Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Double Down Data to Boost Jackpot

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Double Down Data to Boost Jackpot

Article excerpt

Martin De Saulles sees how new ways to share online can lead to quicker knowledge creation.

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room

By David Weinberger

Basic Books, 256pp, Pounds 17.99

ISBN 9780465021420

Published 19 January 2012

The worry that we are being overwhelmed by information is not new. Five hundred years ago, the spread of printing presses led some thinkers to bemoan the mass reproduction of books and the negative impact it was having on learning. The rapid adoption of personal computers and the embedding of the internet in our work and personal lives have given a new generation of naysayers even more to complain about. The technology consulting firm IDC claims that in 2011 1.8 zettabytes (1.8 trillion gigabytes) of information were created and replicated globally - the equivalent of a pile of DVDs stretching to the Moon and back, and growing at such a rate that by 2020 it will be halfway to Mars.

Of course, a lot of these data are the digital exhaust we leave behind as we snap photos and post updates to Facebook and Twitter, and the 200 billion spam emails sent every day. However, there is also gold to be found among the detritus, and, as David Weinberger shows, the digitisation of information is transforming how we work and learn, with profound effects on global economic and social development. The central hypothesis of his wide-ranging but highly readable book is that knowledge is created differently in the emerging digital age than has been the case in the rapidly receding age of paper.

The sheer volume of information we all have to deal with is one factor driving these changes, but more important, according to Weinberger, are the networks linking those engaged in knowledge creation. He cites Wikipedia and Linux as successful examples of distributed information- sharing as well as more recent initiatives such as Mendeley, the collaborative online reference and research network for academics.

Online networks, formal and informal, are accelerating the speed with which information is shared between researchers, making it harder for any individual or single research group to claim ownership of a scientific discovery. At the same time, the criteria by which academics are judged are being tested by the new channels for communication and knowledge sharing. As Weinberger asks: "In a networked knowledge ecology, how does a tenure committee decide how to weigh four peer-reviewed books against 12,045 tweets and 3,754 blog posts? …

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