Skip to main content
opinion

Peter Nicholson is president of the Council of Canadian Academies

Council of Canadian Academies president Peter Nicholson writes in his weekend essay that in becoming information-rich, we have also become attention-poor.

"The three technologies that have powered the information revolution - computation, data transmission and data storage - have each increased in capability by about 10 million times since the early 1960s, unleashing a torrential abundance of data and information," Mr. Nicholson writes. "But economics teaches that the counterpart of every new abundance is a new scarcity - in this case, the scarcity of human time and attention."

He argues information technology is driving a correspondingly profound transformation of knowledge production, the main feature of which is a shift of emphasis from depth to speed.

"The challenge is to adapt, and then to evolve, in a world where there continues to be an exponential increase in the supply of information relative to the supply of human attention," he writes.

Mr. Nicholson also argues that as the flow of information speeds up, fewer resources will be invested in the creation of information products and as a result, the "market" for depth is narrowing.

"There is also under way a shift of intellectual authority from producers of depth - the traditional "expert" - to the broader public," he writes, adding that several heads are indeed better than one.

"But while hundreds of thousands of Web-empowered volunteers are able to very efficiently dedicate small slices of their discretionary time, the traditional experts - professors, journalists, authors and filmmakers - need to be compensated for their effort, since expertise is what they have to sell. Unfortunately for them, this has become a much harder sell because the ethic of "free" rules the economics of so much Web content. Moreover, the value of traditional expert authority is itself being diluted by the new incentive structure created by information technology that militates against what is deep and nuanced in favour of what is fast and stripped-down."

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, return to this page for a live discussion with Mr. Nicholson. If you would like to leave a question for Mr. Nicholson in advance, please use the Comments area on this page.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.



<iframe src="https://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=586ea3146c/height=650/width=600" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="600px" frameBorder ="0" ><a href="https://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php?option=com_mobile&task=viewaltcast&altcast_code=586ea3146c" >Peter Nicholson on information and attention span</a></iframe>