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RISJ Director of Research Robert Picard today delivered a lecture to the National Press Club of Australia:

The vision of information society has become reality, but it is neither the utopia nor the dystopia that was predicted would materialize.

Information society is changing social relations, business arrangements, and the roles of institutions and individuals in society.

It is giving us greater connectivity and greater access to information than ever before. News, information and entertainment have become ubiquitous and we can access it from across the globe as easily as across town.

Yet general knowledge and understanding remain astoundingly low and is not confined to countries with poor educational institutions or media.

Today, 26% of Germans don’t know the earth revolves around the sun, 60% of Americans can’t name the president of Russia, 43% of Egyptians think Israel attacked the World Trade Centre, and 15% of South Africans don’t know AIDS is spread through sexual activity despite the fact that it is decimating the population.

It is apparent that large numbers of people are not receiving or using information that is available in the digital world.

Although disinterest in or disuse of information is a problem, the greater challenge is that those who want and rely on quality news and information are having difficulty getting what they need.

We are receiving more information than ever before, but it is a narrow form of information. We get endless flow of events news, disaggregated facts, and massive amounts of sports and entertainment news. These are increasingly shortened and disconnected from other information to limit complexity and allow quicker consumption. This information is replicated and echoed through multiple digital sources—magnifying its availability.

This expanding information hides the diminishing focus on complex social issues and challenges, the reduction in oversight and pursuit of accountability of social institutions, and an impoverishment of in-depth reporting and analysis.

These are occurring because changes in technology and economics are dismantling the traditional financial configurations that made Western media independent and provided the resources needed to carry out regular coverage of social institutions and undertake expensive and time consuming investigations...

 

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