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5.23.2007

Experts will fade away

David Weinberger's new book: Everything is Miscellaneous is choc full of great ideas. Weinberger has wonderful insights and background stories into the development of taxonomies. We've been forced up until now to categorize the world based on physical limitations. We are now becoming free to lump everything together as "miscellaneous".

There are numerous advantages to dropping our familiar labels, distinctions and rules for sorting stuff.When we stored information on paper, the physical limitations of paper necessitated some of us becoming experts. We relied on their eyeballs to see the pieces of paper with the right information on it. We also relied on their brains to make sense of what they read, to apply the information to problems and to function effectively in our world. The well-read experts became authorities by the particular pieces of paper their eyeballs scanned. They held power over us because we could not find, access and utilize those same pieces of paper without taking huge amounts of time and incurring great expense. Command and control structures arose to cultivate and maintain the power that was centralized by information being stored on paper.

We're now storing information in bits. What we need to know is everywhere all the time. Instead of needing to know where to find it, we can locate it easily. It's filed under "miscellaneous". Each location has countless cross references, tags and links that create more ways to find it.

Our need for experts is fading away. Centralized command and control systems are losing buy-in from their markets or citizenry. The information that was so difficult to find, access and utilize -- is becoming ubiquitous. The category of "expert" is losing its meaning. The need to pay for "privileged access" is losing commercial viability. We're becoming a free information society all over the globe.


2 comments:

  1. Roger McPherson5/23/2007 10:44 PM

    Tom,

    I can agree with half of what you are saying here.

    When information was strictly on a physical medium, access to that information was limited by design and by circumstance. The digital age has removed the circumstantial limitation, and, for the most part, intentional limitations can be overcome relatively cheaply (subscriptions, memberships, ...).

    But I do not agree that access to information solely made or makes an expert.

    The world is vast and the body of human knowledge grows exponentially. History is expanding in both directions, as we become able to peer deeper into our past and more extensively document our present.

    Scientific knowledge has exploded. Our understanding of the very small and the very big is expanding in both directions.

    Experts are individuals with certain talents, which they have developed, that dedicate their lives to gaining a deep understanding of a particular subject area. The more unfettered access to information has made it easier for a person with the requisite talents and development to become and maintain expertise in a given field, but it does not facilitate an individual, lacking those requisite talents and development, to become expert in that field.

    I think there will always be individuals who are driven to gain a deep understanding of a subject area, and when they do so, others will rely on them because they do not have another lifetime to become as knowledgeable as the expert.

    The same is true in art. The virtuoso performer is an expert that has dedicated his life to the mastery of his art.

    Roger

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  2. Roger
    Thanks for adding to the clarity here. You've raised several points worthy of a new post. I agree with what you're saying about our continuing to specialize, focus our pursuits and explore particular depths.

    Tom

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