The internet is a manifestation of the great herd. It is not unlike any other big city.
What is popular predominates. Commercial self interest tends to dictate the nature of content. Without some sort of popular demand there is a good chance not one of countless millions of users have put it online.
Information exists on a wide range of subjects, but in dissociated fragments that may or may not be useful. The internet continues as a chaotic rumor mill.
Left to a state of nature, the internet has failed to decisively remove knowledge from its traditional enclaves.
Profession specific knowledge remains largely inaccessible.
Technical information remains indecipherable to all but a few practitioners.
Universities retain their monopoly as the one legitimate dispenser of knowledge.
Certainly, there are entities on the internet that attempt to organize the knowledge of humankind into a coherent whole.
Yet it would prove difficult to learn chemistry from wikipedia. It quickly becomes clear that wikipedia articles on chemistry are all written in a scientific manner largely indecipherable to someone without a substantial scientific background. Rather than serving as a learning resource for the public, chemistry articles on wikipedia instead serve as more of a desk reference for people who are already involved in the field.
I can look up nearly anything chemistry related on wikipedia, but wherever I might go, I am met with the same abstruse presentation typical of textbooks. For all the availability of the information it’s not particularly useful. I’d have to spend months learning the appropriate background information.
Pretty much all obtainable sources on chemistry fall into this same trap whether they’re on the internet or not. Chemistry remains accessible only to a handful of micro-specialists despite the vastness of available information.
After all, micro-specialists don’t want an excess of intruders on the precious patch of turf that provides their bread and butter. They have a vested interest in obscuring the information in their possession. It took them years to obtain the necessary qualifications to practice their discipline. If it ever became too easy for others to learn, it could mean disaster for them.
Each little faction keeps its profitable body of knowledge to itself. Assembling the knowledge of multiple disciplines into a greater whole remains as difficult as it’s ever been in this so-called ‘information age.’
Until there can be a true age of information, we will remain as helpless micro-specialists, doomed to create a pointless rat race of a civilization, a clutter of human jigsaw pieces just lying randomly about.
Until the average citizen has access to real knowledge, society will forever be stuck in the brutal cycles that have prevailed since the dawn of agricultural civilization.
The quality of life in a mass society is only as good as the ability of the average person to see the big picture.
Precisely because each micro-specialist perceives only a tiny segment, they fail to understand how a society might gain as a whole from assembling fields of expertise.
To realize the full potential of the internet as a public repository, a more deliberate approach is required.
Clearly, putting millions of pages of field specific information online or in books brings about very little change.
Information itself means very little.
The same set of statistics can be presented or mis-represented in countless ways.
Raw information is of little worth without coherent representation.
In our current system, obtaining new knowledge is the burden of the seeker.
To displace traditional knowledge enclaves, knowledge creators must reverse this entire ethic and go through a deliberate process of making knowledge as easy as possible to process for as many kinds of people as possible.
This means different learning styles and different levels of expertise.
Of greatest importance, of course is the introductory material for any discipline. Bridges are strategic chokepoints.
People must be able to shift between now isolated disciplines with the greatest possible ease and efficiency. This means the industrialization of knowledge acquisition.
Today, a simple mold can create a drinking cup more elaborate than even the best artisans of old could have created. Such a cup could only have graced the tables of rich people.
Today, only those with the right sort of minds and most favorable upbringings have any chance of accessing the knowledge of our society. Perhaps our master artisans of knowledge crafted through years of struggle might one day find themselves pitted against competitors who were manufactured with far less time and effort.
For a previous system to be replaced, the incentives must be right. The new model must have the potential to outcompete the old, just as factories inevitably outcompeted cottage industry.
Sites such as wikipedia imitate the written encyclopedias of the pre-internet age. Search engines clearly descend from file drawers and microfiches.
What the internet has yet to produce is a methodical means of distributing coherent bodies of information in multiple, highly usable forms.
Because the form information assumes is all-important, it is silly to suppose that information processing ends with increasingly sophisticated systems that merely crunch and catalogue large numbers of files.