The historical narrative used by politicians, economists, business leaders, advocates and pundits to frame the threats and opportunities facing individuals and nations has been globalization. David Brooks, in his NYT editorial today, takes exception that is worth noting. While some lament the move of overseas manufacturing from the US to China, for example, he quotes statistics demonstrating that China lost nearly 10 times (25 million) as many manufacturing jobs as the US from 1994-2004. Yes it's a larger denominator, but the fact remains.
...We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information...The globalization paradigm emphasizes the fact that information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it? Are there cultural assumptions that distort the way it is perceived?
For those of us in social marketing and health communications the challenge is familiar: how do we cross that last inch (to upend the last mile) to not just capture people's attention, but enable them to make more informed choices because of our efforts (or in spite of them). When you consider the high levels of illiteracy in the least developed parts of the world and health illiteracy in the US and elsewhere, the ability to comprehend and use information appropriately becomes a critical public health policy concern.
In addition to the challenges posed for low literate groups to make informed health decisions and choices, in most service and highly skilled industries, knowledge management is the holy grail. It isn't simply about how to capture and store information for easy access - open source epidemiology for example. More and more knowledge management is about capturing, distilling, packaging and making available information to specific audiences on-demand - often to aid them in making various types of decisions. Technology will surely have a key role in how on-demand is satisfied (social media, mobile), but social marketers can be playing a critical role in helping design what these information products can be and tailor them for unique audience segments. For those of us who are interested in health information dissmination and knowledge management that influences people's decisions and actions, success will not be determined by who can collect and make available the most information, it will be who can provide the right cognitive products within an inch of desire.