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The knowledge gap in the complex, expert-run society

Each time a group of people get together for in-depth discussion of an issue, whether formally or informally, they create a knowledge gap between themselves and others. Such a difference in levels of knowledge within society is to be expected. In such a complex world, it is absolutely impossible to know everything about everything. Our society has answered the challenge of ever increasing complexity by setting up a system based on a high degree of specialisation. In addition, current market logic treats knowledge like any other commodity: scarcity in the face of demand leads to a rise in value. So creating a "knowledge gap" is a source of power and commercial advantage.

Most professions go even further, attempting to reserve the exclusive right to develop and use their accumulated knowledge. In such an "expert-run society", the individual non-expert looses control over essential aspects of his or her own life (health, learning, shelter, transport, energy, government, ...). The result is a growing feeling of powerlessness and paralysing apathy. In a society based on wide-spread development and distribution of knowledge - as in the case of the Information Society - lack of participation and general apathy are serious brakes to flexibility, adaptability, on-going learning, participation, motivation, dynamism and well-being. Clearly a system based on making knowledge scarce is a serious handicap as it diminishes the ability to respond rapidly to a complex environment.

In the fast changing context of the Information Society, a balance has to be found between the stability of the status quo and the forces of change. Success will depend on the ability to develop and adopt appropriate, innovative ways of using the new tools available. Despite repeated attempts to impose new ways of working in a top-down fashion, it is clear that the user himself or herself is the best source of new ways of working. These are the fruit of trial and error and are developed and spread by informal exchange with colleagues and acquaintances. The tools of the Information Society make it possible to step up this process through widespread informal exchange between peers. At the same time, the stimulation brought by new points of view help overcome the inertia of the status quo.

We absolutely need to develop a new system that:

  1. Allows free flow of knowledge so that society can capitalise fully on it;
  2. Provide a satisfactory retribution (both in terms of revenue and social recognition) to those whose main activity is to create knowledge.
The first concrete step towards such a goal is for the individual to share his knowledge and experience widely with others both within his or her "home community" and within those on-line communities he or she is a part of. It is the only way to fight off the feeling of powerlessness and the paralysis of apathy that saps our energy.

At the same time, is this apparent complexity really an accurate reflection of our current situation? Are not things far simpler than we have come to believe? Is it not rather that our well-tried step-by-step logic from cause to effect is unable to grasp the interactions in a highly interconnected world? Is it not that our way of seeing all things as discrete, non-interacting objects - like so many stones placed on a shelf - can't comprehend the ebb and flow of a world in the throes of continuous processes.

The other texts of The re-connected individual are:

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: July 3rd, 1996 - Last up-dated: July 3rd, 1996