I, along with Weinberger, would take issue with this definition, though, based on some excellent writing in this year’s Newsweek Issues 2006 (http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2006/01/time_for_knowle.html) that makes the salient distinction between ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’. What Dave Weinberger is describing latterly is more to do with wisdom than knowledge. I ask how much our classrooms, schools and education systems are geared up to impart wisdom. Do most teachers you know teach wisdom? Would they know how to ascertain the author, date and time written of a web page or blog post? Do they know how to use referencing tools such as Google (http://www.google.com) and Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) to work out the relative reliability of opinion? Do they know how to realize when someone with a high rating in one of these references is abusing their position? Do they know how to teach their students to think for themselves when they find someone at the end of the Long Tail, with few references, but a great point to make?
And to go back to knowledge, in our blogged and tagged world, what is knowledge? Thanks to del.icio.us and the interlinked world of the blogosphere every person has a different account of knowledge.
So what can we do with so much information, and is this the first time that we have had to cope with this onslaught of information. Is this info flux a Bad Thing?
Note the question mark. Fareed Zakaria’s opening piece in this year’s Special Edition Newsweek (http://edu.blogs.com/edublogs/2006/01/time for knowle.html) does a first class job at positioning today’s knowledge crisis within the context of world history. My favourite quote is from Thomas Hobbes, 1651: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. He was describing the average life of the average human being. Those who did not have that particular life were those with knowledge, generally merchants, princes and priests.
Well, here’s my take. In today’s knowledge society the gap is probably growing between those who have the knowledge and those who don’t, except those without the knowledge don’t have to inhabit Third World countries. As Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon’s Global Voices project shows, the Third World is able to use web logs and podcasts to increase their knowledge and thus compete in the global knowledge economy of which we are all part. No, those who are going to chance a life that resembles Hobbes’ “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short” one are at the moment those who are choosing to ignore this information society – ad they include a scary number of our teachers.
Another (great) point made in this Newsweek story is the description of industrial revolution. Britain slogged it out, inventing everything that makes the world go round today (penicillin, phone, steam engines, TV, tarmac… and, yes, all of these were from Scottish inventors ;-)). America, then Japan, Taiwan, then Korea and then the rest of China jumped onto our bandwagon and made a killing. Britain paid for the R&D in sweat, toil and tears but the others, quite rightly, waited until it was a safe bet. France made the mistake of guarding its information (in Minitel) instead of making the Minitel public and sharing the secrets. If they had done that they would have been the inventors of the internet. Imagine if they had privatised that one…