Information Technology and the Question of Knowledge

In this age of information technology, knowledge has become accessible in the pockets of 83% of the world's population. Now people can quickly research the accurate distance and time required to walk from one destination to another. They can search the mechanisms of different technologies, explore the wisdom of ancients, and much more. This, in turn, has made us more dependent on them so that Google and other search engines have become the first line of inquiry. We sometimes even trust them over our own intuitions, and children trust them over their parents.

Before our time, the way knowledge was accessed was different. Those who decided to seek knowledge would have to find a willing teacher and, if lucky, a library.  It was not easy in an age where massive paper printing and pdfs were unavailable. Much of the knowledge was passed down from the older generations, which was gained through an accumulation of experiences. This was all about to change after the development of mass printing then electromechanical technology, such as the telegraph and the telephone, and then electronics, including the devices we now have. This allowed information to travel at high speeds. After commercialization, such technologies became accessible to the masses. This raises the question of what differentiates modern sources of knowledge from the past.

Through observation, it seems that such information technology has created an extra layer from the truth. For instance, if we take on the question of time, I can accurately know the date, hours, minutes and seconds using my phone or a watch. However, in the past, people had to interact with nature, for instance by building obelisks, identifying shadows and sun positioning, and tracking the movements of planets and constellations. Although we have access to more accurate information, we have distanced ourselves from the act of identifying time and our interaction with nature and added an extra layer where it is another agent is that gives us the information. We are further away from the source of the knowledge, yet at the same time, have a more accurate piece of information. What is the implication of such results?

First, it has further made us more dependent on external sources such as experts, as now most of our knowledge and information increasingly comes from such sources rather than direct interaction with nature and experience. As a result, we have more information which is more accurate, but as a consequence, we have to base our knowledge on the trust of authority. To become distant from the source of truth has reduced the role that knowledge plays. Most information learned in the past was put to use and actively played a role in the life of individuals. It was relevant to individuals and became an active part of their outlook. As such, it can become genuinely labelled as knowledge. However, information gained from media and Google searches due to their ease has become to play a lower role, maybe that’s why research has found that data from search engines was quickly forgotten. Discussing how we have become desensitized from information is a whole line of inquiry that we won't get into.  

The development of information technology has been unprecedented. It seems not many know how this will affect our species, although it plays a significant role in shaping us and our minds. What is the impact of having less interaction with nature and increasing our trust in other agents for information? Will this be another tool used by state powers for censoring and guiding information, or will it play a role in developing societies? Only time will tell.