Blog Post

The Pool of Knowledge: Swim In It or Sink


We are members of a class at University of Maryland, called Networked Intelligence. This semester we are wrestling with ideas about how networked technologies and our information-rich worlds change the way we learn, live, and collaborate. In response to a wonderful letter that Dr. Davidson sent us, we will post a weekly blog that summarizes the big thoughts from our own peers’ writings and class discussion. Please feel free to connect with us and add to our networked learning.

This week we continued reading Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky. Many of us agreed sharing is good so long as it doesn’t involve cheating, and that it is better to share knowledge than hoard it, since knowledge is the most useful thing humans have (Hae ReeAna). Still, collaboration is no simple task. In order for it to be effective, there first must be a large community, as only people “in the know” can truly contribute. Not only do sharing costs have to be low to maximize pool size, but the knowledge shared must remain clear if it is to be of any use (Traci). Since motivation is both a personal and social thing (VanessaJordan), an additional condition that must be met is culture. While efficient governance can go a long way in terms of information distribution and stimulation (JenniferAndrewSean), studies such as “A Fine Is A Price” show that people tend to dehumanize each other when money is involved (Amy).

As Shirky mentions, Wikipedia is a fascinating example of how a large community has come together to create a comprehensive source of shared information. Thousands of articles are updated every day to reflect even the most minute changes in current events. This user-generated form of media has many benefits over traditional media forms, with a primary one being immediacy. It’s more likely that breaking news will appear on Twitter, Wikipedia, and Reddit before any major news network has had a chance to report on it. Some may even rely on these types of sources for their daily news digest (Matt). As the education community frequently reminds us however, Wikipedia is not perfect. Robert McHenry goes as far as comparing Wikipedia to a public rest room. In addition, Shirky discusses the idea that sharing information in the media has become increasingly social. He explains that media that supports public interaction has become the dominant form and that social media has become a novel way to communicate. Since so many people have joined social media websites, Shirky suggests that other types of news services, such as newspapers and TV broadcasts, might become obsolete (Nicolas).

Shirky then points to the common notion that one’s online identity is separate from one’s actual presence in reality, especially in interacting with another person. This is extremely relevant to today’s social media, as many people tend to converse as if what they project online is not real. In fact, many have become accustomed to hiding hurtful or inappropriate remarks behind their online identities (Alysia). This phenomenon is equally troubling in the field of online information; as mentioned previously, Wikipedia is an excellent example of the free sharing of information, but it is also full of opportunities for the dissemination of misinformation.

The key to information sharing–both professional and amateur–is doing so in a way that can users can both appreciate and see value in (JoelPamelaLenore). After all, the larger the pool of knowledge is, the more there is to draw from, and the more opportunities there are (DelaneyVineet). Because technology is now at a point at which information sharing is easy, fun, and no longer dependent on having high degrees of connection (Danielle), what we do will be largely affected by how we decide to approach said knowledge (CieraSameer). If we choose to collaborate in a way that constitutes cheating, maybe all is for naught (Christopher). On the flip side, if we choose to work in a way that takes advantage of voluntary participation and generational differences (Jewell), maybe society as a whole will benefit. Hopefully collective effort translates to collective gain.


No comments