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Speech by Félix Plaza, Director of Centro de Estudios Garrigues, at the Inauguration of the 2018/2019 Academic Year

Rector of the Antonio de Nebrija University, Juan Cayón,

Director-General of the State Tax Agency, Jesús Gascón Catalán,

Senior Partner of Garrigues, Ricardo Gómez-Barreda,

Dear teaching staff of Centro de Estudios Garrigues,

Dear students of the 2018/2019 academic year,

Dear friends:

Today we officially inaugurate the 2018/2019 academic year.

During the first few days of class I had the opportunity to speak to most of you, with a view to welcoming you to Centro de Estudios Garrigues and introducing you to a number of essential principles and values on which our institution is based, such as teamwork, solidarity, effort …, but above all our three “E’s”:

  • Ética (we strive to be ethical)
  • Excelencia (we seek excellence)
  • Exigencia (we are exacting)

Being exacting is probably no more than a manifestation of excellence, since it is impossible to attain excellence without demanding the most from oneself, but excellence is also supported by other pillars, such as rigor (understood as appropriateness and precision) and knowledge.

And it is here, in knowledge, that the thoughts I wish to share with you now, at the commencement of a new academic year, truly begin.

Back when I was at university, there was no Internet.  The research of any subject took time:  time to go to the library, time to locate the books or papers that might have a bearing on the subject, time to analyze or review databases and indices before requesting what one wished to consult.  Today, what used to take hours, takes only minutes (little more than the click of a mouse and a few minutes of processing the information to be analyzed).  But when all that is done, the only way to continue is, and always has been, careful study.

I have heard that, in Internet terms, “years” refers to “dog years”, because one year on the Internet is like seven years in the “real world”.

I have always thought that this technical evolution is good.  I still think it is.  But, as with everything, it can have side effects …

The other day, via WhatsApp, I was sent an article by Javier Paredes, Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Alcalá, published in the digital newspaper Hispanidad, in which, while analyzing another matter, he wrote the following:

When the information society supplants the knowledge-based society, ignorance sprouts even in the keenest of minds. The problem is that some think that the two societies are one and the same.  No, one has nothing to do with the other. The information society merely watches television and, at best, occasionally reads something short. The knowledge-based society reads, studies and seldom or never watches television.  Accordingly, we would be wise to consult those who have studied the essence of Spain”.

This article drew my attention to something that is, in my opinion, essential, and that is whether today, when we are living in a time in which we have access to more information than ever before, society is becoming capable on all fronts of transforming this information into greater knowledge, or whether, on the contrary, rapid access to information is having the effect that we no longer look deeply into things, and that, in fact, we know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about very little.

José María Sanz-Magallón, Subdirector-General of Internal Communication and Knowledge Management at Telefónica S.A., in an article published in Nueva Revista affirmed that “A daily issue of the New York Times contains more information than an average citizen of the 17th century would have had in his entire life. More information has been generated in the last five years than in the last 5,000 years, and this information doubles every five years”.

But are we capable of converting all that information into knowledge? Or can excess information have an adverse effect on society in general when it comes to deepening knowledge? And all of this, without asking ourselves something that is just as important as the above, such as, who is monitoring the truth and rigor of all this information?

As Sanz-Magallón notes in the article I just mentioned “It is clear that, thanks to the development of modern information storage, processing and transfer technologies, human beings can cope with and work with the enormous amounts of data produced.  Nonetheless, as Julio Linares indicates, ‘the more the information generated by society, the greater the need to turn it into knowledge’”.

Faculty members Zoia Bozul and José Castro Herrera, in their paper “University Faculty in the Knowledge-Based Society: Professional Teaching Skills” take the view that:

The knowledge-based society is not something that exists now, rather it is a final stage of an evolutionary phase toward which society is moving, a stage subsequent to the current information era, which will be reached through the opportunities represented by the information and communication technology (ICT) of current societies.

 

Based on this, a need is perceived to train people who can be capable of selecting, updating and using knowledge in a specific context, who are capable of learning in different contexts and modes throughout their life and who are able to understand the potential of what they are learning so as to adapt their knowledge to new situations”.

Nonetheless, the concepts of “information society” and “knowledge-based society” are frequently confused or even treated as the same thing.  I believe, however, that today, more than ever, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between information and knowledge, even if information is an integral part of knowledge.

In the previously-mentioned article, José María Sanz-Magallón defines the knowledge-based society as “that in which citizens have practically unlimited and immediate access to information, and in which information, its processing and transfer, serve as key factors in all the activities of individuals, from their economic relationships to leisure and public life.”

 

University of Barcelona professor Kasten Krüger, in his paper THE CONCEPT OF “KNOWLEDGE-BASED SOCIETY”, notes that “the current concept of “knowledge-based society” does not focus on technological progress, but rather regards it as a factor of social change among others, such as, for example, the expansion of education.  According to this focus, knowledge will increasingly serve as the basis for social processes in various functional areas of societies.  The importance of knowledge as an economic resource will grow, thus entailing the need to learn throughout one’s lifetime.  But awareness of “not knowing” and awareness of the risks of modern society will also grow”.

 

Along these lines, José Luis Mateo, former Vice President of the CSIC, in his paper KNOWLEDGE-BASED SOCIETY, states that: “knowledge has therefore always played an important role, although it is the rate of its generation that undoubtedly creates major differences from one era to another.

 

Every so often, our current society is referred to as a “learning society” and, doubtless, this name reflects the reality, although it would be advisable to qualify or add that this is mainly a result of the rapid production and generation of knowledge, which requires ongoing learning to avoid one’s knowledge of the matter in question becoming obsolete. The learning society is therefore a consequence of the knowledge-based society. In other words, the most recent generations of professionals and those to come will never cease to be students.

In the light of all of the foregoing, I believe it is necessary to understand that the information society should not be confused with the knowledge-based society, although it will lead us (it is leading us) inexorably towards it.

But in the same way, it becomes necessary, now more than ever, not to be superficial, frivolous, and not to be “informedly uninformed”.  Our future, the future of society, as has always been the case, depends on knowledge and on our capacity to turn information into knowledge.

The evolution of technology has given us the tools (unlimited access to information); it is now up to us to put these tools to use.  It is our job to transform information into knowledge.

In the words of Kofi Annan: “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”.

At Centro de Estudios Garrigues, we want you to absolutely stand out, to understand that you are called to take the reins in the transformation of society and that, in this transformation, the most important tool, what will set you apart from the rest, is knowledge.

Let us to help you in this process, to help you build a better society, a better future, let us to give you the tool that will enable you to change the world: knowledge.

Today you have been duly informed of your responsibility.

Thank you.