"Where is wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?." -T. S. Eliot
Sometimes I read a quote which fits so nicely in with my train of thought, that it compels me to write a little ditty trying to explain myself.
The quote above was pushed to me by <a href="http://twitter.com/mrinaldesai">Mrinal Desai</a> just after I'd seen <a href="http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/04/the-collapse-of-complex-business-models/">this article</a> pushed from Clay Shirky.
In his article, Clay talks about the collapse of complex Business Models, and compares it to the collapse of the great Empires. They collapsed when they got too big and too complex and could no longer sustain themselves under the complexity. He cites Joseph Tainter, who suggested that the reason that large civilizations collapsed is because they were unable to reduce the complexity of the system, and were incapable of downsizing and increasing efficiency. The whole system was a huge centralised interlocking puzzle, and as soon as one bit failed, the whole thing started to collapse.
In the past, there was need for centralised control, physical systems evolve in a sequential manner and most things were process based. However, with the evolution of the internet, though the internet itself is not truly decentralised - many things running atop it are. In order to combat complexity, open APIs are published, developers are encouraged to adhere to agreed standards and programs interact at the level of functionality required. Though much of this appears to be preconceived, most efforts lie in taking what has already been implemented separately, and identifying the paradigms and core features with which to build the specification.
Though this approach is succeeding and bearing fruits in the technical phase, it appears to be ignored when it comes to the political phase of development, that is business decision level, rather than application functionality. Unfortunately, there is an hesitancy to leave old markets in the need to enter new ones. Leaving a lucrative, tried, yet shrinking market, in order to enter a competitive, innovative, smaller market is not a business decision that any CEO is going to want to attempt to justify to their shareholders. No one would have backed Mark Zuckerberg before it was clear his project was going to be a success - but without the drive to unify people's online communication mechanism (and the associated marketing and audience growth), the convenience of social networks would have been lost to a large portion of the users that joined by word of mouth.
The problem with the advance in technology at the moment is that the pace of change is too fast for the average user to understand, unless they spend time investigating what can be done. The problem often isn't that it can't be done, but it's just not been done yet, as there are now thousands, if not millions, of similar functions to implement.
This is where Wisdom, Knowledge, Information and Data fit in.
Data - the raw data, which is pretty much useless without interpretation
Information - the interpreted data which gives people the ability to understand.
Knowledge - implicit understanding of a set of information
Wisdom - the ability to show discernment in the application and sharing of knowledge.
Unfortunately, we've created so much data, and thus information, that too much time has been spent on knowledge generation without involving Wisdom in decision making.
The core question is this - If we are capable to do something, does it need to be done - or is it best left un-done?
As we push back the barriers of what is possible with technology, someone needs to show some wisdom in both freeing and limiting what can be done. The biggest risk with the digital world, is that it is fairly simple to put limits on what people do, monitor what people do, and censor what information people can collect. This needs to be balanced against the new efficiencies which censors and other organisations are facing in terms of piracy and license abuse.
It's not simply a case of trying to limit the digital economy to congruency with the real economy, but that the digital economy and the real economy are infact one economy, and that it is the responsibility of people operating in the old economical framework to adapt to the new framework, rather than trying to curb the dynamism of the new.
I finished this late, and it's poor.. but I hope it's been interesting for someone.