The content on the web now 1 trillion pages. If this had been done as a formal project, it would have taken an effort on the order of several world wars. But it has pretty much been done in our spare time.
Our institutions are built on the assumption that information is scarce, but we now live in a age of abundance in terms of information.
From the perspective of western thought there is one knowledge that is the same for all of us, the assumption that one right answer/viewpoint exists, see beneath the complexity on the surface to explore the simple underlying. Knowledge is settled, done, not random, well-ordered. It is also trans-generational (we build on the work of those before us), stable cumulative truths, well-ordered (or it is not true), can be divided into topics or disciplines, and it is the same for everyone.
This perspective is also a pretty good description of a traditional library, not surprisingly.
Andy Clark, Being There, indicates that we cannot do our jobs without the scaffolding of the external world, thinking is not just in our heads. We cannot think without that as a tool. Now, however, we are changing our tools. Digitizing everything changes our tools and how we think and work.
We handle the abundance of knowledge by breaking-off pieces of knowledge so that one can have expertise in a part of knowledge. The rest of us then go to the source of credentials. They serve as stopping points, we cannot see through the expert. This is how we scale knowledge.
Paper has limitations: opaque, disconnected medium (including Kindle), following citations and footnotes is complicated and difficult. Live links are a different model for navigating knowledge, but they do not allow knowledge to be settled. That is disruptive. New knowledge is a network of differences, not a collection of agreements. A room full of people who agree is not smarter than a room full of people who disagree.
Problems we face with this new order (or disorder):
1. We can’t find what we need in the world of abundance.
Traditionally we have dealt with this with metadata. That works reasonably well in a print-based world, but this approach insists on a division of data and metadata. Once things are digitized, data can become metadata which makes objects much more findable, but also more confusing. This approach opens up the possibility of linking items in interesting ways. Traditional methods will not scale to 1 trillion items.
We must come to grips with the notion that “good enough is good enough.” Some questions have a single specific answer, or at least a narrow range of options;
but others do not (e.g., which hotel has the fluffiest pillows vs. how to conduct brain surgery).
2. There is a gap in the skills required to find and use these resources.
The skills must scale in order to take advantage of the scaled access. This problem is addressable, but it will not go away. Forever with us.
3. People tend to stay within their own comfort zones.
We find what matches our point of view. Is the web a celebration of a diversity of opinions or a isolation into echo chambers of groups that agree?
4. We’re lazy.
We don’t dig into what things are there. We read what’s in front of our faces, but don’t necessarily follow the added features. Hyperlinks “bust” things apart, so getting the whole story requires digging deeper. We know that things are interlinked, but do we follow them? Not following every link is a type of survival strategy in a world that has 1 trillion items. To overcome this tendency is a struggle against our stupid lizard brains, but ”compassion and curiosity are our bulwarks.” But then again, that is not new with the web.
What the web is teaching our children: ”The world and its people are far more interesting than we were told.”