52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The solution to the information overload problem is to create more metadata!"
Having his background in philosophy, perhaps no one had expected David Weinberger to write a book on a topic that is at the heart and soul of librarians, i.e. cataloguing and classification. In the modern notion of the term this is called metadata. When Everything is Miscellaneous was published in May 2007, at first it was as if some war was waged against Melville Dewey's...
Published 22 months ago by Getaneh Agegn Alemu
85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing
The premise of this book is that somehow networked organizations and networked thinking will lead to better, smarter decisions. As long as we include a sufficient diversity of opinions and experience in the networks helping us make our decisions we will arrive at better, more informed answers. In fact, as the amount of information explodes, these networks will be the...
Published 20 months ago by Corwin J. Joy
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85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing,
This review is from: 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 (Hardcover)The premise of this book is that somehow networked organizations and networked thinking will lead to better, smarter decisions. As long as we include a sufficient diversity of opinions and experience in the networks helping us make our decisions we will arrive at better, more informed answers. In fact, as the amount of information explodes, these networks will be the only way to manage all the information we are creating.
Here's the problem. I don't think anyone will dispute that reaching out the to internet to search for knowledge can get reasonable answers quickly. Also, running contests where many experts are involved can get good results. The problem is, if you are solving a real problem at the end of the day somebody actually has to do the work to get an answer. A "network" isn't going to magically come up with an answer. Also, reaching out to a wide group on the internet often results in the same stupid *wrong* answers to a problem being circulated around and around and around. Networks can just as easily work in a negative direction recycling stupidity rather than knowledge. There doesn't seem to be much of a role in this book for sustained critical and deep thinking about a problem to arrive at a solution. This doesn't make sense to me since much of human progress continues to come from sustained hard work by individuals working to achieve expertise in an area and focusing on a single problem at a time. This book makes some good points about how our relationship with information is changing to rely more on networks of our colleagues or friends to filter and absorb the massive amounts of information created every year. However, the author's confidence that networked thinking and organizations will magically solve many of our problems is happy nonsense, in my opinion. Also, while the author claims that networks can make better decisions, he never really gives any detailed research supporting this assertion or showing under what conditions networks are better or worse at solving problems. This makes the book more of an exercise in faith rather than something you can use to decide if a network would be helpful in a particular problem or not.
52 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The solution to the information overload problem is to create more metadata!",
This review is from: 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 (Hardcover)Having his background in philosophy, perhaps no one had expected David Weinberger to write a book on a topic that is at the heart and soul of librarians, i.e. cataloguing and classification. In the modern notion of the term this is called metadata. When Everything is Miscellaneous was published in May 2007, at first it was as if some war was waged against Melville Dewey's classification system, especially the class 200 for Religion. Some protagonists in the field such as Peter Morville responded with an apt blog entry arguing that "Not Everything is Miscellaneous". In his book, even more in his several book talks, Weinberger mocked not only Melville Dewey and Michael Gorman but also Aristotle, albeit with a great caution. In many ways though, the book has slowly been well received and cited widely in the library and information science literature. The book would be considered as disruptive in its argument against some of the conceptual foundations of library and information science, mainly classification and categorisation systems. In Everything is Miscellaneous, Weinberger called for a total rethink of not only the notion of classification systems but also the very definition of metadata. For him, "metadata is what you already know and data is what you're trying to find out" (Weinberger, 2007, p.104).
Now his new book is out as of early January 2012. 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. In this book, Weinberger offers yet his staunchest critique on well established conceptual and theoretical foundations of knowledge including the DIKW (Data- Information-Knowledge) pyramid that most computer science and library science have incorporated in their curriculum in their foundations course.Another concept he took aim is information overload. A typical Google search on the phrase information overload returns more than 6 million results (doubled even since Weinberger records this statistics). Popularised by the technology futurist Alvin Toffler, the phrase resonates in the minds of librarians who for so long have hinged their value proposition on solving the problem of having too-much-information. As Weinberger notes, information overload, also called info glut, data smog, or information tsunami, is a problem so serious that it has become a topic for a whole body of work. Not only that, the problem also warranted inclusion into the scientific and psychiatric dictionary with its nomenclature such as information anxiety or information fatigue syndrome. In Too Big To know, in what seems a disruptive argument, Weinberger tells that too much information is actually a good thing. To support his argument, he cites Clay Shirky, who argues that "it is not information overload. It is filter failure".
By providing several examples and writing rather beautifully, Weinberger contrasts the long-form argument of the Age of Books with the loosely connected webs of the Age of Networks in which he argues, the long form argument is a constraint inherited from the medium of print. Our thought process, nonetheless, works not in a simplistic, linear and long form ways but in an intricate web of links and associations which is better reflected in the Age of Networks. Scientists work in private in the Age of Books, after-the-fact peer-review is the norm, but in the Age of Networks, he argues, the filtering process is immediate, open and on the cloud. In short, he argues the abundance of crap and good that is generated through the network gets filtered by the network itself.
Reading this book, one can surmise that Weinberger is for Open Access. He is for Open Internet. He is for Open Data. He is for Linked Data. Such an open ecology, Weinberger argues, provides a fertile ground for innovation and creativity. Overall, influenced by less baggage from the disciplines of either computer science or library science, Weinberger seems to suggest that the influence of the Age of Books is fading and the time has come for the Age of Networks. Hence, he argues, knowledge is now residing in the network, not on any one or even genius skull.
In many respects, Weinberger's Too Big To Know, is in agreement with arguments put forward by James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. Perhaps a slight oversight in the book may be the notion of `information overload as good and inevitable' was first discussed by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done (2002). We will await reflections from other authors such as Andrew Keen who may argue against some if not most of the views espoused by Weinberger.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A (Kind of) Postmodern Look at How Our Conception of Knowledge Changes With Media,
This review is from: 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 (Hardcover)A few reviewers complain that this book is a bit scattered and lacking a clear, explicitly stated, thesis. I somewhat agree with them, so let me try, as best I can, to give you what I think the author's core message is.
In the vein of philosophical postmodernism, David Weinberger's underlying idea is that what we come to call knowledge changes in 'shape' with the media we are using to convey and absorb it. And for quite a long time, we have been using the media of the printed word, in scrolls, books, magazines, academic journals, etc. And the consequence of this is that knowledge appears to be somewhat neat, tidy, and resting on foundations. Thus, I go to a library to get a book (which is published only after a rigorous peer review or editing process), and read its very linear argument where one chapter builds on another to reach a conclusion. When needed, the author cites authorities in footnotes, which I will seldom check myself because of the time and energy (if not monetary) cost involved. And while the author can anticipate my objections, we are having a one-way conversation where the author is talking to me (and where I can talk to myself in an 'inner dialogue' but not to the author).
Now, Weinberger writes, since the technology is changing, how we think about what knowledge will surely change also. First, it is becoming glaringly apparent how little information any one of us can absorb. While information was abundant with books, this fact was somewhat 'hidden' because only a fraction of all total information was published, and only a fraction of that was carried in libraries and bookstores, and only a fraction of that was ever seen by any individual reader. Now, of course, we are painfully aware of how much info there is because the internet makes it cheap to publish and brings it to us (rather than expecting us to go to it).
In addition, instead of looking at citations I seldom expend the time/energy to verify, things are becoming hyperlinked. And with hyperlinking comes a challenge to the linear ways of the book - where one followed the argument where the author, rather than the reader, wanted to take it. (How many times have you got lost following hyperlinks, versus how many times have you got lost in checking physical citations?)
So, maybe, the world where information appears scarce, long-form books are the pinnacle of what knowledge looks like, and where knowledge rests on firm foundations (citations which MAY but seldom are checked let alone challenged) is a thing of the past. On the internet, anything can be published relatively cost-free, discussion boards and blog posts + comments yield as much knowledge as (and more rapidly than) books, and everything is hyperlinked, including hyperlinks (the citation process ends up looking less like a straight line and more circular).
Well, Weingberger offers some possible suggestions for how to cope with this (hypothesized) change, but he leaves those for a very short last chapter (of which I will not divulge details). The other reviewers are correct to note that this book is less focused than it could be, and because of that, readers very probably WILL come away with their "so what?" not having been answered. Weinberger is content to make his argument that the future of knowledge will probably change and leave it at that. (Of course, along the way, he disagrees vehemently and convincingly with those who think "the internet is making us stoopid" by, in essence, pointing out that our idea of what "smart" is was largely shaped by the technology we use, the book being the supposed measuring stick for what intellectual achievement is. And that begs the question that is at issue.)
So, this really isn't a 'how to' book, or a book that will be of much interest to business folk (or others) looking for tips on how to deal with informational trends. It is much more a book of philosophy whose interest lies in... its just being so interesting. The author's case is really novel and while I think his exuberance may lead to some overstatements (there was no such thing as basing theory on fact until Bacon? Ever heard of Galileo?), most of these areas don't, in my view, affect his overall case. The irony is that it takes a long form book - published by a publishing house, replete with footnotes rather than hyperlinks - to make it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tainted by a limited world view,
33 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple Enough to Shake the Most Obtuse Leaders,
Second, the subtitle. The subtitle of the book captures the entire field perfectly, and richly merits emphasis: "Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren't the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room." This is the final nail in the coffin of secret intelligence communities and companies devoted to proprietary software. There is nothing intelligent -- nor substantively valuable -- about "closed" environments if ones purpose is to optimize both the allocation of resources and outcomes beneficial to the public.
Third, the historical context. Many people have been focused on the changing role of knowledge coming into the 21st century, and I list just five of the books below to make the point that in the context of all else, this book says it better, more easily graspable for the non-digital leaders struggling to decide where to go next --this book is highly relevant to the 1950's mind-set leaders of all eight tribes of intelligence: academic, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-governmental / non-profit.
The exemplar: The exemplary performer in the age of productivity
Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development
The Knowledge Executive
Infinite Wealth: A New World of Collaboration and Abundance in the Knowledge Era
Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century
Summarizing the book concisely: everything we do now with hierarchical organization, hoarded information, restricted accesses, and isolation from the full range of external sources and methods, is wrong for the times.
Here are the five recommendations the author discusses in his last chapter, every single one of them poorly addressed by most organizations, and especially those that are highly bureaucraticized:
01. Open up access
02. Provide the hooks for intelligence (meta-data)
03. Link everything.
04. Leave no institutional knowledge behind.
05. Teach everyone.
This is a provocative book with a strong message at four levels:
Strategic: "The more one looks at the question, the clearer it becomes that we don't have an agreed-upon explanatory [or even exploratory] framework within which the question might be resolved." [page 114]
Operational: It not about what you know or even who you know, but about the network you create so as to be able to access the right relevant knowledge when you need it, in the form you need it.
Tactical: Centralized authority rots -- decentralized authority not only has the agility to be effective in situ, but is much more likely to "see" and integrate local knowledge.
Technical: Citing Clay Sharky, "It's not information overload. It is filter failure."
While I can see where those deeply familiar with the literature on collective intelligence might find the book basic, I am always on the look-out for books that can explain my complex views to busy leaders that can barely compute three colors (red, yellow, green) and this book fits the bill. We are suffering an entire generation of leaders not only brought up with Weberian administrative and hierarchical standards, but never held accountable for failure. For those that would like to use their last couple of years doing some good instead of more damage, this book is a perfect beginning to what might be a fruitful conversation with those of us who "got it" in 1988 and have been trying ever since to help others "get it."
KEY CONCEPT: Knowing by reducing / filtering / weighting is out of date. The best knowledge is linked / inclusive / open.
Today's networked knowledge -- and the digital natives that excel at creating and interacting with digital multi-media knowledge -- is directly antithetical to every possible attribute of the Epoch A top-down, "because I say so" authoritarian hierarchies. When even the Harvard Business Review acknowledges that CEO's not only don't know what they need to know to make good decisions, but are also not able to to make those decisions by themselves, the times, they are a'changing.
The 21st century institution, like the 21st century network, must be very wide, boundary free, populist, respect those who are credentialed by the network rather than diplomas, and comfortable with a constantly changing "unsettled" landscape of culture, history, and local knowledge.
Old knowledge focused on FACTS. Intermediate knowledge has focused on CONTEXT. Now the new knowledge is focused on RELATIONSHIPS.
In all of this, TRUST is what determines the successful collection, processing, analysis, and decision-support rendering of information into intelligence. I speak here of informed trust, not blind trust. I cannot link to my own books, but I read this book in time to get several mentions of it into my forthcoming book, now listed on Amazon, THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth, and Trust (Evolver Editions, 5 June 2012) and would also point everyone to the work of Robert Garigue (RIP) on security as a trust-building network rather than a lock-box.
The author points out that in the absence of a properly designed network, the massive amounts of information that are accessible, and the new ability of every nut-case on the planet to be "co-equal" to more measured professionals, makes it very (VERY) easy for even the most well-intentioned researcher to go off the deep end. In other words, not only do you have to have the world's best OPEN network at your finger-tips, you ALSO have to have a profoundly professional combination of automatic, social, and professional filters and ingestion / visualization capabilities -- see the still not existing Computer Aided Tools for the Analysis of Science & Technology (CATALYST) -- four of us knew what we needed in 1986, and we still do not have it because several generations of "leaders" refused to be serious about the information revolution and being accountable for actually "doing" intelligence useful to all elements of government at all levels. And as Ben Gilad points out in his still relevant, Business blindspots 2nd edition: replacing myths, beliefs and assumptions with market realities, CEOs are no better off -- surrounded by sycophants terrified that the next new idea from OUTSIDE might prove them to be obsolete (they already are, but keeping the Potemkin village alive is more important to them that actually serving the bottom line).
The author spends time on distinguishing between classic facts (in isolation), databased facts (in context, sort of), and networked facts (which have many different contexts, and as he demonstrated in his earlier book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, both visible to different sets of people, and useful in different sorts of ways.
The author speaks to science and how it is being affected by the network. While I would have preferred the inclusion of religion and philosophy as well, the following are worth contemplating:
01 Reality is too big for small theories [my interpretation is that one has to do whole-systems and real-time science now, the era of knowing everything about nothing that has characterized academia is now over -- the PhD's of the future will be constuctive constructionists, not destructive deconstructionists.]
02) Science is flatter. One no longer needs to spend 8-16 years as an intellectual serf. To this I would add that science is now also real-time (that is to say, serious science versus show science). Changes to the earth that used to take ten thousand years now take three. Both science and politics are so removed from current reality and from an integrated public perspective as to be very dangerous to the human species.
03) Network is continuously public. This is the part the secret world has difficulty with. They obsess on secret sources and methods as inputs, when all this time they should have been adapting to the prospect of being able to provide continuous decision-support to a full range of customers, in the process creating a Smart Nation. Instead they have a secret black hole.
04) Open filters. Buy the book.
05) Science with a difference. Buy the book. Cybernetics is now going in this direction, and we may be on the verge of a multi-disciplinary and humanities break-out in which the academic and government paradigms for thinking and studying experience an order of magnitude topsy-turvy "do the right thing, not the wrong thing righter." This is a great time to be an intelligence professional.
06) Hyper-linked science. I knew about citation analysis cabals in 1970, when the senior reference librarian, Diane Guldner, at Muhlenberg College, took the time to show me the stuff no one else really used. Science and the humanities today are a travesty. I just ripped apart some psycho-babble about "Intelligent Management of Intelligence Agencies" at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, and I am still irritated. If we do not get serious about creating the World Brain and Global Game as Earth Intelligence Network has conceptualized the immediate possibilities, governments and corporations are going to continue a path that is tantamount to mass suicide for the human species.
Chapters eight and nine focus directly on leadership. Here also today's "leaders" are going to struggle. Citing Jack Welsh and his success at the time, the author points out that the leaders primary responsibility is to connect to reality and to make hard choices. I know too few who have even a clue about what reality really it (hint: poverty is the greatest threat, not terrorism), or the disposition to make hard choices (hint: close down half of the secret technical collection capabilities, invest in an Open Source Agency under diplomatic auspices -- Alec Ross got the email [visit Open Source Executive Access Point at Phi Beta Iota for the details], evidently someone scared him away from thinking independently and Hillary Clinton has no idea that the Office of Management and Budget is ready to give her $150M for year one going toward $2 billion at FOC).
Especially meaningful to me are the author's emphasis on the changing role of leadership -- it is no longer about making decisions and overseeing the process that brings the information to the decision point -- it is more like Ike Eisenhower assembling the force that crossed the channel -- the leader's greatest role is three-fold: pick smart people that are self-starters; create and nurture the OPEN network that allows those self-starters to be all they can be; and finally, be the catalyst for integrating diversity with clarity and integrity. The greatest moment in the Tom Selleck version of Ike - Countdown to D-Day is the moment after he says "GO." In that moment, he has fulfilled his leadership mandate, and the future now depends on every single Private and Corporal hitting the beaches, AS INDIVIDUALS within the NETWORK that he mustered over years toward that one decisive encounter. In that moment, his "leadership" is manifest in all others, not in himself.
I put this book down very pleased with the time/energy to reward ratio. I certainly do not agree with those that disparage this book. One has to remember that most leaders are 20-40 years away from their formative education, most of which is now out-dated; they do not have time to read for their continuing education; and they are surrounded by "mini-me" sycophants who dare not speak truth to power for fear of being reassigned or worse, sent into long over-due retirement. It may be that we have to wait, as my middle son pointedly told me in the car one day, for all of us old guys to die and get out of the way. I for one do not know of any leader with authority that is actually interested in doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing righter. If there is such a person out there, I am available, mobile, and cannot be stopped from doing the right thing...as I like to say, "the truth at any cost lowers all other costs."
With my last two links:
Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure
Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mass Knowledge,
This review is from: 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 (Kindle Edition)This book is a meditation on how the Internet and its relatives have affected meaning and use of knowledge in the 21st Century. It really provides an epistemology for what is called the Information Age. Weinberger explores such concepts as "crowd sourcing" "collective intelligence" and the effect of open Internet access on public understanding and evaluation of issues affecting them. This book is filled with original and for the most part valid insights on how the Internet ET all has shaped and changed not only how knowledge is used, but how it is perceived. I will provide one example of how Weinberger has gone about making his argument:
In 1967 twelve academic philosophers formed the "Heidegger Circle" as a closed study group for the German 20th Century philosopher Martin Heidegger. This group had all the advantages of a closed circle: productive work could be done using basic commonly agreed to assumptions, with information exchanged quite probably accurate and ideas advanced well considered. The members were experts on Heidegger. Yet the fact that it was a closed circle insulated them from criticism outside the circle and outsider information that could have helped them to develop and clarify their thinking on a notoriously difficult writer. Well with the Internet the circle became a 4,000 member group that included people who did not really know what they were talking about and could "grind important topics down to dust." Yet the larger group also collectively knew more than the closed circle, challenged older and often incorrect assumptions, and developed new areas of study of this philosopher.
So is this book worth reading? Well it depends on whether or not you want to know what knowledge has become in the age of the Internet and the theories that Weinberger contends explain the transformation of knowledge into a network based phenomenon. The book is an insightful piece of work that will profoundly influence such esoteric subjects as systems thinking and knowledge management.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Relativism's quest for legitimacy,
This review is from: 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 (Kindle Edition)Relativism is the doctrine that knowledge or truth exist in relation to culture, society, or previous situations, and are not absolute. After wading through 1/3 of the book, and after numerous anecdotes and illustrations, you are left with the FACT that relativism is a flawed theory. Consensus is not what makes something true or false. The author never got beyond trying to legitimise relativism, and fails in the attempt.
There were some interesting ways of looking at facts and how they are established. The need to communicate with others to gain perspective was also helpful.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Assumptions about authoritative knowledge upended,
The book's premise is that the way we have approached knowledge is an unhelpful hangover from a world of scarcity. The filtering mechanisms we use to whittle the world's information down to the very most authoritative knowledge have far more to do with the limited supply of paper and shelf space than the way that knowledge works in the real world. Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Weinberger argues that accepting the inevitability of information overload, and developing mechanisms to filter forward the most relevant, is the only productive way of engaging with the world.
In a Too Big to Know world, curation is replaced by an unbounded network of links: links from assertions to the facts that support them to the sources for those facts. And also, links to the assertions' counterarguments and their networks of facts. He explores the implications of abundant knowledge in in many disciplines: policymaking, science, books, and leadership, to name a few.
As a Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) advocate, the idea of moving from scarcity to abundance, and from authority to relevance, is satisfying and nearly self-evident...in knowledge bases. And "the world's knowledge is doubling every X years" is a familiar theme. Still, applying these same big ideas to the wider world is unsettling. I'm looking forward to reading this again next year after a little soak time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Knowledge in the Digital Age,
According to Weinberger, most of us tend to think that there are certain individuals — called experts — who are knowledgeable about a certain topic and actually possess knowledge of it. Their knowledge and expertise is thought to be derived from their ability to correctly interpret facts, often through some theoretical lens. Today, like facts, experts too have become ubiquitous. It seems we are actually drowning in a world with too many experts and too many facts, or at least an inability to pick out the true experts and the important facts.
Most of us are appalled, for instance, when we hear the facts about how many people are living in poverty in the United States. However, these facts can be misleading and most people don’t have enough time to think critically about the facts that are hurled at them every day. There might in fact be “X” amount of people living in poverty in the United States, but did you know that someone with a net-worth north of one million dollars can technically be living in poverty? How the government defines poverty is very different than the connotation that many of us have of that word. The amount of income you have is the sole factor used to determine if one is “living in poverty,” but this bit of information seldom accompanies the facts about how many people are “living in poverty.”
I recently posed a question on Facebook asking my subscribers if a fact could be false. To my surprise, there was much disagreement over this seemingly simple question. Weinberger reminds us that facts were once thought to be the antidote to disagreement, but it seems that the more facts are available to us, the more disagreements we seem to have, even if they are meta-factual.
It’s unquestionable that today’s digitally literate class of people have more facts at their fingertips than they know what to do with. Is this, however, leading us any closer to Truth? Well, not necessarily. This is because not all facts are created equal, and not all facts are necessarily true. Facts are statements about objective reality that we believe are true. However, while a fact can be false, truth is such regardless of our interpretation of it — we can know facts, but we can’t necessarily know Truth.
In the book, Weinberger draws an important distinction between classic facts and networked facts. The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts.” What he meant by that was that facts (what Weinberger calls classic facts) were thought to give us a way of settling our disagreements. Networked facts, however, open up into a network of disagreement depending on the context in which they are interpreted. “We have more facts than ever before,” writes Weinberger, “so we can see more convincingly than ever before that facts are not doing the job we hired them for.” This seems to be true even amongst people who use a similar framework and methodology for arriving at their beliefs (e.g., scientists).
One of Weinberger’s central arguments is that the Digital Revolution has allowed us to create a new understanding of what knowledge is and where it resides. Essentially, he claims that the age of experts is over, the facts are no longer the facts (in the classical sense), and knowledge actually resides in our networks. While this is an interesting idea, I’m not sure it’s entirely true.
Knowledge is a strange thing since it depends on the human mind in order to exist. I have a stack of books sitting on my desk, but I don’t point to them and say there is a stack of knowledge sitting on my desk. I simply don’t yet know if there is any knowledge to be gleaned from those books. For this reason, I don’t think knowledge can exist on networks either. Knowledge requires human cognition in order to exist, which means that it only exists in experience, thus giving it this strange ephemeral characteristic. I cannot unload my knowledge and store it anywhere, then retrieve it at a later date. It simply ceases to exist outside of my ability to cognize it.
Knowledge, Weinberger argues, exists in the networks we create, free of cultural and theoretical interpretations. It seems that he is expanding on an idea from Marshall McLuhan, who famously said, “The medium is the message.” Is it possible, then, that knowledge is the medium? The way I interpret his argument, Weinberger seems to be claiming that the medium also shapes what counts as knowledge. Or, as he himself puts it, “transform the medium by which we develop, preserve, and communicate knowledge, and we transform knowledge.” This definition of knowledge is, however, problematic if one agrees that knowledge can only exist in the mind of a human (or comparable) being. To imply that a unified body of knowledge exists “out there” in some objective way and that human cognition isn’t necessary for it to exist undermines any value the term has historically had. Ultimately, I don’t agree with Weinberger’s McLuhanesque interpretation that knowledge has this protean characteristic.
In a recent essay in The Atlantic Nicholas Carr posed the question: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His inquiry spawned a fury of questions pertaining to our intelligence and the Net. Although Weinberger has high hopes for what the Net can do for us, he isn’t necessarily overly optimistic either. In fact, he claims that it’s “incontestable that this is a great time to be stupid” too. The debate over whether the Internet makes us smarter or dumber seems silly to me, though. I cannot help but conclude that it makes some people smarter and some people dumber — it all depends on how it is used. Most of us (myself included) naturally like to conjugate in our digital echo chambers and rant about things we think we know (I suspect this is why my provocative “Who Wants to Maintain Clocks?” essay stirred up some controversy — most RS readers don’t usually hear these things in their echo chambers).
Weinberger also argues that having too much information isn’t a problem, but actually a good thing. Again, I disagree. In support of this claim, he piggybacks off of Clay Shirky, who tells us that the ills of information overload are simply filtering problems. I, however, don’t see filtering as a panacea because filtering still requires the valuable commodity of time. At some point, we have to spend more time filtering than we do learning. An aphorism by Nassim Taleb comes to mind: “To bankrupt a fool, give him information.”
Overall, Weinberger does a nice job of discussing the nature of knowledge in the Digital Age, even though I disagree with one of his main points that knowledge exists in a new networked milieu. The book is excellent in the sense that it encourages us to think deeply about the messy nature of epistemology — yes, that’s an opinion and not a fact!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too Big to Know--and to review...,
This review is from: 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 (Kindle Edition)While I read many books, I rarely take the time to write a review, as I'm a bit intimidated by the erudite, lengthy summaries of the book, but for those who may have ADHD, or limited time, a few thoughts on my experience in reading this wonderful and challenging book.
As one who's worked in health care as a provider and a collaborator for over 35 years, I've taken the opportunity to read books on many topics, from the basics of health care, to delving into populist books which may not attract other physicians, or at least didn't. (The Tipping Point, Predictably Irrational, Nudge, Theory U, Leadership on the Line, Subliminal, Incognito, The Upside of Irrationality, Nudge, Six Degrees of Separation--the list goes on. and on)
This book is a great discussion of the changing focus of managing (perhaps not the correct term) knowledge in today's world of exploding information and connectivity. As a person who many think is well read, and extremely knowledgeable, I have this underlying anxiety of being a fraud, as I recognize through all my readings that the amount of information/knowledge I've consumed is far less than what I've been exposed to. While many comment on my terrific memory, it's pathetic that in reality, I know very little.
That's why this book is a valuable and worthy tome to peruse....in helping the reader to begin to understand that in today's world, it is "too big to know." We can't use our past experiences and expertise to manage the knowledge now exploding all around us.
Weinberger cleverly and carefully lays out how we need to rethink knowledge--moving from trying to limit what we need to know, to expanding our ability to benefit from the knowledge around us. But for all of those who value their credentials, their expertise, their personal value as one who "has the answers" be aware this will challenge many of your long held beliefs.
I'll not go into detail regarding the content (after all, you need to see it from your perspective), but in my role as Chief Knowledge Officer of a health care collaborative (yes, truly one of the great job titles in health care), I now have a different perspective on what my role should be, the need to consider networks, Internet usage, diversity, and knowledge as actually an attribute of the network, not the nodes of information of any one participant.
I want to thank Weinberger for providing me with another perspective which will greatly enhance my understanding of the challenges faced by us in managing the knowledge needed to improve our world, but for also making me aware of the incredibly complex issues we need to confront. But that's the facts, just the facts...or is it?
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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... by David Weinberger (Hardcover - January 3, 2012)