Age of Knowledge

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Knowledge is the full utilization of information and data, together with the potential of people’s skills, competencies, ideas, intuitions, commitments and motivations. To understand that information is not the same as knowledge, these different terms must first be defined. Data is simply the representation of facts, and as such forms the basis for intelligent actions. Information is data in context, the meaning of data. Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of facts, truths or information gained in the form of experience or learning. Finally, knowledge begets wisdom and wisdom only comes about when knowledge is assimilated and internalized, when it changes existing behavior patterns and makes things better. Karl M. Wiig provides us with the following definition of Knowledge: knowledge – the insights, understandings, and practical know-how that we all posses – is the fundamental resource that allows us to function intelligently. Over time, considerable knowledge is also transformed to other manifestations – such as books, technology, practices, and traditions – within organizations of all kinds and society in general. Knowledge is one, if not THE, principal factor that makes personal, organizational, and social intelligent behavior possible.

What makes this current era of society more an ‘Information Age’ rather than a ‘Knowledge Age’ is the immense amount of propositional knowledge available by so many sources, without the ability to teach the procedural knowledge that comes from experience and practice. This propositional knowledge is the driver of our post-industrial society, yet the ‘Age of Knowledge’ is identical to the ‘Age of the human race’, recognition of the power of knowledge is as old as civilization. The difference in the 21st century is the speed, capacity and technology to access the wealth of information.

It can be seen that the ‘Age of Knowledge’ is a misnomer that simply portrays the use of fashionable language, and that it has been in existence for the most part of a millennia. What is different however, is the enormity of acquisition and distribution of information for knowledge purposes, primarily brought about by the development and application of sophisticated communication techniques. It is widely believed that the ‘Information Age’, where large amounts of information were acquired, processed and distributed has given way to the next stage of evolutionary development; the Knowledge Age. This period of advancement is one where it is realized that information itself is worthless unless it is internalized and utilized by a beneficiary, effectively becoming knowledge. However the notion of the sudden emergence of this ‘Age of Knowledge’ seems deceptive, as stated earlier, considering that mankind has acquired and utilized knowledge since Neanderthal periods. Who had the knowledge to create fire? To create the wheel? This ‘knowledge’ is not some newly achieved phenomenon for this era of mass technology; it is something that has been harnessed and used for centuries. As economist Kunda Dixit believes: A new buzzword has entered the development lexicon: “Knowledge Society” – the Information Age is the Age of Knowledge, we are told. There is a danger that the wisdom of the ages is going to be another piece of jargon. And like all the extinct buzzwords that preceded it, “knowledge” will end up in that dusty shelf where all past development cliches are stored.

However, the 21st Century does seem to be expanding its technology and ability to convey information in leaps and bounds. This era is one of a smarter, more informed generation of people. More usable information is being created and learnt – 90% of the scientists who have ever lived and worked do so right now. The incredible growth in computing power combined with telecommunications enables the rapid spread and application of information and ideas. The progression and transformation of these so-called ‘Ages of Information and Knowledge’ from the earlier, labor intensive days of the ‘Industrial Revolution’, which spanned more than one hundred years, has been rapid and exponential, due to the new and improved ways of thinking and the introduction of innovative and improved technology. These innovative ideas and technology have continued to advance rapidly through the last few centuries, setting the stage for the seemingly boundless advancements in methods of conveying information to the masses, and the beginnings of being able to teach knowledge through the progression of technology.

It can be understood that, in the 21st Century, the importance of information is a key factor in ascertaining security, prosperity and quality of life. The emphasis of modern technology – computers, telecommunications, and multimedia – enables the quick exchange of information. With the driving technological force of this era, the computer is a critical component in the majority of workplaces. Basic computer skills are now becoming just as important as basic literary and numeracy skills. Those with the ability to use a computer are exposed to expanses of data, information and programs enabling them to access and utilize that information, and advanced telecommunications that allow the easy transfer of information. More and more people are enjoying the benefits of powerful knowledge tools in what could more accurately be described as the ‘Age of Information Technology’. These amplifiers for our thinking and communicating are becoming tools for our personal development. The number of ways we can now communicate and store information is bewildering and finding the right choice of Hardware and Software to convey and communicate ideas and knowledge is becoming harder. The examples, of resource choices given by Bernie Trilling and Paul Hood, are astonishing:

…printed report, electronic document, magazine article, e-zine article, book, e-book, print ad, TV ad, Web ad, phone call, cell phone call, Internet phone call, voice mail, telemarketing, fax, pager, Web page, e-mail, snail mail, spreadsheet, simulation, database, multimedia presentation, slides, overheads, floppy disk, tape, video, CD, DVD, radio, TV, Web-TV, teleconferencing, virtual reality – workers will be perpetually faced with choosing the right medium for the right message for the right audience.

Multimedia offers a wide bandwidth for information and communication, utilizing many different mediums as stated above. The Internet offers the potential for the largest explosion of information communication. It can make an unprecedented amount of data available to a learner at any given time. With the uses of virtual reality, tours and education included on sites such as those of Libraries, Museums and Universities, one no longer needs to visit the other side of the globe to experience a country, artwork, historical place or vacation spot. During the Industrial Age, the gap between the rich and poor was not as broad as it is in the 21st century. However, without strong social initiatives to make these technological advancements available to everyone, the existing differences between ‘knowledge rich’ and ‘knowledge poor’ will rapidly increase. At present, the speed of growth and the capacity of these technologies and thus knowledge are concentrated in the same countries in which wealth and power are concentrated. How can the 21st century be heralded as an ‘Age of Knowledge’ when only the privileged can gain access to that knowledge? Surely knowledge is the right of all people and not something that can be given or taken away by those in power. Should those with knowledge attempt to spread this intellectual wealth around to those who are ‘knowledge’ disadvantaged? The problem with this approach is how. Fidel Castro made his opinions on the problem clear at a UNESCO conference in July 1999.
If only two per cent of Latin America has the Net, we must invent something else

…If peasants can’t read or write, how can we reach them?
Poorer countries without the resources to spread technology such as the internet are going to be left behind in the wake of the 21st century Technological Revolution. Even if these poorer countries were able to supply computers and the Internet, extensive capital and infrastructure would be required to enable the people to become educated to the, insights, understanding and practical know-how to use such technology. A problem of a similar persuasion is occurring in richer countries. Governments, Educators and students who also lack the necessary skills to use current computer technologies are being left behind both intellectually and in the advancing techno-savvy job market. After all, who wants to hire a person who isn’t computer literate? Theoretically, a student need not go on to further education if they have the skills and ability to utilize the Internet, information that an educator could provide is already available at their fingertips, just a mouse-click away. H. G. Wells voiced such a vision in 1938, of a world where technological advances could be utilized by any student in any part of the world:
An immense and ever-increasing wealth of Knowledge is scattered about the world today; Knowledge that would probably suffice to solve all the mighty difficulties of our age, but it is dispersed and unorganized. We need a sort of mental clearing house for the mind: a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.

The 21st century is such a world, ‘Wired, Webbed and Windowed’.
The contemporary age has often been characterized as an ‘Age of Knowledge’ which has superseded the former ‘Age of Information’. Knowledge is not a new phenomenon, it is often redefined by individuals who interpret it differently or wish to distinguish it from terms such as information, but the basic principle is not something that has been created as a new buzz-word for a new millennium. Data is facts, information is the meaning of data, knowledge is the awareness of these facts through experience, and wisdom comes only when knowledge is used for improvement. With the decline of the ‘Industrial Age’ to the ‘Information Age’, technology flourished and expanded. Science, Engineering and Technology developed powerful tools and methods for exploring and generating new knowledge, learning how our world works, and applying that knowledge to solving problems in our society. The creation of hundreds of programs to present and convey information have helped to expand the reach of the common man to someone on the opposite side of the earth. However this wondrous ‘Knowledge Age’ has not filtered across and prospered in all areas of the globe and nor will it for some time, if ever. The problem of this suspension of information to poorer countries is as worrying as the impending problems of cyber-space technology taking over the role of educators. Thirty years from now big University campuses will be relics, having been traded in for the Internet which is patiently waiting at the end of a button. Not to say that all technology is bad; nearly all advances in technology, computing and education have been advantageous, but can the simply structured wealth of information on the Internet take over from the knowledge that can be bestowed by books, an experienced educator, or from life experiences? Perhaps, rather than aspiring to an ‘Age of Knowledge’, the world might instead aspire to a ‘society of learning’, in which people are continually surrounded by, immersed in, and absorbed in learning experiences.

ENDNOTES

1 Karl M. Wiig, On the Management of Knowledge, Position Statement: Knowledge Management Forum, (New York, February 6, 1996).

2 Kunda Dixit, “Exiled to Cyberia: A Third World View of the Knowledge Society”, D & C Development and Co-Operation Journal, Vol 4. (July/August 2000), p15.

3 Bernie Frilling & Paul Hood, “Learning, Technology and Education Reform in the Knowledge Age”, Educational Technology Magazine. (May/June, 1999).

4 Fidel Castro, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Conference, (Havana, July 1999).

5 H. G. Wells, “The Brain: Organization of the Modern World”, World Brain, (New York, 1938), p49.



BIBLIOGRAPHY



1. Dixit, Kunda. “Exiled to Cyberia: A Third World View of the Knowledge Society”, D & C Development and Co-Operation Journal, Volume 4, July/August 2000.

2. Duderstadt, James J. “The Future of the University in an Age of Knowledge”, JALN, Volume 1, Issue 2, August 1997.

3. NASA, “Every Child a Knowledge Explorer”, NASA Learning Technologies White Paper. Washington, October, 2002.

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5. Theunissen, Christopher. “Managing intelligence in an Age of Knowledge”, African Security Review, Vol 8 No 3, 1999.

6. Trilling, Bernie & Hood, Paul. “Learning, Technology and Education Reform in the Knowledge Age”, Educational Technology Magazine. May/June, 1999.

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