In a recent post on the always-entertaining "Creating Passionate Users" blog, Kathy Sierra used the metaphor of a mosh pit as a method of networking, emphasizing the difference between a mentored, rigidly-structured, linear progression of knowledge and the world of information sharing, of open-source and blogrolls and IMs and the like.
It reminded me of an essay I read several months ago by a philosopher named Philip Slater. The essay is called "Why America is Polarized" and it's got some very interesting concepts. Rather than take the face-value labels and dichotomies of our society, he instead looks at the symptoms of the conflict and draws a larger picture.
To quote: "This is not a conflict between nations, or between religious traditions, or between left and right. The struggle is taking place WITHIN every nation, every political party, every religious tradition, every institution, every individual.
The old system I call Control Culture, because its underlying focus on order led to the creation of rigid mental and physical compartments. The new system I call Connecting Culture, because its guiding impulse is to bring down walls and permeate boundaries - to bring everything - ideas, people, images, cultures, species - into relation with everything else."
I think to a lot of "control culture" types, the idea of the internet, socialized medicine, public education, etc. smacks of the kind of uniformity promoted by totalitarian regimes. I don't believe this is the case; those were all about making everyone equal, everyone the same, fitting triangles and circles and rhomboids into square holes whether they liked it or not, for the good of the faceless State.
This idea of integration does not mean dis-integration of the self. It's more like those old Japanese cartoons where the individuals of a team could change their shape and form a larger, more powerful being--you always saw parts of the individual team members in the whole, but by integrating their skills they were able to do more.
A better example comes from real life. When I first read the post on CPU, I couldn't remember the name of the essay, or the author, or anything. I had a vague memory of posting about it on one of my blogs, but couldn't find it in the limited time I had. It wasn't in my archives, the hard copy wasn't in my file cabinet, my memory was faulty--all very linear, old-school methods for finding things that are missing.
So I posted a quick question on my personal blog: "A while back I posted something about this subject. Anyone remember the essay?" I didn't expect a response--heck, I wasn't even sure I'd posted in the right blog.
However, within half an hour a colleague--not someone I would have expected to read this essay, much less have printed it out for HIS archives--emailed me with the author and title.
If I'd not shared the knowledge with him (and thousands of others) when I learned of the essay, if I'd hoarded it, kept it to myself as a weapon in a dusty arsenal of knowledge...I'd still be looking. Instead, I have the article again, I have an excuse to buy my friend a beer, and probably a chance to talk about other aspects of the article and thereby INCREASE the spectrum of knowledge.
Oh, and this time, I'll file it better, too.