Aggregation of knowledge/information sources has really changed over the last few years. Until about three years ago, most of our information was delivered through a centering agent – a television, newspaper, magazine, or radio. In this model, our primary task was to absorb or consume the structure of information created by a third party. The level of trust attached to this third party largely determined how much we valued the information (for example, Forbes suggesting investment in Apple carried more weight than hearing it from a stranger at a bus stop).
Recently, the centering agents have come undone. I no longer read newspapers or watch the evening news. I used to go to one source of information to get a thousand points of information. Now, I go to a thousand sources of information to get one point of information. I have become the filter and mediator.
While this process is effective on many levels, it has its challenges. Going to one source of information is much simpler than attempting to consume many different elements. It’s less stressful. And requires less thought (or foraging for needed knowledge). Questions of validity and trust are answered with each information source (at least until a relationship has been developed).
Centering agents provide significant value in creating come focal points for members of society. These agents serve a diverse base and are structured to provide appeal to many different individuals (race, religion, politics, etc.). People of different political stripes, for example, are able to dialogue (in some cases at least ) because of the common language and understanding created by centering agents.
What happens when we no longer share centering agents? What happens when all of my information comes only from sources that promote view points I already hold? I am concerned that this process is creating a serious divide in the ability of people to dialogue and share common understandings. Now, if I’m so inclined, I can listen only to perspectives of my own political party. If I follow Rush Limbaugh or Daily Kos, I can receive a constant message that assures me that I am right, and the other side is wrong. I think this is dangerous. The breakdown of common understanding and dialogue poses a real risk to the civility of society.
Educators have a role to play in encouraging learners to consume information from differing spectrums of thought. We are starting to see the emergence of some centering agents for individuals (bloglines) and rudimentary centering tools for groups (del.icio.us). Whatever our view or perspective, as learners in a global stage, we need to move (at minimum) to dialogue with those around us. The closing of public information spaces into private, like-minded thought communities is discouraging.