The Efficiency of the Dissemination of Information

by Ashok Nayar

I had an extremely interesting class today in Management Statistics, an elective course I’m taking. Our class was focused around “models” and “model based learning”. My professor referred to models being a framework for the spread of knowledge and information and I found this extremely profound. He compared our western culture to inefficient societies such as India or China. His examples included The Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal. You see these magnificent examples of engineering and artisitic brilliance, yet the majority of Chinese or Indians living around these wonders will typically live below the poverty line. Why is this? Is it a result of a lack of model based learning, leading to an inefficiency in the spread of information and knowledge? Or is it simply a result of a lack of distribution of wealth? Or even more importantly, is one a result of the other?

I have studied in India and found it extremely disappointing. I did my first half of High School there, and left after. The way education is structured in India is through memorization, rather than concept based learning. This is inherently flawed. If the objective of education is to enable students to apply that education in their future careers, memorization type learning fails to meet it’s objective. Students memorize, forget and move on. Concept based learning is much more effective in solidifying ideas in student’s minds, allowing them to apply their education in life. What’s interesting to note is that this is not even a general application of the spread of knowledge, but rather an example of where the dissemination of education is supposedly the prime concern.

But what my professor was speaking about was the spread of information on a more general scale. If we look beyond education systems, and we look beyond what we take for granted, we can see how accessible information is to us. Regardless of the internet, but in the western culture, information and statistics is extremely well documented. What this allows for is it gives any individual the ability to access knowledge on demand. This efficient distribution of knowledge is quite possibly the biggest reason for efficient markets and societies. In a place like India there is absolutely no way to access a statistic that may be relevant to you. For example, say you’re planning to be a street vendor but want to know the amount of customers that are interested in buying a certain widget in that locality. You would have no way of accessing that information. It’s simply not documented. In a place the US, it’s probably the other extreme where you could find ten reports of the same statistic, arguing with each other. But conceptually, the fact that you can at least access that information brings an extraordinarily amount of value.

I think we underestimate the value of how easily information is accessible to us. With the internet, information has become much more transparent and accessible to those in places like India, but it’s still much less efficient than our society. Ultimately, inefficient markets and societies will be exploited until the society and technology will stabilize the system and those within the system will move towards efficiency. I just hope that places like India will see the internet and current technologies as huge boons to them and see the value of information.

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