Knowledge Networks

This week, I came across a blog post from Tony Bates where he poses the question: does technology change the nature of knowledge? As usual, Tony’s brilliant yet practical observations drew me in and once I read Stephen Downes’ comment in response, I was hooked.

Rather than making a feeble attempt to re-state the arguments each made ( I’m not clever enough to be in that game), I just wanted to offer my own observation – however simplistic.

For me, the idea of knowledge is not abstract.

Knowledge is something I know, today.

What I know today may change tomorrow, depending on what happens between now and then. How I come to know  is the more interesting question in my mind. I believe I come to know through interactions with people, things (books, tools, materials, etc), nature and (I know it sounds “out there”) but also through some notion of cosmic forces involved with time, history and evolving of the universe.  It’s partly about what is passed on to me in tangible and intangible ways and partly about what I generate myself by seeing, touching, doing, thinking about and talking with others about.

In thinking about how technology has influenced my own knowledge networks – I imagine what it may have been like for me a hundred years ago and what would be the influences around me.  Compare that to now and (at least in my mind) this is the picture that evolves:

The real change is in the number of networks that have the potential to influence me and I have the potential to influence.  In the past, those networks would have been limited mainly to those in my own community and whom I knew and the connections between them might have been fairly linear and predictable. Today, technology makes it possible for me to hear directly from an author I admire, publish a poem and discuss my observations (like I am doing now).  My view of the world is broader and I am in almost daily contact with others who are part of the larger society and whom I may not know well or at all.  And they (in turn) may be connected to many more networks that I am not a part of.

I don’t think there is “a new type of knowledge” as Downes suggests.  In the end (to me) it still just something I know. Knowledge is important – however it comes to be and whatever label you want to put on it.  But the influences on its development require a much sharper set of competencies for making connections than we needed 100 years ago. I think they include:
•    the ability to read social cues in online spaces
•    confidence in communicating half formed ideas
•    an understanding of how our networks influence us and vice versa
•    an ability to think critically about the ideas that come our way
•    willingness to experiment with different tools and ideas for expression.
•    understanding that (as we produce content online) we are publishers – a role that most are likely unfamiliar with and perhaps unprepared for.
•    A return to an openness for ways of knowing that are based in nature and faith and have very little to do with the “logical” mind.

Developing these competencies requires more than skill training. They need to be practiced, observed, considered, tried out and mentored over time – basically integrated in how we learn and how we live.

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