It would appear that in the contemporary world, it is hardly necessarily for the individual to 'know' anything. Far more important is the ability to cull knowledge from readily available repositories of knowledge: google, wikipedia, etc.

On the other hand, the wealth of knowledge now available to anyone makes the ability to analyze and validate that 'prefabricated' knowledge far more important: With so many sources available, only accurate analysis can make this store of knowledge useful.

In the past, individuals who knew information or even just simple factoids, were very important - along with libraries of books, perhaps the most important repositories of human knowledge. Today the analyst seems to have taken the foremost position.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the way humans deal with, process, and value knowledge and information? Are we looking at something similar to what Marshall McLuhan described when the printing press was invented? Something that will give rise to a new framework for viewing and dealing with the world we experience?

1 Answer 1


Fundamentally, no; but it is a moment of change.

Humans have always had to deal with information: their social environment - gossip, rumour etc; and formal knowledge - schooling and so on.

One learns who and what to trust. It is institutions that verify & validate this. Newspapers, journals & universities.

The internet obviously multiplies this hugely - by making information readily and globally available. A large proportion of the information on the net is not new but simply transferred from print media. Google though very powerful is simply an indexing service.

But similar institutions have & will arise. For example, the SEP. Online newspapers.

One can argue we have moved from oral, to print, to online. But that misses the subtle point that older forms are not superseded but added to. Online may be new but it still uses writing. And writing of course uses the same language as the oral mode does.

Marshall McLuhan said - the media is the message. He is simply emphasising that a new means of communication brings change which is tied to its form as a form of communication. But I would argue against it being a fundamental change. Instead its a new harmonic added onto the fundamental tone to use a musical analogy.

  • Your reference to McLuhan is most apropos - kudos. I know his ideas only cursorily. I believe that perhaps he would disagree with your conclusion: Granted, we are still using the 'old knowledge' and the written word, but the manner of presentation and the immediately availability of knowledge make today's IT a new media entirely. Therefore we have a new message and a shift in human culture and outlook as fundamental as the printing press.
    – Vector
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 4:16
  • Not long ago I went to brick and mortar museum - the American Museum of Natural History. Viewing physical artifacts is certainly interesting, but I felt there was something sorely missing: the ability to clink on a link that would give that mummified artifact a life, a history, a context... (This does not apply to an art museum)
    – Vector
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 4:24
  • I incorporated your reference to McLuhan into the question.
    – Vector
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 9:30
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    Perhaps. Picasso walked into an museum which had a display of African Masks which completely changed how he viewed art, and there was no instruction or context there for him to click on. What he brought along was his own intuition and understanding. Susan Sontag wrote an interesting essay against interpretation. I'm sure McLuhan will disagree with me thats why I said 'argue against'. I tend to see both continuities and discontinuities together. Commented May 15, 2013 at 9:50

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