There are two false assumptions here. One is that subverting hierarchy results in no experts …
The second is that “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”.
I guess that we differ on the need for experts in a field. Dr. Nelson feels that experts are necessary, or “learning can become derailed or even stopped in its tracks.” He says that experts should proceed with humility, but that experts are necessary for our field to progress. We appear to be on divergent learning paths.
Today, expertise is being eroded in many fields. Medical doctors are confronted daily by patients who have researched a disease, from reputable sources, in greater depth than the doctor has time to do. Patients are becoming co-managers of their health. Even bloggers can get the scoop on expert journalists. It is getting difficult for anyone to be an expert other than in a very narrow field for a short period of time. As a consultant, I live this every day because I am only as good as my last project. Knowledge workers are like actors, we are only as good as our last performance. For a fleeting moment, we may be viewed as experts, but for not much longer.
Hierarchies and experts have a symbiotic relationship. Without hierarchies, no authority can tell us who is the expert. Were humans able to learn before there were hierarchies and experts? Would they be able to learn in spite of without experts?
Personally, I know that hyperlinks subvert hierarchies. That’s how a dispersed group of a dozen free-agents can out-manoeuver and under-bid a Fortune 50 company by 90% and secure a contract with a government agency. That’s how our Informl Learning Unworkshop [workshops] can be filled to capacity without spending a dollar on marketing expertise.
By subverting traditional business hierarchies, a lone consultant in Atlantic Canada can do business around the world. But does that make me the new expert? I have never purported to be an an expert. I have some skills and some knowledge, but my greatest asset is my network. Perhaps individual expertise is gradually being replaced by collaborative expertise. I’m not sure; but then I’m no expert.