Jay E. Gillette: Information Renaissance

Humans are facing an entirely new period nowadays – an Information Renaissance. That was the main thesis of Jay Edwin Gillette’s keynote speech. How do these current changes affect us? How to cope with them? What are key competencies to prosper and develop your business or career?

We are continuing our series of interviews with BOBCATSSS 2015 keynote speakers. This time, we talked with Mr. Gillette, who opened the first day of the conference. During his talk on innovation, he presented this concept with many examples and unexpected associations to the audience.

We appreciate Mr. Gillette’s willingness to answer our questions and provide one more opportunity to look back at the event to our readers.

In your keynote speech, you talked about the Information Renaissance, which is happening right now. How does this influence both individuals and society as a whole?
The key influence of the information renaissance is the focus on information itself. “Information movement and use” represents the key influence for both individuals and society as a whole. So individuals and organizations need to be adept at what we call information networking--moving and using information from source to self to others. So if we add knowledge-value through information networking, then we and our organisations will succeed and prosper in this era.

How to get the most of this period? How do we choose to live as Renaissance men and women?
I spoke of this in the speech. Renaissance men and women are multi-dimensional people. They have a breadth of understanding, and a depth of competence. The goal is to be a “polymath,” a person with “much, or many, learnings or knowledges,” so to say. It is a challenging goal, yet in my view this is both the best way to live, and also the most effective for our era. The industrial economy wants to make everybody a one-dimensional person, which is some kind of specialist if you want an attractive name for it. A less attractive name is “a cog in a machine,” where you just do your job and nobody else’s, and nobody else does yours. That is a recipe for inflexibility, and alienation. Renaissance men and women, like Leonardo da Vinci and Vittoria Colonna, take a broad view of their domain. They are curious about everything, and make connections many among things and people, as a way of life.

What is the role of information professionals and librarians in the Information Renaissance?
Information professionals and modern librarians are in the best place to grow and help the era. The information renaissance is all about information, which is what information professionals live and breathe. You are in the driver’s seat of the Information Renaissance bus.

What are the biggest threats in this age we have to face?
Renaissance times are dynamic, and open new horizons from new paradigms. Yet these times can be hugely threatening to people who are married to the status quo, or for whom the advances of a renaissance undermine their authority or dominance. So there is always a counter-reformation, often accompanied by an inquisition and repression. We see this with the return to a feudalistic worldview. Some people want to turn back the clock, as well as set the hour ahead.

And also, what is next in store for us? Will there be an Information Baroque?
Renaissance periods unfold for a long time. For example, the European renaissance gift of individualism, a double-edged sword that was new in its era, has continued to travel around the world and is only just now taking hold in east Asian societies like Japan and China. So I think we will be in an information renaissance for a long time. Yet a follow-on era would be more like the period of European enlightenment, rather than a baroque period, which seems to me more of a stylistic movement, like artistic modernism. Information renaissance thinking, with information movement and use at its center, will continue to influence us for a long time to come.

Was this your first BOBCATSSS conference? What is your opinion about this year’s conference?
The Brno conference, organized by Masaryk and Tampere Universities, was my first. I was impressed by the ideas and the energy of the organizers, speakers, and participants. I would recommend BOBCATSSS to anyone who is seriously concerned about information sciences and practices. And who also wants to have a stimulating and fun time while they attend.

What were your first thoughts when you were invited to speak at BOBCATSSS?
My first thoughts were that it was an honor to be invited to speak. My second thoughts were that I’d better offer something striking, and worthwhile. I hope I was able to do that, and add knowledge-value here.

According to your LinkedIn profile, you have various experiences in many information science subfields. Which one of them is currently your focus?
I am currently focused on what I call “ICT for ECD,” that is, Information and Communication Technologies for Economic and Community Development. We are working to apply ICT foundations for building up organisations, companies and communities. This is like bringing in technologies like railroads or airports to places that are without the capabilities, or have only limited capabilities. The question is, how can we use ICT  as catalysts to help organisations and communities, not just for an individual sitting in front of a screen. How can we use ICT for positive social change?

How did you like Brno? How does it compare to Oulu and Muncie, Indiana?
Oulu, Finland, and Muncie, Indiana are both about 200,000 people in their regions, and thus are somewhat smaller. They are also relatively newer communities than Brno, which has more of its history evident and influential. Yet Brno and the other two communities are all influenced by their extensive university environments. That means a lot of young, smart people live in these places, and give them energy and innovative ideas. I like places like that. I would be pleased to visit or live in such interesting places anytime.

Who is Jay Edwin Gillette?
Graduate of University of California, San Diego and University of California, Berkeley. Mr. Gillette now works as Fulbright-Nokia Distinguished Chair in Information and Communications Technologies at University of Oulu in Finland and as Professor of Information and Communication Sciences at Ball State University in the USA. He has been a member or a chair of many organisations and committees (e.g. North American Steering Committee, Pacific Telecommunications Council). His previous academic experience also includes University of Oxford in the UK.

Missed it? Here you can read our interview with Sinikka Sipilä (President of IFLA, keynote speaker at BCS 2015).

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