“The Internet is full of information but not full of knowledge” said Man Booker nominee Joshua Ferris at a recent interview in London, when quizzed on his reputed techno-phobia.
And does he have a point?
There can be no debate that the internet has altered the way we consume information, but are books still the exalted domain of higher knowledge, while the internet remains a collection of amateur pornography and cute kittens? Can things as subjective as ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ be separated into concepts as black and white as text on a page?
There is certainly a strong vein of online prejudice. Kindle-hating is rife in literary circles, as is professional musician’s loathing of home-produced albums – now entirely possible using only an iPhone.
Part of the problem lies in speed. A book has historically been something to be enjoyed at leisure; the savouring of each page as the information within unfolds. In the modern era of 140-character microblogging, we consume around 34 GB of info every day – enough to fill 6 newspapers.
Does the information age equate to an era of enlightened knowledge?
A quick flick through the first pages of the internet would probably yield a hearty ‘no’. If anything, the top trends and primary new stories each day seem, increasingly, a testament to humanity’s self-indulgence, self-promotion and greed.
If we take knowledge to be “acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation”, then the idea that knowledge of any sort can come from the unyielding internet barrage which faces us every day is a decidedly long shot at best.
But that is not to say that the potential is not there for us to take.
Savvy CEO’s don’t bother with a morning copy of the Wall Street Journal now – they compile a Twitter ‘List’ of their most trusted media outlets which they can browse on a tablet each morning. Rather than access to one isolated information source, they have several streams to inform their knowledge, which will translate in better decisions for the company.
Is that not using the internet to gain knowledge?
The effort of churning out a good book is a testament to the talent of the author, as they are passing on the knowledge they have gleaned from their research and imagination. With the advent of the internet – do we not have the option to be the founders of our own knowledge and curators of our own content? Perhaps the pursuit of knowledge online, as well as offline, is a purely personal quest.
While writers, editors and artists will always be prized members of society, does the internet represent an emancipation for people to develop their own knowledge, through the vast source of information available? Or is it just a collection of largely pointless pieces in need of a good filter?
As the speed of communication intensifies on social media, even words themselves become obsolete. Social media networks on the horizon encourage communication using nothing but emoji symbols, and in some cases deliberately make it the user’s only option. A grand step forward into the future or a harkening back to humanity’s earliest forms of symbol-writing?
Are emojis simply a new form of cave painting?
Could it be possible, just as the first men on Mars will be focusing on primal survival as opposed to profits, that technology is regressing humanity as much as progressing it?
The by-line for successful social media campaigns now is “be authentic”. The freedom of opinion able to be expressed in the anonymity of the online domain without limitation or expertise makes for communication without purpose, and false truths all to easy to perpetuate to a potential audience of millions.
Perhaps the largely inauthentic identity (or lack of one) so prevalent on the internet, and particularly on social media channels, means the sacred passing of knowledge is still perhaps more thought of as the domain of a bound tome.
Although in cases such as Kim Kardashian-West’s book of selfies, this is debatable. And if there is a true example of information without knowledge, I’d say that’s probably it.
Although in the words of Confucius, “real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”.