Information overload…

In the not so distant past, access to information was both controlled and rationed, while “storage” was essentially all physical.

Now that we live in any increasingly digital and digitized world, the issues have fundamentally changed. We have moved from scarcity to surfeit. According to the FT, one academic (Melvin Vopson) of the UK’s University of Portsmouth has calculated that within 135 years the Earth will have more bits than atoms- leading to an “information catastrophe”. Of course, all such long-dated forecasts should be greeted with healthy skepticism, but the point remains that, at a fundamental level, bits have to be stored somewhere, and each is 10-30 nanometers (billionths of a metre) wide on storage media. Even if not seen as being “physical”, at some level they actually are. Eventually they do all add up.

In the meantime, one can observe the often malign consequences of the digitized “information” onslaught in many areas- from social media to politics. However, from the point of view of someone trying to underwrite and manage credit and related risks (or make any effective decisions), there are some particular factors to be aware of:

– We live in an expanding fog of data, so trying to discern useful patterns, shapes and trends is always a challenge
– Whether we are willing to believe it or not, we face objective ignorance about the future. Many things are simply unknowable. Having “information” can easily fool us into believing the future is knowable
– Quality is at least as important as quantity. “Lakes” of raw data are all very well, but one needs to understand the source, and have a reasonable chance of being able to create order in a way that is actually useful
– There are too many “pretty baubles”; meaning that, because we are primates (even if, theoretically at least, at the top of the ranking of observed intelligence) we are easily distracted by something new and shiny. Some may change the world; many are simply trash
– Finding a balance between the “tried and tested” and the “well past its sell-by date”. Yes, some sources and approaches remain axiomatic and have lasting value, but the more we know, the more we come to understand how much we don’t know, or realize that we were simply wrong
– Trust can be in very short supply in a world in which it seems increasingly easy to manipulate data and forge “information” in ways which can be all too plausible.

When faced with such an environment, it is easy simply to succumb to decision paralysis and procrastination, or to retreat into a miasma of mistrust. By definition, that achieves nothing.

Instead, one has to create a framework in which one begins to weight the reliability of sources; create and curate a pool of those which are most relevant, reliable, unbiased and timely; and gradually build a toolbox of mental and actual models that are both scalable and adaptable for understanding, analyzing and solving problems, and so providing workable and valuable solutions.

Only then does one stand a chance of emerging from the fog.

The Awbury Team

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