TMI

I’m a big picture kind of woman, and tend to deal in big concepts more than details. So I’ve been thinking about the whole issue of PKM and have reached some conclusions, which, being a blogger, I get to share with you. some of these ideas might get further explored in later posts. Knowledge management, personal knowledge management all arose because there is too much information (TMI) in the world. When people think of earlier centuries, they think that a reasonably well-educated person could know all of then-current knowledge. It was never true, though they might have known a good portion of the scholarship in their region of the world, or their subject. Today it is impossible to know but a fraction of the knowledge even in one’s own discipline. I think we have to acknowledge that no matter what tools we have, or what philosophy of knowledge management we follow, WE CAN’T FIX THIS.

It is bad and getting worse every day. The very name of one large company directly involved in the information biz reflects this, “Eventually, they changed the name to Google, originating from a misspelling of the word “googol”, the number one followed by one hundred zeros, which was picked to signify that the search engine wants to provide large quantities of information for people.” (Wikipedia) The same Wikipedia article gives one measure of the scope of the problem: “Google has been estimated to run over one million servers in data centers around the world, and process over one billion search requests and about twenty-four petabytes of user-generated data every day.” Another fact gleaned from Wikipedia – in 2010, 328,259 new book titles and editions were published in the United States. Since I joined LibraryThing in late 2006, I’ve been trying to keep track of the books I read. According to it, I added 135 entries in 2010, for an average of 11.25 books a month, and for society as a whole I’m a heavy reader.

So is it hopeless? Are we just dreaming the impossible dream (as the Man of La Mancha might sing)? Not quite. As knowledge increases, the better the tools (and in a broad sense, tools include the philosophy of pkm one follows, whether it is Getting Things Done or a competing philosophy) the more we have a chance of keeping up with our chosen slice of knowledge. Disciplines fragment into more and more sub-disciplines in order for someone to have a chance at knowing that area of knowledge well. The tools will get better, which inevitably means that more and more of the processing of information is done by machines. For example, intelligent agents will become better and better at filtering out information so that an individual sees what is the most useful to her. The downside may be that machines don’t think, and they don’t feel, and so they may miss just that needed bit of information to make a great intuitive leap, or to catch all the ethical implications of the knowledge presented.

I draw a couple of conclusions from all of this. One is that I feel librarians may become more important but less valued. When there is so much knowledge, there is more than ever the need to have someone on hand who specializes in finding information and in finding the best information. Yet as things are more online and there are more discovery tools, people think their skills at finding information are better than they are.

So I see librarians turning into what I call Knowledge Navigators. Maybe that’s because that is the primary part of my job now as liaison to three academic departments. To me this means an increased role for librarians, but also an increased role for marketing in order to explain, in the most positive terms possible, why people need us.

The other major conclusion I draw is that some version of the Gaia hypothesis may be correct, that all of Earth is one complex, inter-related system. If so, humanity can be looked on as the organism’s brain, and every individual as a brain cell passing along specific information. Therefore, each of us has particular, unique pieces of information that when combined with everyone else, makes up the collective brain. As an image, this leads us to understanding better why learning networks are so important to connect and give us a platform for connecting all our “brain cells” together. (or individual neurons)

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