the digital media as a main source of information becomes a limitation instead of an enhancement!

If they cannot find it in Google or in PubMed, it is not interesting or it does not seem to exist!

Now there is no denying that the Internet can be  a great source of information, but there are a few limitations.

First of all: there is a lot of “noise” like totally useless information, just copied uncritically from other Internet sources.

Second: the Internet creates the “illusion of knowledge”. People think they become overnight “experts” because they read half a page about a particular subject in Wikipedia. They may not realize the difference between trivial and superficial information and deep knowledge about a subject e.g. produced by years of hands-on  experience.

Third: not everything is published on the Internet, there could be language barriers, it could be the cost and/or the effort to scan and digitalize books and articles. I would like to think that still most information is not on the Internet. We can only guess about why it is not there; maybe because it is too valuable for the persons involved to share it with others or with potential competitors.

Or maybe they think it is not valuable enough for others to share and do not want to spend the time and effort to scan their work. And if they share it in the form of books or on the Internet, do they share it all or do they forget to add their ultimate little “secrets” and keep these for themselves?

The more you read “old stuff”, the more you will be surprised about the knowledge that has been there all along.

In any field: know your classics!

One comment

  1. Great post. And what about the knowledge that has never been written or lost forever?
    How much documentation has survived about the preparation of the Ancient Greeks or professional sportsmen during the XIXc when their training was already described as “scientific” and the competitions held in a very competitive environment? No one can deny we have better tools now, but one has to wonder how much do they help us to solve our questions – questions that may have always been the same…

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