Thoughts on David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know

“There were certainly facts before the start of the nineteenth century; it was a fact that the ocean was salty even before humans first tasted it, and it was a fact that polio is caused by a virus even before we had discovered viruses. But only recently have facts emerged as the general foundation of knowledge and the final resort of disagreements.” (pp. 24)

I believe that the above excerpt intends explain the radical change of human society through the widespread dispersion of data; and the analysis of that data to be interpreted as facts. Weinberger precedes the excerpt with the facts presented by former President Clinton concerning his administration’s progress toward lowering welfare recipients and finding them suitable jobs, Weinberger does this to show the modern style of presenting data as facts to suit the current argument. The effects on the human experience are that life is a revolving door of information being spread so fast that the data must be presented as fact to be accepted in any way. Within this ultra streamlined style of data comes a concern; now more than ever it takes an educated person to properly distinguish between data and fact. Using the example of President Clinton’s speech again, President Clinton presents what most would consider to be facts, however as Weinberger hints at those “facts” may be just data because the former President has hand selected his facts to prove his point.

The primary difference between data and fact is the idea that facts are often influenced and biased towards the person creating the fact. As an example a German textbook will have a very different perspective of World War II than a American textbook. Its because of this change in society that the new human divide will exist, the people able to separate data from fact will be more in tune with the new information age that the Internet has accelerated so rapidly. Hopefully as the ability to access the Internet continues to spread the literacy of defining facts and data also spreads creating the ideal future that many yearn for where information and knowledge are valued and the understanding of others becomes and expectation rather than something to progress towards.