November 08, 2011, 4:43 PM — To a large extent, our fears define us. Our earliest bipedal ancestors probably mostly had fears about ingestion -- either being eaten or not having enough to eat. The literature and art of the Victorians, as Julie Wosk notes in Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century, reflected a popular psychosis fixated on fears of being blown up by misengineered technology, being accelerated half out of one's mind on a train or being maimed when a train went off the tracks.
The fears of the information age, however, are different. Many of us tremble at a looming Malthusian wall of ignorance. Thomas Malthus was an 18th century Anglican curate, demographer and political scientist who observed that the population was growing much faster than the food supply and predicted an end state of famine and social unrest.
There are many neo-Malthusians in the "big data" ecosystem who fear that the volume of information that must be known is growing far faster than organizations' capacity to know. Failure to embrace new technologies and new information management practices is predicted to doom us to a form of cognitive starvation.