Information Scarcity

Information scarcity is the model on which today’s educational institutions are founded. The scarcity model is based on the premise that information is expensive to produce, store and transmit. That has been the case in the past, but it is no longer true today.

When information scarcity is the case, it makes sense to concentrate resources and bring those who have knowledge together. Those who want to get information know where to find it – where it is gathered. Information transmission between people – teaching – is best done where the information is held.

Traditionally, this has been the role of schools and universities. With the advent of the factory in the nineteenth century, the idea was to gather together the knowledgeable, and bring the students to them so they could learn. The very structures at the centre of teaching in universities were designed along the same lines – large rooms where many students could assemble together to hear what an expert had to say – lecture theatres. The model is prevalent today.

One of the civilising drives over the past millennium has been to make information more abundant. A drive to move from information scarcity to information abundance. Below are listed a few of the key milestones in that drive from when information began to move from the ancient libraries where copies were laboriously hand made.

Printing press 1450
Encyclopaedia 1728
Wood pulp paper production 1840s
Rotary printing press 1863
Typewriter 1867
Photocopier 1949
Hyperlink 1968
Apple computer 1976
Ethernet network 1979
http:// 1989
Graphical browser 1993
Backrub (now google) 1996
Wikipedia 2000

Over the years, information has become easier and less expensive to acquire and transmit. From a few ancient libraries to the wireless access to the internet afforded by mobile computing devices, the transition has been relentless. From information scarcity to information abundance. Although not free, information is available at a nominal cost to the average citizen of the western world.

The internet today has made information cheap and ubiquitous – information abundance.

Although still at the beginning of the truly digital age of information abundance, we are far enough along to know that the pitiful attempts to put the genie back into the bottle in order to support information scarcity are not going to work in the long run.

Why not embrace it as the culmination of centuries of striving?


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