Too Big to Know
Date posted: August 11, 2015
Managing knowledge in the 21st century, whether teacher or student, has become a skill all on its own. While access to information has become more widespread, the amount of it can often be overwhelming, as evaluating the data relies heavily on the individual’s power to navigate it as well as the technology that now fuels it. David Weinberger’s 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 discusses this very prevalent new paradigm of modern knowledge.
So, we are in a crisis of knowledge at the same time that we are in an epochal exaltation of knowledge. We fear for the institutions on which we have relied for trustworthy knowledge, but there’s also a joy we can feel pulsing through our culture. It comes from a different place. It comes from the networking of knowledge. Knowledge now lives not just in libraries and museums and academic journals. It lives not just in the skulls of individuals. Our skulls and our institutions are simply not big enough to contain knowledge. Knowledge is now a property of the network, and the network embraces businesses, governments, media, museums, curated collections, and minds in communication.
That knowledge is a property of the network means more than that crowds can have a type of wisdom in certain circumstances. And, as we will see, it’s not simply that under some circumstances groups are smarter than their smartest member. Rather, the change in the infrastructure of knowledge is altering knowledge’s shape and nature. As knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it. It’s not that the network is becoming a conscious super-brain. Rather, knowledge is becoming inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it. Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter, especially since, when done badly, networks can make us distressingly stupider (xiii).
Read an interesting article by Weinberger that contains photographic representations of his book’s message of the vast size of modern knowledge, in addition to an edited excerpt from the book:
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