John Sharp says that we’re leaving behind a “visual age,” shifting from a culture of aesthetics to a culture of play, interaction, and discursive collaboration.
In his On The Media appearance (and in the book he was there to plug), David Weinberger points toward another, equally important historical shift: we’re moving from a culture of indisputable facts and “stopping points” (the culture of books) to one that “includes difference and disagreement as a part of knowledge itself.”
With the Internet, Weinberger argues, “we finally have a medium that is big enough for knowledge,” allowing us to worry less about the place of things in “the order of the universe” and more about the act of constantly, incrementally contributing to collective human understanding. Knowledge has moved from something fixed and immutable to something that necessarily, constantly, and explicitly contradicts itself, “a huge mass of contradictory connections that you travel along forever.”
This new epoch has its drawbacks: nowadays, “facts are not going to settle the issues we want them to settle. There is no conceivable additional evidence to convince Americans that our president was not born in Kenya, yet a sizable percentage of Americans continue to believe that. Facts are not going to settle our disputes.”
But then, the factual age had its share of epistemological bugaboos, too: because the platypus fit so poorly into contemporary taxonomy, it was entirely possible to look at a platypus right in front of one’s own face and say “This cannot be!”
Do give the piece a listen if the above sounds interesting.