Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Knowledge

One of the most troubling questions for me is what is happening to knowledge.

Knowledge has been commoditised, I am told. It no longer matters, as one can know by typing a string of words on Google. My interlocutors' point primarily was to say that education must change under these circumstances: It should be about something other than knowledge.

That knowledge is easily accessible is a somewhat common-sense observation, but I wonder this is one of those things that we call conventional wisdom. While it may be waiting on the other side of Google, do I always know what to type? And, even before that, do I know what I should be searching for? Would this count as knowledge?

However, I must concede that the contemporary discussions about the effect of Google on Knowledge somewhat acknowledge the first issue: Knowing how to search. In fact, this is their precise point, that education will be less about memorising facts and more about the mechanics of fact finding. That has become the foci of Western education models, and the sneering about 'rote education' everywhere else.

But this still is not the whole thing. How do I know that I should be searching at all? Apart from all the newspaper stories, the disappearance of plane, Crimea and Russia, death of someone, what should I be searching for? How do I know to search for something that I don't know, and would never encounter within my own language and media environment? 

Why do I need to know that? I, here, is the common person, who should rather be involved in the pursuit of happiness, which should consist of an affordable mortgage, shopping mall trips, holidays with family, retirement plans, all the things made simple and efficient with Google. Why would I need to go outside the regular discussions and wonder about the crisis of world's water, and the many extremist movements caused by the lack of it? It is not about what search terms I should enter in Google (I don't have the faintest idea) but why should I search?

I am not trained in Epistemology, but my instincts tell me that knowing what to know is an important form of knowledge. And, that, for all our glorification of critical reasoning, we have come to accept some sort of linguistic and cultural boundaries within which we must operate. Worse, these boundaries have just become narrower with Google.

Besides, such boundaries and obsession with fact-finding, also allow us to develop the conception of useful knowledge. All discussions, including a post such as this, fall in the realm of useless, without any practical relevance, and therefore, not needed to be searched for. However, I have a second question about the idea of useful knowledge. When we seek knowledge for some other end, and mostly to satisfy a 'practical' end which is usually connected with a monetary benefit, do we somewhat cross an ethical boundary? This is because our inquiry then become contaminated with motive, and our views with the narrow lens of own advantage, and it is not truth, but power, over nature, over others, that we seek in knowledge. 

In summary, knowledge in the age of Google makes me uncomfortable. It seems we have accepted the finiteness of what is there to know and concerned ourselves solely with the mechanics, but this approach made us blind about the increasingly narrow prison of ideas we are consigned into. And, besides, the approach to knowledge for practical ends have also subdued us to commercial motives of seeking knowledge, which by extension become about seeking power, of using others for our own ends.

My search, exploration of education ideas, is primarily informed by this discomfort. For all the talk of educational innovation, I see a deeper slide into the language bubble and knowledge-for-power. I see performance as education replacing 'experience', in whose name the educational reforms are undertaken. And, I see this education as bondage, of losing one's senses in the prison of commodified knowledge, rather than being the harbinger of freedom, another useless rhetoric dispensed all too frequently.

This view is indeed uninformed, thank god!, and only an interim post in my exploration of the Consumer University. However, I see the confluence of machines taking human jobs and most humans entrapped in a manipulated, limited world of knowledge to be a perfect storm of human abomination, a loss not just of our sense of superiority accumulated in the last two hundred years of industrial civilisation, but of our human self built over the preceding thousands of years.

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