The Internet Changes the Nature of Knowledge

Dave Weinberger has a new book out, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. He discussed it last week on On The Media:

[T]he system of knowledge that we had developed for ourselves is, in many ways, a system of stopping points because the medium of that knowledge was paper and books, and for all of their glory, the links in ‘em don’t work; the footnotes are broken. When you go to click on them, they — you don’t actually get taken to the next book. So books are a very disconnected medium. …

When you have a medium that is unrestricted in how much it can handle, as the Internet is, we are better able to investigate an idea without stopping points, we’re able to get explanations at every level of expertise. …

Our old idea of knowledge was too —restricted. The world is gigantic. We need knowledge that scales as large as the world. We now have an in – infrastructure that lets us do that, but the nature of knowledge changes dramatically, so that it includes difference and disagreement as a part of knowledge itself. It’s something we can all contribute to. It gets better as we do so.

19 Comments

  1. Some knowledge leads to wisdom, sometimes. Too much knowledge may lead to wisdom atrophy.

  2. This is a fascinating and timely subject. An excerpt from your link:

    BROOKE GLADSTONE: “So we can be better and smarter – if we want to be. We have the technology.”

    DAVID WEINGBERGER: “Yes, because this is an awesome time to be a knowledge seeker, no better time, but it’s also the best time in history to be a complete idiot”

    Also there was the referenced quote at the beginning of the interview from Daniel Patrick Moynihan that most of us are familiar with:

    “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

    Too bad that wasn’t more universally accepted as a base line standard…

    Thanks Joe.

  3. Good point dd.. Maybe “wisdom atrophy” is the precursor to what we think of as intellectual dishonesty. Then again, maybe I’m letting too many people off the hook with that..

  4. Good point, Z, but not mine. I mean we are being overloaded with info and not thinking, questioning and reasoning, which sometimes leads to wisdom.
    Information/knowledge boom boxes are destroying us.

  5. We may have more in common than you think. Scary eh? (I’m pretty old school)

  6. Oh, no, you AND Roro on one day. I’ve been taking too much Metamucil.

  7. It could be a plot. Watch your back bro!

  8. OK, it’s a new day, and I’ll be more careful, or play politician and say what will please the most commenters.

  9. Hah! That’s probably about as likely as me turning into a scientologist.

  10. Yes, and, I think you are correct and a fine judge of people and wine.

  11. ” I’ve been taking too much Metamucil.”

    Being less full of **it feels good, doesn’t it?

  12. If you say so, Roro.

  13. The title of the book reminds me of the short story “The Veldt”, which explores the idea of media taking over the parenting role (spoiler: the kids end up loving the media more than people.) Scary stuff when you realize that some huge number of people have ipads and tvs screen in their nurseries. Just say no to Baby Einstien!

    Anyway, I definitely agree with the sentiments of dduck and zephyr about the glut of facts in leiu of critical thinking. It’s a scary thought, though, that that’s kind of what we’re trying to do in our schools. I recently heard Yong Zhao speak at a conference (an education expert who lives in the US but grew up in China) talking about the differences between the education systems and educational outcomes between the US and China. All the raw scores show China way ahead — wrote memorization, discipline, focus only on math and science, etc. However, he was very clear that China has no hope to produce a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs in the next century if their education system remains the same. They will be able to make the iPad, but they won’t ever come up with the idea. China is starting to move to what our system looked like — including music, art, physical education, problem solving, creative writing, etc. All facts and no critical thinking makes for a very limited workforce.

  14. It might be new for you at first, dduck, but it really is more comfortable in the long run.

  15. Roro, I think I will, after all: “everyone belongs to everyone else”.

  16. Missing my decoder ring, dduck. Huh?

  17. It’s a brave new world out there.

  18. No such thing as too much knowledge-information. There is such a thing as not allowing enough time to process and rethink the information…even worse, not pondering if the information you receive has value.

    The danger is in just believing it all.
    Turning on Fox News or MSNBC without a BS filter.

  19. SL, it is hard to process, because there is so much of it 24/7. Overload.

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