Still waiting for the Knowledge Society
My view of the Knowledge Society is the same as Gandhi's view of western civilisation: that it would be a good idea.
We've now had fifty years of discussion about the arrival of a knowledge society and a knowledge economy. Much of this discussion is couched in quantitative terms, with successive measures of the proportion of jobs or GDP that's devoted to knowledge. But what would a true knowledge economy look like?
Presumably it would be one constantly enriched by knowledge in all its forms, in which workers, consumers, and citizens had a deep knowledge of the world they're in and its opportunities and challenges.
A moment's reflection shows how far we are from it. We have highly sophisticated systems for producing and circulating information of all kinds. But little of it counts as knowledge. Much of it is data about our behaviour that is bought and sold without our knowledge. A lot of it is simply inaccurate - lies and half-truths - and the dominant search engines distinguish by popularity not accuracy. Commercial messaging dominates - often with almost zero information content - and a high proportion of the messages we're bombarded with have no relevance to us.
Clutter prevails over insight. Opinions circulate at phenomenal speed - the more opinionated the better. Public intellectuals feel compelled to dumb down, or to deliberately distort in order to sell books. Recent elections confirm the point. In the US Presidential election was there a higher premium for truths relative to non-truths than in the past? Is advertising more accurate? Do people have a more accurate understanding of their world? The internet could be an extraordinary tool for knowledge - and already has been. But those in charge don't show much signs of ethical sense; much sign of acting like guardians; or much sign of understanding what a knowledge based society would look and feel like.
We need a new generation of leaders who aren't just interested in the gadgets and cool stuff - but also have the wisdom to understand what it means.