"All media are extensions of some human faculty -- psychic or physical. The wheel is an extension of the foot; the book is an extension of the eye; clothing, an extension of the skin; electric circuitry, an extension of the central nervous system. Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act -- the way we perceive the world."
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage (sic), (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), p. 26.
What Can We Know?
Before going into how we manage knowledge, maybe we ought to take a look at ourselves. What makes us tick? You know, get out a species microscope and watch us strutting around, sleeping, eating, drinking, filing things and procreating. Well, sure. No subject too large. What are we? Why do we have so much trouble getting along? As genomic research increasingly reveals, we are separated from our fellow creatures by less than we once imagined, or might have wished for. Once we thought we were different from all those other creatures. There was a time not long ago when we imagined ourselves to be a maker and user of tools, and uniquely so. We thought this defined us. We were THE CREATOR of tools. This idea of ourselves, this notion of Man-the-Tool-User lasted for nearly a century, right up to the moment some one noticed a chimp breaking off a branch to retrieve ants from an ant-hill. Not that man isn't a tool-user and tool-maker of the first order. Think about some of our tools: clay tablets, printing presses, TVs, computers, hard drives, and atomic bombs of one kind or another. The list is staggering, but perhaps our tools are only by-products of something more central to who we are.
Maybe we're information makers and users, rather than tool makers and users We are curious animals. It is curiosity and our own ingenuity that has brought us to this place, after all. Does more curiosity always lead to more information-seeking? If a flower or plant is photo-tropic, does that make us info-tropic? Why else do we pursue the information around us? Samuel Johnson wrote: "Curiosity is the thirst of the soul..."
"The gratification of curiosity rather frees us from uneasiness than confers pleasure; we are more pained by ignorance than delighted by instruction. Curiosity is the thirst of the soul; it inflames and torments us, and makes us taste every thing with joy..."
Rambler, March 12, 1751
Technology, the collective tool kit we've assembled for our semi-skilled use, has led us into elaborate information-seeking over the years. Like the creation of an IT department for example. It's got everything, from INFORMATION to TECHNOLOGY, the best of both worlds, though maybe, as Peter Drucker suggests, we could do with a little more "I" and a little less "T" in our knowledge mix.
How has our info-tropic nature led us into such a quagmire of knowledge-fragmentation?...