Welcome to Infovores
Navigating a world of infinite knowledge
When it was announced that the Library contained all books, the first reaction was unbounded joy. All men felt themselves the possessors of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist—somewhere in some [part of the Library].
Jorge Luis Borges, The Library of Babel
In a world of infinite knowledge, everything seems possible. Devastating diseases can be cured, unjust circumstances made right, poverty reduced and eventually eradicated. Without the strict constraints of a low knowledge society it’s easy to have hope for the future and navigate trade-offs with confidence that our decisions will make the world better off rather than the reverse.
In some ways we live in this bright and optimistic world. Extreme poverty has been cut to nearly 1/3 the level it was in 1990, global average life expectancy now exceeds 72 years, and life-saving vaccines were invented in record time to fight our ongoing pandemic. But the proliferation of knowledge that undergirds these advances has been accompanied by a broader proliferation of information that threatens to undermine our ability to process and interpret the world.
The fictional library alluded to in the post heading contains every true book—with every cure, invention, and discovery to remedy the world’s problems. But it also contains every false book. More precisely, the library contains every true book, every false book, and every possible gradation between the completely true and the completely false. Because the people in Borges’ story don’t know how to discriminate between what is true and false in the library’s archives, there isn’t much practical use to the library. No one can identify the truth amidst so much falsehood and hope is soon replaced with despair.
We experience this side of Borges’ fantasy too. While it was once the case that a few trusted institutions gathered, distilled, and disseminated information to us through newspapers or a small number of radio and television broadcasts, internet technology has now made virtually everyone a scaleable source of information. Facebook’s 2.7 billion users upload 4000 photos each second and adults under 30 get their news most often from social media. Trends toward more rapid information production are very likely to continue and may even accelerate.
Rather than passively bemoaning these realities, we can develop more effective habits for consuming, absorbing, and sharing information. We can learn and do more, more quickly than ever before. There’s never been a better time to be an infovore.