In his new book, "The Bit and the Pendulum

" (John Wiley & Sons), Tom Siegfried argues that throughout modern history the dominant machine of an era determined the way in which people saw daily life and the world. These machines were: first the clock, then the steam engine, and now the computer.

Certainly today the computer's influence upon the way we see the world is all encompassing, so much so that we call our current era "The Information Age." Almost everything seems to be interpreted in terms of information these days.

I was thinking about this the other day while I was pondering what maturity

is. We all agree that maturity is nice to achieve, but what exactly is it? It occurred to me that in this computer age, it looks more and more like a lifelong journey through different kinds of information: first pure information,

then knowledge,

and finally wisdom

. We are able to take this journey because of certain skills we acquire along the way.

Information consists of both words and silence. The "words" part is easy to master; silence takes a little more doing.

We begin our life in this world by learning a great deal about information

. We learn that mastering it isn't as easy as it seems at first blush. That's because information consists of both words and silence. The "words" part is easy to master; silence takes a little more doing.

A typical bit of information may say something like, "People who do such and such die twice as often as people who don't do such and such." We may nod, and decide to alter our actions accordingly. But wait a minute. The words we just heard boil down to "the death rate for such and such is 2x." But we're never told what "x" is. There's some information missing; it's hidden in silence. We're not good at dealing with information until we notice those silences, and try to find out what's omitted from the stuff we are told.

Eventually we do, and then we move on to the task of mastering knowledge

. Now, knowledge has two characteristics that distinguish it from mere information. Knowledge is information that is organized and applied.

I had to renew my driver's license this week. They gave me an information booklet, but it was more than information. It was information that had been organized into neat sections and applied to a particular task: namely, driving a motor vehicle. That made it a booklet of knowledge, not just information.

Once we've learned to both interpret and create knowledge, maturity drives us to the next step: acquiring wisdom

. Here we notice that just as knowledge is information but with two new characteristics, so wisdom is knowledge, but with other characteristics: context

and weight

. Each builds on the other. How does that apply here?

Information to knowledge, knowledge to wisdom. That is our long journey in life, our journey to maturity.

Well, some time ago a friend of mine had to have surgery to remove his prostate because it was found to be cancerous. The doctors had told him that the after effects would be minimal, but, in fact, they were worse than anything he had imagined. For a full year, whenever we exchanged phone calls across the country, he spoke of the tremendous physical discomfort he was experiencing.

Then one day we had a phone call in which he talked of nothing but the book he was excited about writing. I exclaimed, somewhat excitedly, "So all the physical problems have gone away?"

"Oh, no," he replied, "they're still there. It's just that I've decided to get on with my life.

" He had achieved wisdom by finding a broader context in which to view his misery, namely his mission in life. He had decided to assign weight to the two aspects of his life: his mission was a weighty matter; physical discomfort was not.