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David Weinberger Is Arrogant (And Wrong)

February 6, 2012

“Knowledge for my generation was at the center of the human quest. It is going the way of the recording industry. It is a term that won’t survive the generation.” – David Weinberger, from a recent lecture

Take a look at that quote for a minute. Now explain to me: is David Weinberger, a very smart man, really suggesting that the word “knowledge” won’t “survive the generation”? Think about the implications of that.

Now let’s unpack this quote, piece by piece.

“Knowledge for my generation was at the center of the human quest.”

When I read this, I immediately thought: this sounds like the kind of arrogance that I routinely hear from my parent’s generation (the Baby Boomer generation). That is, the generation that once thought it would change the world. Yet when these young idealists themselves became the power brokers, they instead bankrupted America and now, as they enter retirement, ask my generation not only to fix all the problems that they created, but to continue supporting them through Social Security. So forgive me if I’m skeptical of the wisdom of the Baby Boomers. Surprise, surprise: David Weinberger is a Baby Boomer!

The implication of this statement is that “knowledge” is no longer at the center of the human quest. Weinberger presumes that the Internet has made knowledge irrelevant for my generation. I fail to understand how so fundamentally human a desire as the quest for knowledge would suddenly disappear in an era that makes access to that knowledge more accessible than it has ever been in human history. The Establishment is scared by this; people like Sebastian Thrun (a foreigner and not a Baby Boomer) threaten to tear down all of the old educational models. What could possibly scare power brokers more than a society that makes quality, advanced education available to everyone?

Don’t even get me started on “the human quest.” There is something insidiously Western about this. My experiences in Mozambique, and elsewhere in Africa, suggest that at least on that continent, the hunger for knowledge has never been more ravenous.

“[Knowledge] is going the way of the recording industry.”

What is wrong with this comparison? Weinberger compares knowledge (or the quest for knowledge, it’s not entirely clear) with the recording industry. It treats the recording industry like it is some kind of non-human entity. The recording industry failed precisely because it is run by human beings, and the vast majority of human beings are timid, conservative animals that fear change. The dinosaurs that ran the industry failed to evolve along with technology and were rightfully put out of business. How knowledge relates to this is anyone’s guess, unless Weinberger is suggesting that somehow knowledge will also go out of business (which makes little sense, at least to me). This is a trite comparison that intends to alarm its hearers. Don’t be fooled: knowledge (and the quest for knowledge) is doing just fine.

“It is a term that won’t survive the generation.”

Mull this one over for awhile. Let the arrogance of this sink in. Take a deep breath.

My only guess is that Weinberger has a book to sell. At least I hope so.

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