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DigiCULT
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Info
56
mation, but is starved for knowledge'.
59
The notion that `information' is somehow
inferior to `knowledge' is not of recent ori-
gin, and modern definitions can be
summed up by saying that knowledge
might be usefully regarded as information
in context. Now there is no reason at all to
suppose that information looked for, and
found, in the world of digital networked
communication is more devoid of context
than information gathered in the world of
the printed page.The opposite is the case.
Web pages offer a variety of links whereas
books stand alone. Information encoun-
tered on the Internet can be more easily
checked than information found in books.
And as to mobile communications, it is a
standard observation that information
sought through cell phones is, characteris-
tically, location-specific and situation-spe-
cific. It seems, then, that mobile
communication, too, tends to engender not
just information, but information in con-
text: that is, knowledge per se.
K
nowledge possessed by individuals
will always represent but a fragment
of what society at large knows; knowledge
is dispersed in society. Also, knowledge is
not independent of the medium in which
it is embodied, preserved and communicat-
ed. Communication technologies, from
cave paintings to the printed page, have
always influenced the very nature of the
knowledge they communicated. In partic-
ular, the rise of rational thinking is not
independent of the spread of alphabetic lit-
eracy, first among the Greeks, and then in
early-modern and modern Europe.
I
n his paper `Visualisation and Cognition'
Bruno Latour points to `writing and
imaging craftmanship'
60
as the ultimate
ground of modern science.Through the
technologies of writing and pictorial rep-
resentation the objects of cognition
become mobile, and at the same time
immutable; they can be collected, present-
ed and combined with one another.
porary opinion-makers, who mistake the
new practical culture of the digital age for
the sickness for which it is a cure. Culture,
learning and theoretical knowledge are
humankind's collective instruments in the
struggle to overcome its vital, practical
problems. It is entirely obvious that digital
networked communication is a vastly bet-
ter-suited medium for dealing with the
global problems facing us today than com-
munication through channels inherited
from the Gutenberg age. But then let us
ask: do we have at our disposal, in those
struggles today, real knowledge or merely
information?
E
choing T. S. Eliot's famous lines from
the early 1930s `Where is the wis-
dom we have lost in knowledge? Where is
the knowledge we have lost in informa-
tion?' John Naisbitt in his popular book
Megatrends (1982) bemoans the phenome-
non that the world is `drowning in infor-
precisely the early-modern encounter
between traditional scholarship on the one
hand, and the crafts and arts on the other.
I
t is essential to realise that the original
task of the nascent humanities disciplines,
too, was a thoroughly practical one.The
emergence and development of the
humanities were initially bound up with
the spread of alphabetic writing, and subse-
quently with the development of printing.
Entirely practical is, also, the emerging
scholarship of the European Middle Ages.
It amounts to no more than the mere
exercise of the (still rare) ability to write.
For centuries the issue is simply the con-
servation of texts by laborious copying; the
learning conveyed by the University of
Paris around the twelfth century culmi-
nates in the skill required for composing
legal documents. After the invention of
printing, the later humanists are taking an
active part in the technical production of
classical editions; it is printing which sub-
sequently leads to new developments in
the domains of grammar and letters, for
instance the need to elaborate unified stan-
dards in orthography, syntax and vocabu-
lary. On the basis of practice there arises
theory which however need not be far
removed from life, as long as the practice
itself is a living one.
C
ertainly by the ninetenth century,
humanities scholarship had largely
lost its touch with the real concerns of
everyday life. Friedrich Nietzsche was the
first philosopher to recognise this state of
affairs. As he put it: `Modern man finally
drags a huge crowd of indigestible rocks of
knowledge around inside him ... our
modern culture is not alive ... it is really
no true culture, but only a way of knowing
about culture.There remain in it thoughts
of culture, feelings of culture, but no cul-
tural imperatives come from it.'
58
It
appears, however, that Nietzsche's diagnosis
is still unpalatable to a great many contem-
58 Friedrich Nietzsche, `On the Use and Abuse of History for Life' (1874), translated by Ian C. Johnston, see
http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/Nietzsche/history.htm.
59 See also Vartan Gregorian's address at http://www.cni.org/docs/tsh/Keynote.html.
60 Bruno Latour, `Visualisation and Cognition:Thinking with Eyes and Hands' in Knowledge and Society: Studies in the
Sociology of Culture Past and Present, vol. 6 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1986), p. 3.
"Asparagus agrestis" from the Psuedo-
Apuleius, a printed version of a ninth century
botanical manuscript, published just after
1480 in Rome. It contains woodcuts that are
careless copies of the manuscript illustrations
and could, of course, not be of any practical
use.
Nyir
i,
2003