The DIKW Pyramid and the Role of Forward Filtering

In short, Expert Labs is a conscious response to the fact that knowledge has rapidly gotten too big for its old container…

Especially containers that are shaped like pyramids. The idea that you could gather data and information and then extract value from them by reducing them with every step upward now seems overly controlled and wasteful.

-Weinberger, Ch. 1

Only a few days ago, my boyfriend asked me if I knew the origins of the pyramid as an informational tool, such as the DIKW Pyramid or the Food Pyramid, and why they are effective. I had not yet read Weinberger’s history and interpretation of the pyramid so I wondered the answers to those questions myself. We mutually did not understand the efficacy of it. The DIKW Pyramid does strongly and proportionally represent the expressions of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom and their order of origins or flow. But beyond that, the pyramid is a very limited representation of knowledge when it is appropriated to the evolving means of information access, ie. the Internet, and the modern reaction to information overload, which is again through technological forms.

The terms “overly controlled” and “wasteful” are incredibly apt of this new knowledge network that is formed from the Internet. It is described by the idea of forward filtering, which ensures an opposite environment of one that is controlled or wasteful. No content is deleted. In fact, content is actually created. The term “filter” is curious because the act of filtering implies the removal or obstruction of something, not typically including additions or supplementation. However, the semantics do not matter and the situation is still the same.

Interestingly, the concept of forward filtering seems to be both an asset and a burden. The benefit to forward filtering is the sustained or increased amount of information that is available and its provision of a way in which to organize some of that information. Having access to an infinite sum of sundry information is great. However, the problem arises in that in one’s lifetime one physically cannot access all of the compelling information that is on the Internet, and that predicament can become overwhelming, for me personally with increasing discomfort to the idea of neglecting or being unaware of something of interest, of crucial knowledge. Weinberger proposes “the fear that keeps us awake at night is not that all this information will cause us to have a mental breakdown but that we are not getting enough of the information we need.” While I believe this refers to the idea that it is not simply the staggering amount of information that is overwhelming but is actually the high measure of filtering that people have to do in order to remove that dubious feeling that the information they are considering is not quite right, this concept was the catalyst that influenced me to recognize my own anxiety regarding information overload. With all of the forces of real life plus the pull of the intrigue of countless informational resources available at one’s fingertips at any time, there still is not enough time to experience it all. I am left to wonder about the psychological impact of becoming so keenly aware of all of the information that is on the Internet. Perhaps I should Google it.

Rethinking the Value of Information

“And the fear that keeps us awake at night is not that all this information will cause us to have a mental breakdown, but that we are not getting enough of the information we need” (Weinberger 9).

      In Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), the encounter of information overload would induce varying levels of anxieties. In today’s world, we have come to accept this baggage. Although with an abundance of hesitation, we as individuals have become just as comfortable in the virtual world, if not more, than the reality remaining outside our desktops. Even being a millennial raised in the dawning of the technological era, it is overwhelmingly apparent that the profusion of readily available information via Internet has created a new pressure amongst eager intellectual beings. With the growing accessibility of a computer, the serenity I find in reading a book is beginning to appear archaic.

We want to be instantaneously knowledgeable, and we are never satisfied with the answer of uncertainty, so there lingers the anxiety of whether or not we are getting enough of the information we need. Weinberger swoops in for the save, and reassures us that this is exactly why we have filters (Algorithmic techniques and social tools). He says, “Algorithmic techniques use the vast memories and processing power of computers to manipulate swirling nebulae of data to find answers. The social tools help us find what’s interesting by using our friends’ choices as guides” (9).

The problem is that we as a society have always agreed that knowledge is power (I don’t disagree), but now without the limitations of publishing, everyone believes his or her ‘expertise’ on subject matter is important to share with the world. We have this newfound pressure to be knowledgeable, and rather than readily admitting we may not be knowledgeable in a particular subject, we use unconventional, lavish language to detour our lack of expertise in the subject, which is normally led by insufficient biases. There is no authority, and it leads us to wonder whether the information we are getting is valuable.



Back before Ackoff’s pyramid, back when the idea of knowledge first occurred to us, the ability to know our world was the essential difference between us and the other animals. It was our fulfillment as humans, our destiny. Knowledge itself fit together into a perfectly ordered whole.  Knowledge therefore was considered for thousands of years in the West to be an object of the most perfect beauty.

Following this specific quote Weinberger speaks of Darwin, Galileo, and Madam Curie.  These are just a few of history’s great minds.  Without these individuals, among many others, whom are willing to go against the grain for the sheer joy of knowledge these discoveries could have taken significantly longer to discover.

He quickly follows up with another statement of our ability to comprehend the vast knowledge we gain.

Our most basic strategy for understanding a world that far outruns our brain’s capacity has been to filter, winnow, and reduce it to something more manageable.

Our most intelligent beings are unable to retain the vast amounts of information throughout the world.  Filtering is a way for the most intelligent to some of our lesser educated people to understand the world around us.  There are experts in every field imaginable, but without being able to transfer that knowledge to others the information becomes useless.

Knowledge is power.  That specific saying is something that has stuck with me throughout my life.  Striving for knowledge is an honorable goal.  If filtering is something that must be done in order for the none experts to understand, then that is a valid choice.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  With the statement I made in class the other day about over sharing, I realize that even though there is something I did not feel was important another could find it ideal information in a certain topic of research.

These two quotes are what has really spoken to me and how I feel about knowledge.  The world around us is a vast place, and if it means that some of the information is filtered for me to better understand, I am okay with that.  When I find something that really strikes my interest I can then dig further into books, articles, and other forms of documents to increase my understanding.