cluetrain manifesto conference

Saturday’s keynote – Knowledge in the Age of Abundance

David Weinberger, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, provided our Saturday morning keynote address. He’s the author, by the way, of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which I posted about on the 10th anniversary of that publication on this very blog.
He’s going to discuss what happens with knowledge in this age of abundance. The abundance (1 trillion pages on the web) would have required a mobilization on the order of several world wars – but we did it in our spare time. The age of information (which we are leaving) was about reducing info so that we could control it. Now, the age of the web (?) is about LOTS of information and abundance.
What knowledge was: grew up in a time of scarcity 1) only one knowldege 2) same for everyone 3) binary – at most one can be right 4) it’s simple 5) doesn’t matter who says it – if it’s true, it’s true 6) it’s scarce (most things are opinions) 7) knowledge is settled 8) ordered and orderly.
“our view of what knowledge is is influenced by the media we use to contain it”
Everything going digital changes our tools and changes the way we think.
The authority of knowledge
We create experts who are “expert” in their small chunk of the world – we can ask the expert and then *stop* looking for info – you’ve got the knowledge. Paper (books) is also a stopping point (even footnotes are difficult to follow) and non-transparent.
From disconnected media – to hyperlinks which are transparent and definitely not stopping places.
The new knowledge – a network of differences. The smartest person in the room is not the “sage on the stage”, but rather the room in total. The network of people is smarter than any one.
How networked knowledge can make us stupider

  • can’t find info – no formal distinction between metadata (what you know) and data (what you are looking for); makes things hard to find – the amount of data/metadata is always going to outrun our ability to manage it; good enough, however, is good enough. Most questions are more like “which hotel is best in Silicon Valley”, fewer are like “what is the atomic weight of Silicon” – a factual, one answer question.
  • needed skills make digital divide worse – even as you scale access, if you don’t scale the skills, you are doing nothing – maybe making it worse.
  • only find what we agree with – we stay within our comfort zones (We “flock it all up”). Most conversation is not about changing minds – and very few do. “It’s not a flaw in the system that we have an echo chamber in politics – it is the system. It’s how the system works”.
  • makes us lazy – we can see the argument (Wikipedia’s talk page), but we don’t bother to look at it

The architecture of morality and the architecture of a hyperlinked world are exactly the same. Hyperlinks allow us to link to others and discover their views of the world.
Compassion and curiosity are our bulwarks
A general theory of love was recommended as a book that would complement this keynote well.
another questioner asked if we should be pushing students to go farther than the “good enough” Google search; as librarians, we are instructing them in what is “good enough” for their discipline & needs as well as expanding their view to consider what they otherwise wouldn’t have.

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