"Digital media is transforming the evolution, form and the way we perceive knowledge."
Until the onset of the digital age, we were taught to believe and accept standard knowledge in the form and fact which it was delivered to us. From a young age, we were urged to live our lives with the notion that all information that was delivered to us through academic text, lectures conducted by teachers whom we respected or media outlets was to be accepted as factual or accurate. We were further pushed to accept that groups or conglomerates of academics worked together to share their findings and conclusions, take those findings and then author more grandiose bodies of work.
In Too Big to Know, David Weinberger takes a deeper look into the evolution of what we call “facts,” and the origins of where facts emanate from in the digital age, a time where media is king and facts often get mired with fiction and folklore. He gives readers the tools necessary to decipher truth from tale – academically, professionally and on a personal level.
The Big Idea
The Power of Groups
"Networks of knowledge facilitate the development of ideas by groups, rather than individual exploration."
Using the Internet as a learning tool provides a scholarly vehicle to society. There is a proven notion that people are smarter in groups. Think tanks continue to flourish both in the real and virtual worlds. “Crowdsourcing” employs shared ideas across large demographic areas to collect data, answer specific questions and address issues (just as singular surveys or scientific studies did in generations past.) The greater the diversity within the crowd, the better chance of more worldly results. The Internet reaches places teachers and experts were once never able to acquire scientific samples from. It assists in breaking barriers.
How We Arrive at the Truth
"All knowledge and experience comes from our interpretation of culture, language and history."
There are many ways to interpret facts, ideas and pieces of information. While Weinberger emphasizes the importance of the role played by the Internet and group quantified analyses – the way we process information is still a very personal and individual idea. Our interpretations are not based upon a simple method of examining data, but rather the ways which we are inherently and often initially learned to process data from a very young age. He suggests that while the source of our knowledge may have transitioned to a highly digitalized format, the process for receiving and sharing information socially has remained the same for several thousand of years.
"“Collaborative online projects such as Wikipedia influence traditional hierarchies or organizations."
The more complex the organization of business becomes, the more information becomes available via the Internet to assist in managing more large scale, non-traditional issues. As the quantity and quality of information improve symbiotically to form a network or centralized location to find information, leaders have a sure-fire and readily available tool to rely upon. Best illustrated by the flow of information in a time of excitement or crisis (Weinberger cites Hurricane Katrina) we have become a society dependant on the distribution of certain decisions made by those in leadership positions and our reliance on their ability to filter accurate and fact-based solutions to subordinates in an effort to maintain semblance and order.
Access to information simplifies difficult decision making yet still allows leaders and individuals to make decisions on how, ultimately, to handle emergent issues. Without online tools readily available, imagine how much time we would spend attempting to determine what was going on rather than how to efficiently handle what was unfolding. According to Weinberger, too much.
When I initially picked up this book, I was interested in the content but felt it may be more scientific than practical. There is no disputing that Weinberger writes in the same vein as Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan. The difference is that Weinberger is able to deliver detailed facts in a readable and easily applicable format to readers. He simply supplies the facts and asks us to look within our own education, experiences, morals and common sense to make individual decisions regarding how to receive and process the information supplied to us through the media and Internet.
Too Big To Know proved to be a tough to put down, weekend read. It is full of non-traditional yet critical facts, ideas and thoughts on the deep areas of the cyber world that we often overlook or take for granted and the profound implications that the same information has on each of us, whether we are aware or not. Weinberger has created an excellent body of work, explaining how in the digital age, we receive all bodies of work, digital and otherwise.