Too Big to Know

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

Book - 2011
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We used to know how to know. We got our answers from books or experts. We'd nail down the facts and move on. But in the Internet age, knowledge has moved onto networks. There's more knowledge than ever, of course, but it's different. Topics have no boundaries, and nobody agrees on anything. Yet this is the greatest time in history to be a knowledge seeker, if you know how. In Too Big to Know, Internet philosopher David Weinberger shows how business, science, education, and the government are learning to use networked knowledge to understand more than ever and to make smarter decisions than they could when they had to rely on mere books and experts. This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge -- from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts -- providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world. - Publisher.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, ©2011
ISBN: 9780465085965
0465085962
9780465021420
0465021425
Characteristics: xiv, 231 pages ; 25 cm

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Chapel_Hill_KenMc Dec 22, 2014

Weinberger dazzles us with examples of how the structure of knowledge and means of knowing are changing with the rapid growth of digital networks in all our institutions. He details how tools such as crowdsourcing, open access repositories, and aggregators are exponentially increasing the amount of information we have access to. There has always been an abundance of information, but our traditional paper-based system of disseminating it has put time-tested filters in place. Weinberger describes how networked knowledge on the Internet discards these filters and creates new ones, but filters that do not exclude, but filter information forward. The cornucopia of information is there in its abundance, with ever-expanding links stretching in all directions.

This can, of course, create problems. To name a big one, we now know that the Enlightenment ideal of perfect knowledge is an illusion. “Try to use facts to ground an argument, and you’ll find links to those who disagree with you all the way down to the ground. Our new medium of knowledge is shredding our old optimism that we could all agree on facts and, having done so, could all agree on conclusions. Indeed, we have to wonder if that old optimism was based on the limitations inherent in paper publishing: We thought we were building an unshaken house based on the foundation of facts simply because the clamorous disagreement had no public voice.” (p. 41)

Two weaknesses can be identified with this work. One is a tendency to repetitiveness. Weinberger's points are important, and he wants to make sure they stick. This leads him to repeat them many times, in different contexts. Secondly, he largely bypasses concerns over potential social dangers of the new inter-connectivity. When truth isn't protected by our traditional guardian filters, can anything become "true" if referenced often enough on the Web? How much control can be exerted by entrenched political/economic powers to make sure that the preferred version of truth is disseminated?

Read this along with Nicholas Carr ("The Shallows") and Jaron Lanier ("You Are Not a Gadget") for a triangulated view of the new frontiers of knowledge.

s
StarGladiator
Oct 29, 2014

An interesting book [excellent comments by CatherineLibrarian on it] and to paraphrase the author, the Web allows us to be skeptical and to be independent thinkers and researchers: when Thomas Mallon writes a book called, Mrs. Paine's Garage, supposedly based on the Kennedy assassination, we can use the Internet and the Web sitting upon it, to find out the background of Mallon, and delve deeply into the backgrounds of Mr. and Mrs. Paine, far, far more deeply than we ever could, and in much condensed time, than ever before. It now becomes easy to distinguish Mallon's fiction, from the real facts! If I wish to know who the people are which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed, I can use the Web to find out that Victoria Nuland is a former Cheney policy advisor [as in Dick Cheney] and that Marc Grossman is not only a former member of the Bush Administration [one of his Vulcans, or inner circle] but also related to George W. Bush, then I can wonder why Hillary is appointing all these former Cheney/Bush people?

c
CatherineLibrarian
Sep 22, 2013

Nowadays the way information is created, stored, collected and shared has changed. In the past pre-connected networked world we knew where to seek for information and knowledge. Answers were found in traditionally published books and from well established experts. You could look it up and move on to the next question. But in today Internet age, knowledge isn’t only moved onto networks, but there is more data exist than ever. The knowledge expands rapidly and more information could be gleaned easily. An answer can be researched virtually forever within an ever expanding scope, and no one agrees what the facts are anymore. A fact is no longer a fact. The world is Too Big To Know. This is the premise of author David Weinberger ‘s engrossing and informative book. He clearly shows how business, science, education and the government become aware of this and use Internet to make smarter decisions and ask deeper questions. The author of this book questions our assumptions about the nature of knowledge and wisdom. Highly recommended for any reader of popular nonfiction or facts’ seekers.

s
SunKing2
Jul 01, 2013

Facts: "We se them picked up, splatted against a wall, contradicted, torn apart, amplified, and mocked... every fact has an equal and opposite reaction...[this] multi-sided, linked contradition of every fact changes the nature and role of facts in our culture."

Expertise in former years was limited to a select group, certainly printed material produced a sort of final word on a subject, due to its inability to be contradicted, and an editing process and cost that ensured that only relevant knowledge was present, and the information was correct. Books, the former way that civilization develops ideas, requied an expert to be complete with his arguments.

The nature of expertise and experts has changed due to the Net. Much of the contradictory statements are rubbish, but we still have to embrace this new form where anyone can be an expert, because we get points of view that actually give us solutions.

On the Net, the facts can have links so that we can check the data, make our own judgments, and even contradict what is being stated.

Well worth the read.

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