Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Knowledge isn't Lost

It's been a while since we posted. Sorry about that. Big news coming up... Anyway, someone told me recently that he feared that human knowledge is no longer resting within the minds of people. Instead he's afraid that we've become dependent on technologies like the internet. And he sees this as a big problem facing humanity as we move forward. Being part of the internet generation and community, I disagree.

First of all, I don't see knowledge as disappearing from our minds. It may be true that in education we are focusing on more and more advanced topics, leaving out in-depth understanding of the basics. But this just forms the basis of other knowledge which is emerging and which does rest in our minds. The same thing has happened with other paradigm shifts. See this O'Reilly Radar article for more information about what I mean by paradigm shifts, which describes the paradigm of the future as "expertise". I think this notion of "expertise" is a better way to think about the issue.

Second, we're striving for productivity. The human mind is like a sieve. If you read Lifehacker, you know what I mean. Our minds are great at executing on plans, pulling in the necessary information, and synthesizing the desired result. But for storing information it's terrible. Here's a couple more links.

Consider this post by Chris Brogan where he writes: "I try to have a fresh new blog post out every day. And if I’m really motivated, I’ll put up two or three as things land in my head." And check out the very related book "The 4 Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferris (an excellent read).

I'll agree that relying on volatile storage presents some dangers. Some might argue the web/internet/collection of electronic knowledge is volatile storage. It would be interesting to see if this is the case. Surely there are competing effects: introduction of new information, loss of information (due to time?), re-introduction of existing information (reposting, re-synthesis, etc.). But how do these interact, and are we in a steady state? Is more information being lost than gained? Or is it the other way around?

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