The Institution of Knowledge in the Digital Environment
An important book review by David Weinberger a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society
The networking of knowledge does not achieve the aims traditional knowing has set for itself. It is settled only within a community of believers — and not all communities of believers are right. It is inextricable from its social context. It inevitably contains differences, but those differences are now linked. It is as discursive as the net itself. It often comes in small bites, but those bites are linked out to a world larger than all the libraries that ever existed. Everyone gets to speak, even stupid, evil people. Authority generally has to be earned, not declared. The rules of reasoning vary not only within domains but within each conversational forum. Knowledge is being replaced by knowing, and knowing is now a free-for-all. At its best, this knowing does what Lynch recommends: it thinks explicitly about its rules of justification. At its worst, it’s a howling mob.
There is endless evidence to support pessimistic or optimistic views, for both are true. This is the greatest time to be a curious person who wants to learn, and it is the greatest time to be a complete idiot. The net is revealing both the power of our traditional ways of knowing and the fact that traditional knowing has always been a product of flawed humans going wrong and going right together. Knowledge cannot liberate itself from this. Ultimately, knowledge’s only hope is for more and better humanity.