At the end of the day, information technology is meant to improve whatever it is we do, and ultimately give the Human Race a fighting chance of surviving by making changes for the better.
Yes, I recognize that my above statement sounds WAY overly romantic and somewhat cliche (thanks, marketing folks!), so allow me to explain...
I am a huge fan of learning through what I like to call, "interdependent layers". What this means is that you can pretty much learn anything if you first teach yourself the most rudimentary, base level of something, then graduate into evermore complicated layers that are tied to one level up and one level down. A great example of this would be learning how you drive a car - you don't charge right in at 16 years old, fire up the engine, and let 'er rip at 80 MPH on the closest highway. Instead, you learn the basics of how a car works, graduate into how it operates within the socially accepted way of operating it (speed limits, etc.), and ultimately grow into driving on side streets, and eventually highways. In this example, each layer of learning is dependent on the one that preceded and follows it - this is mainly because the human brain learns best when it can relate to a constant to learn something new.
And it is with this concept of "interdependent layers" that delivered my above bold faced epiphany one afternoon as I was fixing a toilet in my house (true story). If you think about it, there is a natural hierarchy of levels to the byproducts that information technology brings to our world. What are they? Glad you asked - they're listed from lowest to highest below:
- Data. The lowest level byproduct of information technology. This layer represents a blob of "stuff" that has no relational correlation, other than existing for itself. For instance, consider a series of ten numbers as a good example - 3105552876.
- Information. A more graduated byproduct that adds some intelligence to the Data layer by relating it to a context that makes more sense to a human or automated consumer. In my above example, adding some punctuation to my numbers - (310) 555-2876 can help a consumer realize, "Hey - that's a phone number!"...that statement makes it information.
- Knowledge. This is the first of what I consider a "transformative" layer, in that the information of the previous layer is correlated to a separately related piece of information. Continuing with my "numbers" exercise, an example of the knowledge layer would be saying, "Hey - (310) 555-2876 is Heidi Klum's phone number!" This scenario keeps getting better and better all the time :-)...
- Wisdom. The layer at the top of the heap is the ultimate representation of why I think the goal of information technology is to make the Human Race better - this is done through the effective application of wisdom. In my example, the following VERY wise conclusion could be drawn from my knowledge of the information I have - "I think Heidi Klum is hot! I'm going to call her on her phone number and ask her out on a date. Wait - she's married to Seal, and I don't think he'd like that idea very much."
My theory for this behavior stems from the fact that there is no universally-applicable standard in how data and information are stored and accessed. Sure, the technology world is littered with companies who all feel they have an edge on how blocks of DATA are stored and accessed - but from there, they all pretty much stop. Anything related to the information or knowledge layers are relegated to highly esoteric, niche-oriented products that carry terms like, "Content Management" or "Knowledge Management".
To me, something needs to be done to blur the lines between the Data and Information layers, and the solution is not going to be involve traditional modes of thinking.
But that's an upcoming story for a different time...stay tuned :-)