Gadgets, Cool Stuff And The Knowledge Society

From a recent thought-provoking post by Geoff Mulgan (CEO of Nesta):

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.

He ends by suggesting that

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.

He points out that it’s key to distinguish between the differing concepts of data, information, knowledge and wisdom (and I don’t mean in an overly academic sense). In many circumstances these words are used as if they were (practically) interchangeable, which is part of the problem. Anyway, I like the use of the word wisdom in the final sentence!


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