This semester’s Knowledge Management class was a unique experience due to the amount of choice we students were offered. The first day of class, each student was told to read two books from a list of relevant literature. As a result, I noticed that each student’s learning was framed by whichever books they chose to read. The path I took was heavily informed by technologist David Weinberger’s two books, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder and Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. One of the biggest lessons I therefore learned this semester was that knowledge is completely different in the networked, digital age—so we need to rethink our concept of knowledge and the way we deal with information, and avoid sounding technologically deterministic at the same time.
The communication and manipulation of knowledge evolved in stages, from the transient symbols of the primordial era when oral communication reigned supreme, to the invention of the printing press during the age of enlightenment, to the modern-day automation of symbolic manipulation (Levy, 2013). No one layer suppresses the other, however; rather, they each build upon one another. We are currently in the hypercortical era of knowledge, a time of data processing and algorithmic writing, when software like Photoshop and Google Translate make symbolic manipulation easier than ever (Levy, 2013). It is important to note, however, that knowledge is dialectical. Technology alone does not cause a revolution—for example, the cultural revolution of the renaissance began before the invention of the printing press (Levy, 2013).
In the past, knowledge occupied a physical space, and each bit of information was relegated to one place for easy retrieval. In the current era, Weinberger (2008) argues, information is commonly stored digitally. Knowledge retrieval systems vary widely, and everything appears to be miscellaneous. It is difficult to categorize any one thing because one thing can belong to any number of categories. Meanwhile, the process of symbolic cognition tells us that “it is almost impossible to perceive something without categorizing it” (Levy, 2013). Thankfully, many web-based applications now feature built-in categorization systems (typically in the form of ‘tags’) that allow users to categorize information as it is updated. Another difference in the hypercortical era is the rise of big data, which Filloux (2012) defines as “data sets too large to be ingested and analyzed by conventional data base management tools“. This data is not necessarily knowingly generated by users, but rather can be mined from “[w]eb pages, browsing habits… smartphone location trails and genomic information” (Lohr, 2013). This has spawned some ethical debate surrounding the use of such information with regards to the users’ privacy, complicated by the fact that much of this information is publicly available for others to aggregate and analyse. For example, data companies, or ‘big data brokers’, collect personal information about users such as demographics, relationship details, shopping habits and hobbies, and sell it to third parties like marketing firms and individual companies (Beckett, 2013).
As a result of this miscellany coupled with the vast amounts of available information, knowledge has begun to take the shape of a tree, with branching connections between data rather than a few simple categories as in the days of the Dewey decimal system (Weinberger, 2008). Alternatively, Weinberger (2012) more recently likened the modern shape of knowledge to a network. This is similar to Manuel Castells’ (2009) conception of the network society, in which communication is made up of a “web of horizontal communication networks that include the multimodal exchange of interactive messages from many to many” (p. 246). He recently applied this concept to social media, exploring the ways these websites are used by activists as a form of counter-power against the traditional authorities like governments and banks (Castells, 2012). Social networking websites have become a ubiquitous form of communication and have spawned a new brand of personal knowledge management.
Personal knowledge management was a key lesson in the Knowledge Management class because it is a skill I unknowingly half-practiced until being taught the correct approach in class. While Dr. Levy encouraged the class sign up for Twitter accounts, I had already been actively using Twitter (@ndallai) for two years. Until recently, however, I used Twitter simply to interact with friends. Upon beginning my Master’s degree, I realized Twitter could be used as an excellent tool to follow scholars and keep up-to-date with research related to my fields of interest. I began following a collection of interesting communication and technology scholars—but I had no idea how to manage my new Twitter feed. I felt overwhelmed attempting to sort through the information that was suddenly being thrown at me, intermingled with my friends’ Tweets about last night’s dinner. I was then introduced to personal knowledge management. Personal knowledge management is not a new concept. It has, however, evolved due to social media, and several of today’s vital steps would not have been possible just a few short years ago:
- Attention management: Defining your research interests and isolating the areas in which you would like to become more competent; keeping in mind your greater goals while deciding which information deserves your focus.
- Connection to valuable sources: Weinberger (2012) discussed the way the internet allows us to connect to experts in unprecedented ways. Many experts may now easily come together to discuss and inform one another, provide feedback and contradiction, and create “a raucous market of ideas, knowledge, and authority” (p. 67)
- Filtering and categorization: This may vary according to which application is being used, but can involve tagging, lists, and groups. One way to sort through the miscellany of information and make things easier to retrieve is to tag information as much as possible.
- Recording for long term memory: While note-taking and storing are still valuable ways of recording information, the internet now affords us the opportunity to upload information to the cloud or use social bookmarking websites such as Scoop.it.
- Synthesis: I used to read dozens of articles per week and immediately forget what they were about. Synthesis involves regularly writing a blog that summarizes and connects relevant articles or books.
- Sharing: This step is the one that I find most difficult. It involves posting the results of your efforts to social media, in order to facilitate discussion with others. This is a good way to connect with your sources, and Weinberger (2012) heavily advocated posting works online in order to generate valuable real-time feedback that could not be achieved by traditional book or article publishing
More personal knowledge management tactics can be found at Dr. Levy’s (2013) Knowledge Management Basics.
The Knowledge Management class was therefore not only useful due to the theories that we learned, but the practical tips we were given to improve our daily experiences online. As someone who hopes to pursue a PhD, these knowledge management skills will be invaluable as I continue seeking new information to synthesize, share, and help build my knowledge network.
Beckett, L. (2013). Big data brokers: They know everything about you and sell it to the highest bidder. Gizmodo. Retrieved March 23, 2013, http://gizmodo.com/5991070/big-data-brokers-they-know-everything-about-you-and-sell-it-to-the-highest-bidder
Castells, M. (2009). Communication power. New York: Oxford University Press
Castells, M. (2012). Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the internet age. Cambridge: Polity
Cha, A. E. (2012). ‘Big data’ from social media, elsewhere redefines trend-watching. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/big-data-from-social-media-elsewhere-online-take-trend-watching-to-new-level/2012/06/06/gJQArWWpJV_print.html.
Filloux, F. (2012). The value is in the reader’s big data. Monday Notes. Retrieved April 7, 2013, from http://www.mondaynote.com/2012/09/17/the-value-is-in-the-readers-big-data/
Levy, P. (2013). Knowledge management basics [PDF slides]. Retrieved from http://www.ieml.org/UOKM/UOKM1.pdf
Lohr, S. (2013). Big data is opening doors, but maybe too many. The New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/technology/big-data-and-a-renewed-debate-over-privacy.html
Weinberger, D. (2008). Everything is miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder. New York City, NY: Holt Paperbacks
Weinberger, D. (2012). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York City, NY: Basic Books