Ahad, 22 Januari 2012

The rise of (dis)information society

*This is the unedited version of my letter that appeared in New Sunday Times, 22nd January 2012  entitled "Information Age: we are none the wiser in this age"

The rise of (dis)information society

by Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal,
Research Fellow, Assembly of Intellectual Muslim (HAKIM).

I would like to respond towards Prof. Ahmad Murad Merican’s Celebrating the Scribe in All Forms which appeared in New Sunday Times, 15th January 2012.

One of the momentous events that has shaped modern world was the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther, the German priest who made the Reformation possible was not working in vacuum. The spread of Luther’s 95 Theses (which originally written in Latin) in an illiterate society of Germany of the Late Middle Ages could never create such socio-political and religious upheaval in which this event kick-started a series of war labeled by historians as the War of Religions (1524-1648) that engulfed the whole Europe and forever change its socio cultural milieu.

As pointed by many historians, the massive impact of Luther could be attributed upon two reasons. Firstly is due to lack of seriousness on the sides Roman Catholic Church to stifle the “intellectual revolt”. Secondly is due to aid by Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing press. This potent combination of weak authority and empowerment from the masses via newly created printing press made Luther's tracts efficiently distributed (300,000 printed copies) throughout Germany and Europe. Luther’s reform simply said was assisted by logical technological progress of his time and the rest is history.

Many things can be learned from this episode when it comes to understand the power of information and its impact upon society. Journalism being recognized as modern phenomenon rightfully carries the poster-boy image of “democratization of information” – to certain extends knowledge.

Almost all intellectuals recognized and heralded the Information Age in our times. But not all of the learned view it with great respite. They knew the great danger that is lurking behind this euphoria. Some labeled it as the Age of Information Explosion in which we are hyper-connected. But a bigger question is we are connected to what? Have we, through this hyper-connectivity become better communicators? Despite of having plethora of information at our disposal, how efficient have we made use of our cognitive abilities? Judging from mankind’s track record in resolving problems and creation of unnecessary conflicts in our times, we are indeed in dire straits with respect of coming to terms with this information explosion.

Perhaps a blast from the past could shed some clue on how the ancients saliently negotiate the rightful role of cognition in communication. Our renowned scholar, Tan Sri Prof. Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas in his seminal studies of Hamzah Fansuri, a Malay Sufi poet of 16th century had traced acute precision on the employment of rightful terms by the classical Malay writer in elucidating things with finesse. The word such as “kenal” and “tahu” though alludes to almost the same meaning but in actual fact exhibit significant differences. According to Al-Attas, the employment of these words by Hamzah Fansuri was consistent throughout his writings when he used the word “kenal” it means gnosis whereas when he used the word “tahu” it means knowledge. This kind of mental attitude was very much prevalent in those days among all Malay writers and scholars.

In our times, these distinctions were no longer a subtlety especially to the modern Malays. This has very much indicated the leveling of our thoughts, which happen through misappropriation and callous use of language in describing and interpreting the realities that appear before our mind’s eyes.

This uncouth usage and misapplying of terms is one of the signs that characterized (Dis)Information Age. We have confused information with knowledge, and knowledge and wisdom. This attitude is mutable - if not being treated thoroughly, into another form of cognitive disease in the manner of “intellectual anxiety”.

Like stranded traveler in the desert whom can never quench his thirst by sipping water conjured by the mirage, we have produced a society that can never be satiated in spite of being fed with tonnes of information on daily basis. Jean Braudillard, the celebrated French philosopher once said: “we lived in the world where there is more and more information but less and less meaning”. 

Respected environmentalist, Professor David W. Orr could not be more apt in describing the condition of modern mind in failure of making proper distinction between slow and fast knowledge in which he said: “the differences between them could not be more striking. Fast knowledge is focused on solving problems, usually by one technological fix or another. Slow knowledge has to do with avoiding problems in the first place.”

(Dis)Information Age indeed heralded a brave new world for all and journalism has such a massive role to play in mediating the (right) discourse between the scholarly authority of academia and the recipient of masses. Journalism as rightly described by Prof. Murad Merican is not a value-free profession. Contemporary times celebrate the rise of “citizen journalism” that thronged vividly in all forms of media. If they – the masses, are not given proper training and guidance with regard to negotiating and participating directly or indirectly in journalism, they could sow more seeds of confusion that could breed intellectual malignant within the society in which everything must be leveled on the expense of substance over the form.

A scribe should ever realize that the pen is mightier than the sword and with such might, accountability comes with a great price tag as well.


I shall explain here on the title that I chose to use that was altered by the editor (though I am a bit surprised they left some of the bracketed ‘dis’ untouched).

I wrote this piece as a response to a piece written by my former professor in Malaysian Studies – Ahmad Murad Merican.  The title and the spirit of this piece could be traced upon my affinities of reading the likes of Jacques Ellul, Neil Postman, Manuel Castell (and recently of Nicholas G. Carr and James Gleick). In fact earlier I have written an amateurish paper on propaganda, which tackled this theme using Attasian framework.

I purposely chose, framed and coupled the word 'information' and the word ‘dis’ in a parenthetical manner (rhetorically and punctuational) to signify the silent convulsion of chaos and order which very much intertwined in the nature of this célèbre information society.

The parenthesis that confined the word 'dis-' – a prefix that denotes intensification of unpleasantness is not mere rhetorical device. It acts as a disclaimer and a digression upon the face value (or more apt as value-less ?) that the modern mind possesses of information society. 

Information society is saliently an opaque paradox. Naturally we thought by default, the arise of information society complement the neutral form of goodness that it supposes to render but in actual fact it is a double-edge sword, or worse – another modern phenomenon that is masked with deceitful persona.

I hope to further deliberate this topic in future.

4 ulasan:

nabilah berkata...

Assalamu'alaikum wbt

Nice piece. Generally, I agree with what you've said. Just one note though, before I comment even more. Erm, I'm not a grammar expert, but I know grammar mistakes when I see one. And this article has many. And there's also some words that don't fit. I suggest just having someone, or maybe you yourself, proofread the article before posting it. Just a nasihat penambahbaikan inshaAllah.. :)

Erm ok, komen lain.

Secara amnya, I agree with the points being raised. In previous times, I used to be obssessed too with the idea that language nowadays are being butchered to pieces by the speed of technology, pure hedonism and lack, loss and deterioration of dignity and values in the society. But a knowledgable man once said, that, we long..we miss the old age. The time when language and literature was equivalent to technology and advancement nowadays. A man back then, dijulang for his command of poetry, for his mind, his contributions to philosophy and strong principles and theology. Chilvalry was celebrated. This age we live in nowadays is the not the same. Different things are valued. Different things dijulang. Imagine, nowadays we idolised musicians! Entertainments! We can't expect the people nowadays to fathom, understand or even value any subtlety in language, much less the slights nuances and power of words. Words nowadays are not appreciate like before. Words nowadays are taken very very lightly.

So, yeah, I agree with your 2nd last sentence: "everything must be leveled on the expense of substance over the form".
The masses would not be able to understand authentic journalism. And that does result in much of the masses being easily played in a significant or insignificant ways.

But for me, I think, rather then focusing, dwelling and sulking over this matter (I'm not insinuating that you are sulking, don't take offense :), I think more human energy should be focused on contributing to a solution one has chosen to partake in. I think, fussing over the details of the state of the ummah will not change the ummah much. Yes, you need these kind of propagation. It creates awareness, and that's the first most important step in creating change. But I think propagating it using a tool of the past will not deliver the message to the masses of the present. We need to use the present language, even though it kills us to downgrade what we value high, to reach and connect with the people. Only then, can we slowly bring them back to the values that we are already feeling. I think it's a process. And until we achieve that grandeur, we need to be relevant to the society and humble ourselves down to build real connections with the people, not for the purpose of fun, but to be able to change them to what we know is better.

NB: It's pretty difficult actually to comment on your article. I think it's because you've covered all your bases pretty well. Heheh. In the end however, where do you stand? Are you content in being an "academician" commenting on these happenings around you, or are you going to work thoroughly on one method of focused solution?
Or do you already see what you're doing right now as the solution you're contributing to? :'(smirk)

heheh sorry. :)

Pernah baca blog ni?> http://angelwearsgucci.blogspot.com/

You'll drop dead at the language. :p
But I like it..it's pretty interesting..

wassalam wbt

Rausyanfikir berkata...


Masya-Allah, good comments! Thanks for all the feedbacks rendered upon my short article. It was intended to be a short response and rightly so when it was published in NST. I sense you are not an ordinary medic student with that kind of comments as well as the writings of your blog(s).

Well with regard to your questions, I am not sure whether are you very new to my writings or you have been reading my blog for quite some time.

As familiar readers of mine know my positions on the questions you asked above.

I am a proponent of Syed Naquib Al-Attas' school of thought in reviving the worldview of Islam.

Please add me in Facebook so that you can know my ideas and circle of friends better.


nabilah berkata...

Salam wbt

I see.. okay.

Erm..if you don't mind me asking here.., what's your main wasilah in achieving that goal..?


Rausyanfikir berkata...

What do you mean by wasilah?