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Of gigabytes, words and a coherent view of life

David Alexander

David Alexander

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, commenting on the world’s digital information explosion made this statement: “There was five exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every two days.”

With that in mind, let’s take a pop quiz.

Our first question focuses on the size of the “Digital Universe.”

Question One: If you stored all the information there is on DVDs, how tall would the stack of DVDs be?

Answer: The stack of DVDs would reach from Earth to the moon and back (1.2 trillion gigabytes of data).

Our second question addresses the rate of expansion in the ongoing information explosion.

Question Two: With the rapid growth of data in the Information Age, how much higher will the data stack of DVDs be in 2020?

Answer: The stack of DVDs would reach halfway to Mars (44 trillion gigabytes of data).

Our third question focuses upon individual learning.

Pop quiz: What contains 24,000 pages and 12,000,000 words?

Answer: A college education (10 books per semester, eight semesters, 300 pages per book, 500 words per page).

Let’s step back and analyze and assess the digital information age’s explosion of data and the role of higher education. Raise your hand if you remember all 12 million words that led to your college degree?

Chances are you don’t. Perhaps the better question is, do you remember the right words, the important words? Of even greater importance is the question, did you learn the habits and disciplines necessary to weigh and use the words, facts and data you’ve encountered since college? If the answer to these two questions is “yes,” then thank a professor.

Which professor? You know which one. The one who inspired you. The one who challenged you. The one who wasn’t satisfied with your performance even though you were. The one who taught you that the promise of talent is meaningless until it is nurtured and cultivated.

Across the years Northwest Nazarene University has been blessed with professors who invest in the lives of their students, demanding, coaching, drawing out the best. Today, across the campus, committed men and women strive to help students navigate the ever-increasing world of words that populates this Information Age.

A college education should be more than the mere transference of information and navigation of data. That’s not why one comes to college at NNU. One comes to NNU, during this transformational chapter in one’s life, to learn the meaning of things. We exist to help students move beyond mere data to knowledge, and from knowledge to seek the understanding that leads to wisdom. NNU professors strive to be well equipped to help students pursue mastery of a discipline: to gain a skill, to learn a craft, to grasp a body of knowledge.

Yes, we want to speak about facts, but we also want to talk about values. We too live in the exponentially multiplying world of words. Like our students, we are engaged in the process of determining what words matter, and what words matter most. We do all this within the context of our Christian faith. For we believe our faith affects what we study, how we study, and how we use what we study.

It is our sacred privilege to work alongside our students, to take disconnected data, countless facts without context and integrate them into a coherent view of life – a Christian worldview. We strive to foster intellectual discipline, but we also strive to develop moral character, a sense of service and a commitment to the greater good. Those things aren’t etched on a DVD; they’re burned on a heart.

This column was written by David Alexander, president of Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa.

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