Knowledge…you’ve come a long way, baby!

Do conference sessions have to be serious to be authoritative?

There was a time when the wisdom was that a speaker should start with a joke to relax his (invariably his) audience. Thereafter, relaxation achieved, the remainder of the talk would be deadly serious, saturating the audience with the extent and depth of his knowledge.

There was a time when knowledge came in encyclopedias and was communicated by the pronouncements of authorities. Knowledge was essentially immutable, occasionally updated, a reassuringly solid basis for our worldview.

Or so we believed.

Today we are starting to see that knowledge no longer resides neatly in our books, computers or brains as a discrete collection of clear, unambiguous facts and theories. Knowledge has become a networked multi-brain entity, born in the gestalt of a group not an individual. And, charmingly, as David Weinberger says, it has taken on a quintessential human characteristic.

Knowledge has lightened up.

Here’s David:

“…the only knowledge that is dead serious is in the posts that emulate prior forms. The article in an online scientific journal is likely to be very much like articles in printed scientific journals, but the post on the same topic perhaps by the same scientist on her blog is far more likely to exhibit a light touch.

…the humor of knowledge does something far more important than the trivial quip itself. It announces that the author and the reader have something more in common than their interest in the topic under discussion. It says that knowledge is not enough, that knowing is a human activity, and that humans are embedded in a shared context that is always far wider than that of any particular topic…

…Knowledge is funny on the Web because humor expresses the truth about the world within which knowledge makes sense, and the truth about the inevitable humanity of knowledge itself.”
—David Weinberger, KMWorld Magazine, Why is the Web so funny?

Humorizing knowledge humanizes it, and we should celebrate this truth. Knowledge is no longer something that can be shoved into discrete categories and made subservient to our theories about the world. Rather, it has been liberated, finally able to take its rightful place as an integral component of human culture.

Knowledge…you’ve come a long way, baby!