Jerry Martin: Handling the information age; upcoming Sudoku Tournament | TheUnion.com

Jerry Martin: Handling the information age; upcoming Sudoku Tournament

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Jerry Martin

For many recent decades, civilization has been building an information age, lately due to the commonality of computers and the availability and expansiveness of the internet.

Before this current age, human development evolved over thousands of years through many stages, including hunting/gathering, nomadism, agriculture, ranching, and the industrial age that has dominated the last few centuries.

Now, with print in newspapers, books and magazines being universally common, radio reception everywhere, computers and TV in most homes and ubiquitous cell phones, information in many forms on thousands of subjects is available and welcomed. Becoming hermits to escape this onslaught is impossible for most of us. But our collective ability to evaluate the validity of information and use it productively has fallen way behind its availability.

We must learn to adjust to the new demands. Many occupations depend on the ability to successfully navigate sources of information. In addition to mastering sophisticated, constantly changing computer technology, while ignoring the endless tsunami of useless and false data in print and from the internet, certain skills are useful.

False information produced by more people on more subjects far exceeds that in previous times. Developing the ability to assess the accuracy of information is paramount. Making decisions on inaccurate information usually results in poor results. Stating at a party that Neil Armstrong never landed on the moon, that the whole episode was a Hollywood hoax, will get you some incredulous stares and a cold shoulder from your date. Believing the astrologer who says that Saturn in your 11th house is the reason you got fired from your last job will probably produce later unemployment and disappointment. Believing that cigarettes don't cause cancer will produce an ex-smoker pulling an oxygen tank on wheels 40 years later.

Having accurate information is critical for all decisions in life. Of course, assessing the dependability of the source of the information is always wise, and one useful way to help judge accuracy. Demonstrable proof helps, too.

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Discerning relevant information from irrelevant information is critical. If you are researching a specific type of mental illness, it's distracting and counterproductive to investigate diabetes or osteoarthritis. Information regarding those subjects would not help understanding bipolar disorder. They aren't relevant, and it helps to know the difference. The same is true when buying a vehicle. Collecting and employing information about BMW motorcycles will be irrelevant if buying a BMW sedan. Using irrelevant information only confuses and distorts decisions.

Learning to collect enough relevant, accurate information before making a final, irreversible decision, is another necessary mental habit. Recently, while watching a daytime court show on TV, I saw a naive young man, age 19, who had purchased a used car advertised on Craigslist as "in great running condition." The car was the year, make and model he wanted, so he mailed the owner a check for $2,000 and hitchhiked across Kansas to pick up his purchase. Before driving it for a test, or having a mechanic check it out, he gave the owner $3,200 more and excitedly drove his "as is" purchase away. He was in court suing the seller, the car having broken down on the highway on his way home. He lost his case. He paid the price for failing to get enough information before making an irreversible decision.

We now have a very practical "tool" that teaches and trains these three important thinking habits. Sudoku, available cheaply but relatively unknown and unused, requires total accuracy. One mistake out of 50 decisions results in failure. To make a decision, you must find a few relevant numbers amongst many irrelevant numbers that look similar. And if you decide on the basis of "could be" instead of waiting until "it must be", you are risking a mistake that will sink your ship.

Learning Sudoku as a child will form very necessary thinking habits that will serve that child for a lifetime. We need to introduce this valuable game into our education systems. Both boys and girls of all ages are equally competent at Sudoku, and both find it intrinsically attractive. This, and its availability and affordability, make Sudoku an excellent teaching "tool."

The Second Annual Children's Team Sudoku Tournament is scheduled for 4 p.m. on April 19 at Nevada Union High School. We are training teams now and recruiting more child teams. The public is invited to witness our children cooperating together, racing to solve two Sudoku puzzles. It's free.

Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.