On Public Knowledge

The point was brought up to me by a good friend a short while ago: once we learn all there is to know about the universe, what will be our purpose in life? What will be the point of existence?

While I disagree with his topical point since part of the essence of humanity is creativity, which knows no bounds, the question does bring to light another essence of our being: our progress as a society is driven largely by knowledge. Ever since we became a collective society, we have constantly been pushed, for various reasons, to seek out new knowledge. The core of these reasons is, of course, to make our own lives easier.

However, our research is not conducted by all of humanity at once, but rather by small communities of people. This presents a problem because while personal knowledge will benefit that person, no benefit will come from research and scholarship until it is made part of society as a whole –– until it is made public. Thus, a key component to scholarship and academics is in fact the impartation of the new knowledge to society as a whole.

A different set of problems is associated with this new revelatory goal. The primary method of disseminating knowledge to the public in our modern society is that of the media. The media is remarkably effective at this task, but it is also unfortunately a commercial outfit keen first and foremost on preserving and increasing profit margins –– hence, rather than hearing about topics that the public needs to discuss, or freshly discovered gaps in our knowledge, we learn all about what the latest celebrity gossip is: the kind of material that dumbs the public and brings in money. One incredibly public scholarship issue that has been victimized by the media is the incredibly important topic of global warming. Even a Google search on the topic reveals people on both sides of the issue screaming of media injustice.

This has interesting implications on the research I am attempting to do, given that the focus of my research is on the media. This scenario does, however, bring to mind another situation I have previously written about: Mike Wesch’s Web 2.0 video. The video is actually an excellent example of exactly the sort of public scholarship we need to hear about the [new] media, as it bypasses the normal and conventional means of information dissemination and public discourse, instead leveraging the very mechanisms it means to critique. This is, then, perhaps a model to follow in the months to come.

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