I’ve decided to post the essay I’ve written to turn in along with my application to the honors program at Rose State College. The title was predetermined by committee; the content is straight from my heart . . . enjoy.
“The Democratization of Information: Power, Peril, and Promise”
The word ‘democratize’, according to Webster’s online learners’ dictionary, means “to make available to all people; to make it possible for all people to understand”. It’s an important word when it’s connected to information, because information brings knowledge – and knowledge is power. The reverse is also true; ignorance is powerlessness. When all people have access to information that can change their lives and they truly understand the impact of that information, all sectors of society will benefit.
Power is the heady stuff of which despots are made. It is also the basic building block of our very lives. Whether the choice is big or small, our power to choose makes us who we are. It gives our lives meaning; it connects us to our voice in the world. A child peers into his toy box, choosing one toy over another – he had a choice and he made it. That’s power. A teenager says no to negative peer pressure – that’s power. A single mother chooses to get an education to build a better life for herself and her family – that’s power. Our lives are built on the choices we make every day. The ability to make those choices is power. When we connect our power with information and understanding, we become a force in the world. We can affect our families, our communities, our nations, and, eventually, our world for good.
We affect those around us whether we are ignorant or empowered. We cannot be helped or help others with information we do not possess. We have all experienced the pain of ignorance. We also know the pain of a faulty application of information and of misinformation. Therein lies the peril – we are at the mercy of what we know and what we do not know. If a man has a headache, but does not know there is medicine in the cabinet that will give him relief, he will continue to suffer. If he is told that Tums are great for a headache and he heartily chews a few, he will still have his headache, despite the offer of information. Should he find the right bottle and take too little, he may experience some abatement of pain, but he will not be completely relieved of it. In all three cases information was of prime importance. The lack of it causes pain, as does receiving bad information and the misapplication of good information. As a society, we must go beyond simply putting good information ‘out there’ and hoping people will somehow find it amidst the avalanche of information available. Knowledge may be power, but choice is the agent of change. As Dick Keyes asserts, “Knowledge alone, even if it is true, does not itself transform us. It must be taken in with thoughtfulness and lived out with integrity.” The pivotal question must be asked and answered – “What must I do with this information?”
We all crave power at the most basic level. The circumstances of our lives are not always under our immediate control, yet we still need to feel that, in spite of the wind and waves swirling around us, we are the masters of our respective fates. Knowledge beckons with the promise of a happy, fulfilling life. We have the wonderful ability as well as the responsibility to take in information, choose to make changes within ourselves and our lives for the better, and then invest that information in others. The democratization of information – the dissemination of information to everyonein a way that brings understanding coupled with the ability to put it to use – is the promise of a better world for us all.