On Sharing Knowledge

We’re filled with many amazing abilities which we consider mundane because we’re so used to them. Some of them are mentioned and described here.

Sharing knowledge is one such an ability – if only a few people were capable of doing it, the group would be inconceivably more powerful than the rest of humanity combined. In a matter of perhaps months, they’d accumulate experience beyond what anyone else could and be able to apply it accordingly, earning the capacity to outdo the rest of existence.

Now, that scenario is perhaps too extreme – and too far removed from our daily lives. But even a slight difference in the capacity to share knowledge can compound heavily in time; this is directly observable by seeing the difference between teams where people are jealous of their knowledge and position and teams where members are more carefree about their information and techniques. It is also observable in the difference between someone dabbling blindly (or just observing people) in a particular discipline or area of knowledge and someone with one or more mentors.

Transfering knowledge through text, sound or performance, and particularly with the more deliberate variants (dissertations, presentations, essays, tutoring, mentoring, demonstration) pushes the learner’s progress in ways that can be non-linear, helping people develop previously unsuspected insights.

The achievement of this insights is so pervasive among hackers – which are a knowledge work oriented population if there is one – that there are terms for different textures of insights: “zenning” and “grokking“. There are people who consistently help achieve insights, and those achieve folk-hero status among hackers. Brian Kernighan and Donald Knuth are two superlative examples of this breed.

We should, then, as a society, embrace, support and boost efforts aimed to sharing knowledge. We do try, really… the school system is facilitating mass, intergenerational knowledge transfer with some success.

There’s been a wave of internet users turned teachers, mentors and sharers that gives me hope. Systematic efforts like Open Source Ecology and Khan Academy fill me with hope. The sometimes pell mell efforts by individuals sharing info on subjects as diverse as personal appearance and cooking make me ecstatic.

Yes, books are there, and other media. But this is a new kind of effort, which takes the power of the internet and the services currently running on it (such as search and hosting) to reach an amazing number of people who can remix, enrich and reshare knowledge with thousands of points of view from all walks of life. The potential for amazing results are huge, as the knowledge being shared grows exponentially.

There is potential for things to go wrong, which I will write about in the future. Usually, you should avoid sharing dangerous information. How to build explosives, or break into computer systems, or do harmful stuff.

For all other things, please, do share. Teach, learn. Due to the accumulation of the effects, our future can be exponentially better – or worse – depending on this.

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