[lit-ideas] Re: What, then, is wanting to know?

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2007 14:24:43 +0900

On 2/28/07, Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx> wrote:
Serendipidous call for papers received today.

The Value of Knowledge

Thanks. It's always a kick to receive evidence that one's intuitions,
however blurry, aren't entirely off the wall.

I'd be curious to know your sense of why this issue is being raised at
this historical moment.

I have dim recollections of the Nietzschean turn in the 70s and 80s
being presented as a reaction to the collapse of imperial confidence
in the wake of two world wars, the end of colonialism, Communist
revolutions, and the ensuing Cold War, which led, on the one hand, to
vastly increased funding for science and education and, on the other,
to the cult of official secrecy, both closely tied to the notion that
knowledge is power.

Nowadays we also have, of course, the impact of the Internet and
information explosion,  which has made knowledge (equated with
information) cheap (in both exchange value and quality terms).

I recall an puzzle with which I used to tease my marketing students.
It involves Esther Dyson,  who spoke at computer-industry conferences
at which she forecast the implications of new technologies. Whenever
Esther spoke, people like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Scott McNeally (Sun
Computer), and Larry Ellison (Oracle) would show up and pay thousands
of dollars to hear what Esther had to say. The question is why?

These were the CEOs of major corporations. They suffered no shortage
of information about what was happening in their industry and had
plenty of flunkies to send off to find out anything they didn't know.
Why were they paying as much as they did to listen to Esther Dyson?

I may have stolen the wording of the answer from someone else (here my
memory fails me); but the answer is actually simple.

We live in a world in which information is cheap. Judgment is in very
short supply. And the knack of noticing things that most of us
don't--that's very rare, indeed.

Makes me very glad, anyway, that my wife was educated at Reed.


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324
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