My father, prior to retirement, was a research scientist, professor, academic – he exemplified what most people think of when they use the term ‘an expert in his field’. My dad was very wary of the term expert. When I was quite young he taught me to be sceptical of people who claimed that they were experts. “True experts never proclaim themselves as such” he would say, “The sign of a genuine expert is someone who knows enough about their field to have some inkling of how little they really understand it.”
I see a parallel between my dad’s view of experts and the concept of networks – the Internet in particular. It is a similarity that can sometime leave me feeling a little bit breathless. (Tanya Lau, a member of my PLN, captured the feeling perfectly in her blog when she described it as, “I’m following lots of interesting links and leads, it’s riveting, like obsessively reading a good novel and wanting to keep going without stopping to find out how it ends”).
The more time I spend on the Internet the more aware I am of how ignorant I am. My sense of what I don’t know is expanding daily! Networks provide ways of accessing information and knowing but simultaneously the Internet is so full of fascinating information that I am continually stumbling upon and dreaming up new questions. Google is an excellent answer generator but the more I connect with my PLN and read their thoughts and questions, the more questions I have.
Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick (what a great job title – I think I now have a new ambition – to be a Senior Maverick) at Wired magazine has noticed this phenomena as well. His pithy capture of the concept is ~
Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.
I think the way I am experiencing the Internet is in fact characteristic of the Internet. It is indicative of how the Internet is causing an epistemological shift. We are moving more and more towards discovering HOW we know what we know through asking questions and consciously expanding our awareness of our own ignorance. Generally we are responding in one of two ways; either we become overwhelmed or we recognize the necessity for collaboration – of capitalizing on the positive aspects of networks (and I would say that often both a sense of being overwhelmed and an urgency for collaboration are at play – like waves of convergent and divergent thinking).
Howard Rheingold introduced me to the thinking of Robert Logan who maintains that the Internet constitutes the 6th human meta-language in man’s evolution of communication. Logan’s theory states that the first 5 languages in oder of appearance are:
- spoken language
- written communication
- scientific method
- computer/word processors
Logan contends that the 6th language, the Internet has five characteristic features that distinguish it from the other languages.
- two-way communication [I claim that multi-way communication is more accurate]
- ease of access of information
- continuous learning
- alignment and integration
The multi-directional nature of accessing information via the Internet leads to the corollary that accessing Internet information is very different from accessing print information. The language of the Internet is not bound by linear sequencing, either when it is being composed or when it is being consumed. Hyperlinks disrupt top to bottom, left to right, first this then that orientation. The implication and ramifications of all this are challenging, still unfolding, paradigm shifting and will have a major impact on education, business and pretty much all aspects of society.
Considering the Internet as a way of thinking, as a meta-language has really broadened and clarified a great deal of my thinking about networks and communication.
I will be expanding and writing more about the language of the Internet in future posts.