Managing Digital Information for Diplomats in the Era Paradox of Plenty

Technological advances have led to a dramatic reduction in the cost of processing and transmitting information. The result is an explosion of information, one that has produced a “paradox of plenty“. Plenty of information leads to scarcity -of attention. When people are overhelmed with the volume of information confronting them, they have difficulty discerning what to focus on. Attention rather than information becomes the scarce resource, and those who can distinguish valuable information from background clutter gain power. Editors and cue givers become more in demand, and this is a source of power for those who can tell us where to focus our attention” (Joseph S. Nye in “ Soft Power” as quoted by Christian Del Rosso in his article “The  Paradox of Plenty and the Scarcity of Attention).

We are now living in what some people call the digital age, meaning that internet have become an essential part of our lives. People are used to access the Internet, to do research and to communicate with others around the world. Using smartphones people make voice calls, send texts, email people and download logos, ringtones or games. With a built-in camera people can send pictures and make video calls in face-to-face mode. New smartphones combine a telephone with web access, videos, a games console, and MP3 player, a personal digital assistant (PDA) and a GPS navigation system, all in one.

With all these facts, It goes without saying that, in this digital age, we are inundated with an overwhelming amount of information, some of which is good, but much that is not. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying that every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003 – something on the order of five exabytes of data.

Then the question is, how can people take this never-ending fire hose of information and distill it into something manageable that is also meaningful based on individual needs and interests, including diplomatic needs? With refer to the diplomatic activities, how do diplomats manage the enourmous amount of information to stay well-informed instead of misinformed.

As we aware, historically, one of the main tasks of a diplomat is to conduct information gathering in the country where the diplomat is assigned. To get information, diplomats use their social capital and various sources on the internet such as websites, blogs, or other social media platforms. The information is then submitted to the Capital in the form of daily, weekly and special reports.

With the abundance of information, it is not easy to collect, process and compile it as a comprehensive and compact report. As mentioned by Joseph Nye, the abundance of information in the internet is as problematic as scarcity of attention. Important information can be lost in the sheer quantity of what is available. Fast and precise access to necessary information is conditio sine qua non of the proper functioning of diplomatic services. For that, obviously the main challenge is to manage, validate, and analyse that information.

In order to respond to the challenges that must be faced, there needs to be concerted efforts to manage the digital information overload easier and more productive. Here are several options that can be done:

First, diplomats can employ a variety of methods and tools to collect information on topics of interest, review news from various sources, and organize information. To collect information on topics of interest, diplomats can use RSS reader to follow related blogs and websites, subscribe to Google Alerts for relevant keywords, subscribe to a few email newsletters from brands, industry publications and associations, and using a tool called Sprout Social, which is a robust social media management platform. When diplomats want to review news from various sources, they can use filter information tools such as “OneTab” that takes all those tabs and reduces them into a single list. While in order to organize information, diplomats can use tools such as bookmarking application called Springpad. Springpad separates content into individual “notebooks,” which can be used to house about anything you like including bookmarks, notes, alerts, tasks, images, links to books, music and more;

Second, diplomats can conduct “information mapping” either when a diplomat is on duty abroad or within the country. Mapping of information is an attempt to sort and choose which information is truly beneficial to the interests of diplomacy and not to be trapped in certain allies or interests.

Third, diplomats could build a database of existing media and profiles and alliances from media, whether the media has an alliance with certain political interests. The element of reliability and consistency needs to be emphasized to ensure the purity of the purpose of the information. In addition, it is necessary to use mass media as a partner for diplomatic missions;

Fourth, given that the information obtained can come from many sources, it is necessary to grow awareness of each other to dialogue with each other in managing information. To that end, diplomats must be able to create a wide networking and sorting, analyzing, processing and responding to information well;

To conclude, from several options as mentioned above, here some recoomendations:

First, a diplomat must manage information wisely by sorting information, retrieving data that is considered actual, reliable, accurate and up to date in order to become a reliable source of data so that if it is needed later it can be quickly retrieved. In this regard, diplomats could use various digital tools to collect information on topics of interest, review news from various sources, and organize information ;

Second, in attempt to sort and choose which information is truly beneficial to the interests of diplomacy and not to be trapped in certain allies or interests a diplomat can conduct “information mapping” and at the same time build a database of source of information;

Third, Improve coordination of information management among ministrries to ensure that the information being managed is valid and necessary to support the implementation of diplomacy.

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