“how has growing up in an information age alongside a digital era influenced the ongoing interpretation of knowledge and information?”

Written by Macinley Butson

There has been much speculation as to what the post-millennial generation should be dubbed, with proposed names including; Generation Z, Centennials, iGen, Digital Natives and Delta Generation, the list is virtually non-exhaustive. But in amongst this thread of names, there is one strand which is undeniably true; regardless of the name, this generation has grown up in “The Information Age”. From before we could speak it has been the norm; it is simply the world we know and have been raised in. And the accompanying, rapid rise of technology means my generation has had the world at our fingertips – being able to source information, consume it even, almost endlessly. This overwhelming access to information has developed the rise in popularity of everyone’s best-friend for assignments, Google – along with raising the more pressing question, what do we do with all of this knowledge?


Francis Bacon wrote in his book Meditationes Sacrae (1597), “ipsa scientia potestas est” meaning ‘knowledge itself is power’. Over the course of history this quote as been attributed to many individuals, to the point where it is difficult to determine who and where it was first indeed used. The indeterminate nature of this quotes origin suggests that alluded to curiosity and longing for knowledge is the inherent nature of humanity. This core value is demonstrated though todays growing efficacy of STEM fields, but the roots of our dependence on science go as far back as the originally intended meaning of the word ‘science’.


“Science” entered the English language around the 14th century, originating from the Latin “scientia” meaning knowledge. Now, the course of time has slowly adjusted this to the definition present in today’s standardized English; being that of the study of the natural and physical world, however, growing up as a Gen Z individual I can certainly attest to both the truth and relevance of both definitions in our current age. It must then be asked, how has growing up in an information age alongside a digital era influenced the ongoing interpretation of this knowledge and information?


One characteristic which differentiates Generation Z from those previous in the digital era, has been the conception and evolution of social media. For many young people, it is reality that we are living in a symbiotic relation with social media – and whilst this term is usually exclusively used in biological contexts, I believe in our current digital world it is quite well suited. The Oxford Dictionary defines social media as, “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” and whilst this definition encompasses what social media is, it doesn’t encapsulate the influence it is having on our rapidly growing information and knowledge corpus.


Informal learning, that is done outside of an educational institution, is becoming much more prevalent among youth and adults alike. The amount of information we are exposed to through these alternative pathways are informing our choices and perspectives now more than ever, so we must take time to reflect on this. Social media in many ways is having both a positive and negative impact on science, keeping these in mind when considering information from our myriad of outlets is imperative.


Scientific literacy is a topic very close to my heart as I believe that for science to be most impactful it should be communicated effectively to the public. I would argue that social media has indeed facilitated a rise of scientific literacy in the community – with more people now being aware of the issues our world is facing, and the solutions which may be out there. However, it has also seen the rise of accompanying concerns including the politicization of science, the expedited spread of misinformation and individuals blind trust in what is presented as ‘scientific fact’. This is where a development between the intersection of scientific literacy and critical thinking becomes crucial in determining what, in this sea of information should be informing our personal perspectives and decisions. Whether this is something which can be taught or is something we as individuals need to be more aware of when scrolling the internet, it is undeniably a topic our world is grappling with. 


With the answer still unknown I put forward a question forward to you, how much on social media do you accept as true knowledge? In the face of this era, I challenge you to reflect on life in this information age and continue developing your personal awareness as to the influence this digital age has on the ‘power of your knowledge’.