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Abstract: Bernard Stiegler describes the change/evolution of information provisioning and its related awareness and opinion building over the period of last 400 years. Reading that book I recognize some parallel developments within the processing of knowledge. This likeness is more or less evident, because we (the global society) deal with the same participants within both influential processes (knowledge and information consumption). In the area of information provisioning Bernard Stiegler points to some dramatic mental changes and relates them to current violent behavior in society. Answering the question about similar effects in knowledge might lead to surprises as well.

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More or less by accident I bought the book Bernard Stiegler wrote about incidents of youth crime 2007 in France. Related to that crime the French parliament had to discuss the necessity to differentiate between youth and adult jurisdiction and decided for clear individual responsibilities. The main interest of Bernard Stiegler covers the area of the inter-relations between culture and technics/technology and the changes in society due to media and digitalization. Projected to that background he describes how the power of modern media in conjunction with global capitalism systematically destroys the ability to develop and to take nover responsibility. In that respect he concludes that adults behave like minor individuals, unable to educate the younger generation into the awareness of responsibility. Therefore the contract between different generations is dissolved as the transfer of expertise is disconnected; in general the main focus of life is on fun and joy with a very reduced connectivity to history and future.

Looking for an English translation of that book wasn’t successful (book is scheduled for publication), the French edition is available. The German edition was published in 2008.

Due to printing, information became available and widespread. The author describes the change over the period of Enlightenment towards the opportunities of individual responsibility, resulting in the emancipation of individuals and the building of public sphere. With the methodology of information provisioning via modern media, the author observes over last decades a very strong reduction of the typical Enlightenment achievements. As mentioned in the abstract, I saw a couple of parallel developments in the area of knowledge processing as well. I don’t want to discuss how new equipments or technologies or methodologies increase the pace of knowledge consumption and processing. What occurred me is the question

  • “is current knowledge management more a typical mechanical information provisioning?”,
  • “what’s next to knowledge consumption?”, and
  • “are we saving our existing knowledge and enriching it with today’s expertise and vision to best position our next generation, which follows us in business, science, and society?”.

In other words this can be phrased in “is current information provisioning sustainable in the context of society development?”

I don’t intend to repeat the analysis by Bernard Stiegler and I know very well that each portion of development (society, business, technology) has its sunny side as well its shadows. But one of the major arguments is about the reduction of reflection and the reduced development of a critical attitude (critical meant in the contrast to the need for easily digestible material). If current information provisioning includes also conclusions and validations, opinion building get changed from an individual level to a global (homogenous) one. Put the three (information – knowledge – science) up to one line, you perceive from left to right an increase in value, consistency and a reduced time-dependency. We all know that science is built in a community, but not collective. If nowadays information provisioning gets a marketing flavor then global consumption would be  the next logical step. If knowledge building is challenged by the restrictions of easy consumable, the typical science aspects of knowledge get reduced. But we all know, that areas of knowledge need fundaments (call it basics) and time has to be spent to learn about those basic facts and their interrelations. To neglect these components in the knowledge building, processing, and management includes the danger of populism (know all, but nothing).

Is this theoretical? I don’t mean so. There are many examples:

  • There is a metaphor saying “history is revolving”. It’s very difficult to neglect this statement looking in current developments, in some countries on this world. But once history is revolving, because we lost the roots in local and global history, it becomes very easy to manipulate the societies and mental values.
  • There is a metaphor saying “money rules the world”. Looking back into last 2 years of global business affected by the economic downturn, you might ask yourself about which money and which rules. If we all believe that scaling can be done with knowledge as well, you believe in measurements of long-term investments via quarterly stock market considerations, measurements, and recommendations. Or take the typical cascading of loan and hedging in 2007/2008. Any breakdown in that scaling of knowledge-driven processes hurts individuals’ purses and companies´ business.
  • With Darwin traversing the oceans we all learned about the new (in the sense of disclosed) relations in nature. With those discoveries the evolution theory started to describe biology in a different way. But that science is applied by us to business also. Most popular in that context is the word “sustainability”, more in the context to conserve current standards and to shift negative perceptions to less “critical” domains. It’s very nice to say, we can continue because we developed for instance the utilization of alternative energy resources. But if that implies that current farmers shift their production from food into biomass, then we should know that this change affects more than the “products of the farmer” only. And if you get insight into municipal business plans regarding energy self provisioning, you might ask about the lack and disconnects in knowledge processing. Otherwise, those business cases can’t be positive.
  • The knowledge management of industrial knowledge is captured by Intellectual property and Non-Disclosures. From an historical perspective this IP was very close to science at universities. Nowadays, each trivial achievement in business, resulting in an increase of market share becomes a candidate for IP. But in reality most of that is an early processing on a piece of information rather than knowledge from the perspective of structures and strategies.

In mathematics and physics it’s very common to describe behavior and predictions using systems and the relations within that system and those affecting it from outside. Some of those descriptions are complex, but not more complicated. It needs a bit more time to process on the basics to get into the stage of knowledge building. For example if you look into the lectures of 50 years ago and compare that information processing with today’s versions, you observe a major step forward regarding the speed/time and the structural depth/content. But it still needs time. In that context it’s more than revolutionary to believe that knowledge processing in business can be scaled down. At least with the economical downturn we got an indication that this scaling didn’t function that well.

Kind regards Paul

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  1. Gregory Misiorek
    There is also a digital divide to all our efforts of disseminating knowledge. Most of humans won’t read this blog, not because of lack of interest, but out of sheer inaccessibility. Even with the invention (and implementation) of the printing press those first volumes were still inaccessible and too expensive for one individual to own and they have remained out of reach until today. The subsequent copies are available everywhere and practically to everyone. So, it’s not the content or IP that drives the price for this particular piece of knowledge medium, but rather natural scarcity. I believe most if not all of the valuable content is already available in the internet, but it has come down not only to what, but to when and the when has become so much shorter and to arrive at knowledge, let alone wisdom, has actually become more difficult as those nuggets are hidden behind the clutter and noise of inconsequential data and information. Thus, we have more of the same that we were used to have and creating new medium does not necessary increase our overall knowledge, but makes it only more “processed” with the risk of
    losing something when copying from one medium to another. Are we still trying to provide yet another implementation of Mr. Pacioli’s Particularis*? BTW, let me know if you come across a good English translation for that short appendix somewhere.

    *http://www.courses.vcu.edu/INFO465-gs/SMSU_Pacioli.htm
    by by Kenneth W. Brown, Ph.D., CPA, CGFM

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    1. Paul Centen Post author
      Hi Greg,

      thanks for your comments.
      – Assuming all knowledge is in one or another way available in the Internet, is valid. To prove this is difficult. Once your search and intense retrieval doesn’t provide you with the links to appropriate web sites, Robert Laughlin can steer your thoughts in other directions (in: The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind (ISBN-13: 978-0465005079))
      – Assuming all non-disclosed knowledge has to do with patents and IP, is valid. In that case knowledge and Intelligent (as part of IP) are mutually conform, but the property definition could gain some adjustments.
      – To keep knowledge protected relates me to some 200 years ago. If different nations face governmental targets to increase level of education, why this protected knowledge could be a external part. Why do we distinguish between academic and industrial knowledge?
      – If competitive advantage is achieved by gatekeepers, who don’t understand the knowledge in detail, they might hide more (and don’t feel themselves disgraced).The different affairs discussed at courts around the world are nice illustrations of global accepted standards, locking away knowledge built with communities and within the society.
      – Governmental lobbyism allows types of knowledge encryption in political correct terms, which can’t be reached by all consumers, simply by decoding incapability’s. This is also a format of non-disclosure, which protects.

      Kind regards Paul

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