Sunday, March 25, 2012

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest P

 I just finished reading 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.  Weinberger shares how the Internet is changing our concept of knowledge. Instead of solely relying on static books and experts, knowledge has become networked. Too Big to Know embraces the notion that learning is a social enterprise and that traditional barriers to scholarship are being challenged by the Net.

Weinberger's work is an important read for educators.  How we mentor students to build complex learning networks is critical and has a place in K-12 classrooms.  I shared below some excerpts from the text that, in my opinion, best captures the importance of situating knowledge within a globally networked ecosystem.


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

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

We’ve become the dominant species on our planet because the elaborate filtering systems we’ve created have worked so well. But we’ve paid a hidden price: We have raised the bar so high that we have sometimes excluded ideas that were nevertheless worth considering

It’s the connecting of knowledge—the networking—that is changing our oldest, most basic strategy of knowing. Rather than knowing-by-reducing to what fits in a library or a scientific journal, we are now knowing-by-including every draft of every idea in vast, loosely connected webs. And that means knowledge is not the same as it was. Not for science, not for business, not for education, not for government, not for any of us

Old knowledge institutions like newspapers, encyclopedias, and textbooks got much of their authority from the fact that they filtered information for the rest of us. If our social networks are our new filters, then authority is shifting from experts in faraway offices to the network of people we know, like, and respect.

This is a second irony of the great unnailing: The massive increase in the amount of information available makes it easier than ever for us to go wrong.

We are witnessing a version of Newton’s Second Law: On the Net, every fact has an equal and opposite reaction. Those reactive facts may be dead wrong. Indeed, when facts truly contradict, at least one of them has to be wrong. But this continuous, multi-sided, linked contradiction of every fact changes the nature and role of facts for our culture.

The Internet undoes those constraints. Its massiveness alone gives rise to new possibilities for expertise—that is, for groups of unrelated people to collectively figure something out, or to be a knowledge resource about a topic far too big for any individual expert.

other words, the Net enables expertise to emerge not only because so many people are connected to it (property #1) but also because those people are different from one another in how they think and what they know

That is an inevitable outcome of scarcity: There are only so many pages in a printed journal, and only so many seats at the faculty high table. But the engagement of and with amateurs via the Net has become so widespread that we already take it for granted. It feels natural, as it should; it is natural for amateurs to be interested in science, and it is natural for scientists to want to engage with those who share their passion