Knowledge in the “me” generation

Knowledge, as I’ve been taught to understand it in an academic sense, is an accumulated understanding of the world through literature, sciences, and the arts. My mom always insisted on keeping shelves and shelves of classics such as Melville, Dickens, Steinbeck and the like peppered throughout the house. But in the age of mass media, instantaneous communication, and the global “sharing” of information, I think the concept of knowledge has become much more earthen—not pulpy, just more in touch with those who don’t have the bookshelves.

Manoff writes, “The methods for transmitting information shape the nature of the knowledge that can be produced.” Tweets, texts, pictures from IPhones (colloquially and annoying referred to as “muploads” or, even better, “muppies”) all help develop a new discourse of knowledge in which the consumer of information has equal opportunity to produce it.

And in that vane of low culture, or knowledge of the masses, Halbertsam poses the question, “What are these mass-cultural texts that actually do appeal, do circulate, and do have sort of complex forms, and do contain different kinds of messages?” These texts, as Manoff notes, come from a landscape of interdisciplinary fields that are, more or less, the same as they’ve always been: the arts, entertainment, sport, lifestyle, etc. But the discursive modes (“methods of transmitting”) in which we propagate knowledge of these sorts of timeless arenas are constantly evolving.

However, Manoff argues, “Questions about what belongs in the archive reflect disputes over the nature of the disciplines—what counts as sociology or history or psychology.” But because the archive, and all the knowledge contained within it, is so wildly accessible and malleable, the nature of disciplines is the same as it’s always been: fields of study subject to the ebb and flux of the producers and consumers (often one in the same) of knowledge.

Halbertsam goes as far to say that being detached from knowledge can be empowering in and of itself, as “you can dominate by not knowing as easily as you can dominate from the position of knowledge.” I disagree because, for me, engaging those who are ignorant to the subject at hand (or out of the realm of knowledge) seems a bit like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how much you have them outmatched, they’ll knock over all the pieces and strut around as if they’ve won.

So for me, and to a large part Manoff, knowledge and the circulation of it have a sort of political power, a leveraging force. And although he might find the sort of information bouncing throughout social media to be decidedly immaterial, I think it all can be archived and categorized in many different disciplines.

Is the information we all so feverishly share of any material importance? Is there something to be learned from that information, or is the social media explosion simply indicative of the zeitgeist of our “me” generation? Is the “smarter” or more knowledgeable person she who doesn’t even have a Facebook or Twitter?

-BM

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