The Information Age

Hi. My name is Terry Henry and I am an information junkie!

I can almost see myself at some Information Anonymous meeting, in the basement of some small church, in a poorly lit neighborhood, acknowledging my addiction.

And now, looking back on my senior year in high school and my class schedule of American lit, English lit and World lit (3 separate classes), I can see a pattern begin to emerge.

I have always loved to read. So much so in fact that when I was in grade school, I burned through so many Hardy Boys mysteries that my mother told me, in no uncertain terms, that I either had to slow down or she would not buy me anymore books to read. One of my biggest pleasures was slowly eating a box of good and plenty candies while I read.

What started me thinking this way today is perhaps because I am in the process of devouring Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book entitled, Talking to Strangers.

And talk about information overload.

The inside panel of the book says: “Talking to Strangers is all about what happens when we encounter people we don’t know, why it often goes awry, and what it says about us.

How do we make sense of the unfamiliar? Why are we so bad at judging someone, reading a face, or detecting a lie? Why do we so often fail to ‘get’ other people?

Through a series of puzzles, encounters and misunderstandings, from little-known stories to infamous legal cases, Gladwell takes us on a journey through the unexpected. You will read about the spy who spent years undetected at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the man who saw through the fraudster Bernie Madoff, the suicide of the poet Sylvia Plath and the false conviction of Amanda Knox. You will discover that strangers are never simple.”

However, this post is not a review of the book but an acknowledgement that this book has brought some of my latest/latent thoughts to the surface.

One thought at the front of my mind is this: what haven’t we developed a cure for cancer? One would think, with all the research and money spent, that a cure would have been developed by now.

I am aware of the fact that the human immune system and abnormal cellular development is like a big area to search and quantify; but come on now, this is the 21st century not the dark ages.

An internet search reveals that during the past 40 years, when the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute has spent 90 billion on research. This is in addition to all the other research done on a world-wide basis that is also in the billions of dollars spent. As a perspective, on the opposite side of the fence, spending on cancer medicines totaled $107 billion worldwide in 2015 and is projected to exceed $150 billion by 2020. Perhaps that is why conspiracy theories abound about why a cure has not been found: big pharma makes lots of money on cancer, etc.

Bear in mind that this is just an observation and not an invitation to start a long discussion surrounding the ins and outs of this subject which could possibly fill a library.

PS: As a side note I thought it interesting that the Wall Street Journal ran an article in this past weekend’s edition which spoke to this very thing. The writers assessment was that we are still using cancer treatment techniques developed in the 70’s that are still more harmful than beneficial. Her estimate is that the focus of most research is on end stage cancer, which by that time is almost impossible to turn around without destroying lots of healthy cells along the way. And that the quality of life is not that great for most chemo patients. Something to think about for sure.

A second thought which is not even in the same solar system is about traffic signals and what I perceive to be a very inefficient system of how they function.

We have all been at some intersection and waited for the light to turn green and noticed that there is no good reason why we are still in a holding pattern. No traffic from the left and no traffic from the right and yet the light remains red until a set time that has been programed in by some employee of the Department of Transportation that lives 200 miles away from the town in which we live. On the side of the road by every traffic signal is a big stainless steel box that evidently contains the hardware/software that activates the signal based on some programming activated by cables underneath the asphalt our cars sit on top of. All well and good when it works and a pain when it doesn’t seem to realize the actual traffic patterns in whatever area we find ourselves in.

The thought that I had the other day is a simple one: why can’t we retrofit all those boxes with some sort of artificial intelligence that when hooked up to the roadway sensors or a camera would actually program the lights to the actual flow of traffic and not just some time based algorithm that has been determined by some engineer who lives somewhere else.

Remember you heard it here first.

Lastly I will say that Sandi and I had a great time in NYC the first several days of the first weekend in September. As any of you who have walked the streets of this fantastic city already know, NYC is a people watching place. If you don’t like to walk, watch people and eat, you will not enjoy the big apple.

There are people of all races, colors, creeds and sizes on the streets, in the subways and restaurants; many of which are, at least to me, attractive in some very interesting ways.

I realized when I returned to Boone, NC that I tend to de-construct people that I see during my daily walk through life. A part of one day I focused on noses and the many shapes and sizes and whether or not I thought they fit the persons face and/or defined the culture I imagined they were from. Then I looked at shoes and again at hair cuts and again listened to what language they were speaking to one another in. All in all, it was a revelation to me that this was how I digested the world around me and the strangers that inhabited it with me.

And last but not least, a snippet of what Gladwell was talking about in his book.

He related the fact that almost everything we take in from the world and the people around us is filtered through a filter called “bias”.

Websters defines bias as: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Or as Wikipedia defines it: Bias is disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned. People may develop biases for or against an individual, a group, or a belief. In science and engineering, a bias is a systematic error.

Politicians play to our biases as do health professionals, climate scientists, televangelists, and the list is perhaps endless.

So in ending, I would hope that we start to listen to one another in a new way and really attempt to understand what is being said rather than jump to conclusions before all the facts have been laid on the table.

And I can’t help but wonder if the writer of Ecclesiastes was on to something when he said:

(Ecclesiastes 1:18) Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

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