“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.” —Carl Sagan
When people are presented with a problem the first urge is to resolve it. If the computer does not work, they want it fixed. Then they can move on to what they were trying to do in the first place. But quite often the source of the problem did not go away. People also need to understand how the problem was created. This requires time and effort to learn. But when the problem is gone, there is little incentive to learn about the implications and complexities that created the problem.
Many people live in this digital network society with computers at our fingertips but little idea of how they work. This is why Facebook and Google are so popular. Not only are they free but they require no understanding of how they work. Indeed, they hide how they work from even the most inquiring minds, while mapping the relationships and behaviours of +2 billion people. These platforms are just too convenient.
“We haven’t really got appropriate historical analogies for the tech giants,” explains Dr Powles. Their powers, she continues, extend “far beyond” the likes of the East India Company and monopolies of old, such as Standard Oil … “What is most striking is the sense of resignation, the impotence of regulation, the lack of options, the public apathy,” says Dr Powles. “What an extraordinary situation for an entity that has power over information – there is no greater power really.” —BBC 2017-05-26
Most people are happy with their technology until it doesn’t work for them. Then they quit, complain, or try to solve the problem. The latter takes time. It’s what few of us do. It hurts to understand that with each level of understanding we actually understand less. If we learn a bit we may become little exemplars of the Dunning-Kruger effect. If we continue to learn we can get more frustrated and perhaps cynical. It’s the curse of our digital age and the surveillance economy.
It’s easy to say that people have to take responsibility for their learning, but not everyone had the luxury of learning how to program. But computers and networks control our lives today. While all individuals have a responsibility to learn, those who know more have a greater responsibility to share. This is part of the Personal Knowledge Mastery Seek > Sense > Share model. If you are an expert, you are not helping your human network get any smarter if you are not sharing. Experts have to become knowledge catalysts. The PKM workshop helps connectors and experts become knowledge catalysts.
Being a knowledge catalyst means taking the time to add value to your knowledge. One way is to simplify what you know. Make your work human understandable. Speak in non-geek terms. If experts do not do this they will become surrounded by less informed people over time. Our global human networks will get dumber. These networks of people might even vote for bombastic populists or support policies that will make all of us poorer or less free to pursue our goals.
The way out of this mess is to make our social networks, and our society, smarter. Leadership today is helping our networks make better decisions.