Global Convergence and Local Divergence:
Implications of Online Information Explosion


Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-084. May 2015.



M

uch hype has been made of the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web, and the access to information that it has enabled. With more and more people having access to information online, and more and more people making information available online, the phenomenon of information explosion is becoming a reality. This cycle of uploading and downloading information forms the essence of both the probem and the solution.

The Information CycleThe negative impacts of information explosion are well known: David Lewis of the International Stress Management Association originated the phrase "information fatigue syndrome." The barrage of data to which we are constantly exposed carries a cost, both physically and mentally. The engendered feelings of helplessness, confusion, and anger will erode work efficiency, family functioning and lead on to other impacts. This situation is further exasperated by lack of information processing skills.

But not all the impacts and effects of online information overload is bad:

  • Access to and availability of more information enables ideas, comparability and interlinkages. Are we doing the right thing? How are others handling the same problem or situation?

  • There are always problems behind more problems - and so there will always be solutions for more solutions. Better and more information enable an integrative and holistic approach to be built by understanding the cause-effect dynamics.

  • Linking the problem at hand to others who have faced similar problems, and have attempted different solutions, enable a broader and deeper understanding of the issues involved. More ideas can be generated as a result of this understanding

  • Access to a broad range and myriad information aids local creativity, inspires action, and generates innovative ideas and ways of doing things.

  • Continual learning is critical for anyone to be able to understanding changing values and behaviour patterns that affect the future. Access to information enables continual learning as an anytime-anywhere process.
Ultimately, filtering the vast pool of information available online to actual needs on the ground is the most critical in overcoming some of the problems associated with information overload.

Access to a broader and deeper range of information worldwide facilitates convergence of concepts, visions and ideas at the global level; but also a divergence of approaches based on how information is interpreted and used at the local level.

An Example
Global bytes for local bits: Case Studies of Community Sustainability


Sustainability is a buzzword that is used quite often without a proper understanding of its implication. We need to understand that sustainability is not a scientific concept, but a normative set of values, attitudes, perceptions and beliefs - i.e. desirability for a particular future. This is particularly critical at the local or community level. How have communities coped? What have communities been doing to incorporate sustainability principles in their daily lives?

A number of web-based databases of case studies point the way:

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 Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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