1.1 Information Evolution

The world of information is extremely complex. Some scholars have spent lifetimes searching for, organizing, and evaluating all the information on a single topic. Due to human interaction with information, one small concept can develop into an unimaginable amount of material. People and technology participate in the evolution of information by creating and sharing it. Nowadays we have the Internet, and with it, simple concepts, over time, become vast amounts of data. They do so quickly because there are so many participants generating content.

Let’s imagine an example. We will consider the planet Mars and look at how information about it has grown over time. This example highlights the different formats that information can take and draws attention to the people and mediums (methods of sharing) involved.

Mars Example

In the past, people observed the planet Mars as a red circle in the sky. On a very clear night, it could be seen by the naked eye. People studied and discussed this circle creating both cognitive (thoughts, dreams) and oral (stories, conversations) information. Eventually Galileo, a scientist, would look at it through a telescope and record his observations (NASA, n.d.a). As time progressed, Western scientists would study Galileo’s interpretations of the planet and make their own observations, document them, author books, create images and write articles (visual and written information). Many would analyze and publish their findings. Eventually fictional concepts about the planet would emerge, such as ideas about beings called Martians. People have imagined them in various ways–what they might look like, how they might behave. Some have imagined aliens from Mars attacking Earth. An author, H. G. Wells would write a story about this very idea in 1898, its title: The War of the Worlds (written information).


An image with graphics representing the evolution of information about the planet Mars. A planet, people, writing implements, cameras, aliens, books, and so on.
Figure 1: The evolution of information.

This story would impact future generations when four decades later, in 1938, Orson Welles decided to read it aloud on his radio show (delivering audio information and creating a recording). As the story goes, he read the novel so convincingly that people who were listening to the broadcast believed it was happening… that aliens were attacking the earth (Schwartz, 2015). In the coming days, as apparent panic spread throughout the state of New York, newspapers interviewed Orson Welles (creating more information in the form of newspapers, audio interviews, recordings). These interviews created more information about the event, now dubbed The War of the World’s Hoax. The information explosion that began as just a red circle in the sky continued onward past the hoax. And here is where we begin to see the emergence of misinformation and disinformation. Did people believe that aliens were attacking the earth when they heard Orson Welles on the radio? Was the entire thing a public stunt created by Orson Welles to increase the popularity of his radio show (Schwartz, 2015; Campbell, 2017)? After all, he would go on to be considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

Over the past couple of decades, scientific discoveries about Mars have continued to occur. Spaceships with rovers have visited the planet generating data and images (NASA, n.d.b). Along with these discoveries have emerged articles, blueprints, video footage, audio recordings and more. We have begun to imagine sending humans to Mars. We have written it down in books and recorded the ideas on film and TV series. We have had conversations with our friends, in blogposts, and on social media. As the chatter continues, the creation of information about Mars continues.

This is just one example of one concept adding to the information available about one topic – Mars. Now reflect on the many other pieces of information that have emerged about the red planet – the concepts, ideas, and discoveries that were not discussed in the example. What information do we have about other planets? About the solar system? How much information is there and how quickly is it multiplying? Now consider the fact that this is true for basically every concept known to humanity. Any idea or thing can go in multiple directions, be observed, discussed, shared, and received by any number of humans. Humanity has created and has access to what feels like an infinite amount of information, so how do we go about managing it?



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Disinformation: Dealing with the Disaster Copyright © 2023 by Saskatchewan Polytechnic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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