The Power of Information

Denise - Decatur, Illinois
Entered on March 9, 2009

This I Believe Essay

I believe in the power of information. I believe in the strength and confidence that comes from learning the answers to your questions. Nothing feels better than to go from confusion and ignorance to being able to say wholeheartedly “I know the meaning of this now.”

Information is abundant today. I grew up in a very different world in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’m a white middle class female from the small town Midwest. My parents read to me and valued school. We had books and magazines at home plus a well worn set of World Book Encyclopedias. Even with these advantages, information was hard to get before cable TV and the Internet. I didn’t have access to uncensored facts and images until I moved to a city with a large public library.

Beyond these logistics, there was just a different attitude toward information among my teachers and family compared to today. This applied especially to facts about sex, race and politics. I remember them telling me, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” and “Ignorance is bliss” or the worst “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…” These idiotic proverbs were usually said to shut up a curious child like me. Of course, like most kids I asked my friends questions but the bad guidance of the playground about power, gender and race is endless.

Then I went to college. I discovered the radio of the 1980’s and the wisdom of seeking full answers. The college library had more books then I could ever read. I hung out in bookstores to sneak looks at volumes like “Our Bodies Ourselves” to answer my sex ed questions. We used radio to get a lot of what is now on the Web like concert dates, celebrity news and political points of view. Sure I was sometimes overwhelmed and had to learn to sort the bad from the good data. But better to be dazed by too much information than scrambling for any facts at all. And remember the first time you heard about “driving while Black”? Or about STDs or HIV Aids? What you don’t know _can_ hurt you, and even kill you. Knowing only a little when you need to know the whole truth is more than dangerous, it can be lethal.

My love of finding information was one reason I became a librarian. There is much talk now of information overload. With mobile phones, wireless computing, 24/7 news channels and mega bookstores there is more data and interpretation of it than ever before in human history. But I say, great! Bring it on. Far better children and young adults have too much information than too little. Far better to teach how to evaluate and use Web resources than to restrict access or ignore the Internet’s potential. I believe in the power of information and will fight to the death to keep it as open and free as possible.