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It is an undeniable fact that knowledge is powerful … that to know is to be empowered, to be enlightened and that until recently access to knowledge has been limited and controlled. There were certain channels through which knowledge was acquired and it was not directly available to everybody. Knowledge was in the custody of a few: the experts.

    Some say people didn’t need the experts, because they had knowledge in themselves, but … this is knowledge too. You need to know that you know what you need to know. Then you need to know how to access that knowledge. Having gold in the backyard will not make you rich. First you need to know this. Then you need to know how to get to it.

This has led in time to the creation of a concept which would give expression to this paradigm: AUTHORITY. Authority embodies the source and validation of knowledge. To this day there is a residue of this in questions like, “What authority are you relying on?”

Knowledge is like a coin. On one side you have distribution and on the other you have literacy (I exclude oral traditions here). Now it’s important to note that literacy depends on distribution. Literacy is knowledge (we call it education). In order to know to read and write someone has to share this knowledge with you. Because knowledge empowers people, the distribution of knowledge (education) was limited to just a few (the elite), usually the wealthy or those in positions of power. The first step toward breaking this tyranny was the invention of the printing press, of which Gutenberg press was the most influential. It would take another 500 years till the full benefit of this would be materialized through the industrial revolution of the 19th century when “paper and books became financially affordable to all classes of industrialized society”. The second step was the wide spread effort to teach everybody to read and write. So literacy was no longer the privilege of just a few, but of the majority of the population.

Google represents the third step in the process of knowledge distribution, effectively ending the tyranny of the expert. Although until Google, pretty much all knowledge has been captured into books (a great and successful effort), full access to all these books continued to be limited to just a few (usually the scholars), which perpetuated the old aged limited access to knowledge.

With Google we have the beginning of a new era: information age. Google stated mission is: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Although their mission is not complete, the impact of their efforts is already profoundly felt in the super ease of access to knowledge for everyone who’s minimally literate.

Next Monday will explore the implications of this in the demise of the expert.

Till then, I want to hear from you.

How did Google change the expert paradigm?

Is there a role for the expert left in the information age?