The idea of shared knowledge can be traced back to the oral tradition. The oral tradition sought to share knowledge by teaching through stories, histories, songs, and other orations. Sometimes this information was tangible – how to build things, medicinal knowledge, food provision, etc. – other times, however, the organic knowledge and information passed along was less structured and centered on life, existence or beliefs. This kind of knowledge sharing is inherently human. It is subjective, at times flawed and most importantly, proprietary.
Today, there are several theories on the value of knowledge. Some call it the “new capital,” some view it as a means to an entirely new attitude on collective existence and some consider knowledge to be a byproduct of big data collection in the age of connectivity and the Internet of Things. Whatever the attitude, information has never been more available than it is right now.
As an example, consider washing machine repair. Perhaps, in the past, that kind of knowledge was something learned and attained through a DIY attitude from a parent to a child. But today, when you open up your phone or computer, you suddenly have access to a multitude of information specifically about washing machine repair. You can find static, structured information like downloadable repair manuals, forums provided by the manufacturer and, should you need it, contact information for a washing machine repair professional, ranked neatly in order of cost, reputation, proximity or just about any other determining factor.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can find information shared from average people. Maybe someone found a simple Q&A forum and submitted the question: “My washing machine won’t drain. What is wrong with it?” That’s a broad question, and the solution could lie in any number of answers. But rather than needing to sift through a manual or wait for a professional to respond, the information-seeker can solicit feedback from anyone who may have encountered a similar problem.
There will be suggestions for parts to check, troubleshooting methods, videos and advice from similar DIY-minded individuals. You will even encounter responses that reflect life philosophies, like, “Buy a new one,” “Call a professional” or “Someone should have taught you that already.” Is the knowledge being shared impeccable? Most likely, it is not. But what this has done has allowed the sharing of information to take on an organic, communal flow. No one is profiting off this information. No one is expecting the information shared to be anything other than an attempt to help someone solve a problem. The value of this information and knowledge lies simply in its humanity, the potentially flawed, proprietary humanity.
That there are avenues through which anyone can ask a question and receive a potential answer from anywhere in the world demonstrates that knowledge sharing has taken on renewed importance. We value the act of sharing knowledge enough to ensure that anyone can have a microphone to ask a question and expect an answer from someone who shares that value in contributing his or her knowledge. It is human nature to want, or even need, to share knowledge: parents to children, teachers to students, coaches to athletes, peer to peer. The value of shared knowledge goes beyond the actual knowledge itself. It is the instinct, the act, of the actual sharing that speaks volumes toward its intrinsic value.