Recently, I read something startling: Knowledge is doubling every 12 months, and this will soon be every 12 hours.
Notes this link:
“Buckminster Fuller created the ‘Knowledge Doubling Curve’; he noticed that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today things are not as simple as different types of knowledge have different rates of growth. For example, nanotechnology knowledge is doubling every two years and clinical knowledge every 18 months. But on average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.”
Elsewhere on the Internet I saw:
Knowledge doubled from 100 B.C. to 1700 (1800 years).
It doubled from 1700-1900 (200 years).
It doubled from 1900-1950 (50 years).
It doubled from 1950-1970 (20 years).
It doubled from 1970-1980 (10 years).
It doubled from 1980-1988 (8 years).
It now doubles every 12 months.
Soon it will double every 12 hours.
Different types of knowledge have different rates of growth:
Online info doubles every six months.
Biological info doubles every 18 months.
Corporate info doubles every 18 months.
Genetic info doubles every 18 months.
Technical knowledge doubles every 18 months.
Clinical knowledge doubles every 18 months.
Whether or not these facts and figures are true (and how they determine what constitutes “doubling” is something I haven’t investigated), the indisputable fact is that human knowledge is advancing at an extraordinary pace. Medical advances alone are staggering, as well as advances in personal electronics, etc.
So why, just last week, did the federal government feel compelled to issue guidelines on how to go grocery shopping?
I’m quite serious. It seems the U.S. Department of Agriculture “tweeted out a link to a webpage that encourages people to think about the food they need for the week, make a list and then shop for that food at a store.” The link includes such folksy advice as writing down the meals you want to make before pulling together a grocery list; four steps people can use to plan what to buy at the store (“Look in your freezer, cabinets and refrigerator. Make a note of what you currently have on hand”); using a worksheet to keep track of everything; think about your schedule when it comes time to plan which meals to cook on which nights (“Base grocery lists on meals you want to make. Lists help you buy only items you need.”). The last suggestion prompted one wit to ask, “Do you think this could work for the gov, make a list and live on a budget?”
So our knowledge continues to “double,” yet we can’t shop for groceries on our own. This is progress?
In this frantic, frenzied quest to double our knowledge, what are we leaving behind? What are we forgetting? What are we dismissing as archaic, no longer necessary, unneeded, or outdated?
We all need to eat. Surely the knowledge of how to walk into a grocery store, select the healthiest and most cost-efficient products, pay for them and walk out is not archaic or outdated knowledge. Yet apparently enough people can’t do it, so our benevolent rulers felt the need to offer assistance.
I’m guessing it’s probably beyond most people to even think about where the food in the grocery store comes from in the first place.
Mankind’s quest from its inception has been to secure enough food to keep from starving. Ever since agriculture was developed, humans have striven to secure their food sources and make them less vulnerable to interruption. This knowledge became specialized and allowed civilization to flourish. Supported by that agricultural base, classes of non-farming people rose up and could specialize in endless other things that allowed cultures to become more and more sophisticated. But no matter how advanced the society, people knew where their food came from. Peel away one layer, and they were back at their agricultural roots.
In our modern world, this is changed. Society has gone so extreme in the other direction that whole generations of humans haven’t the faintest clue where their food comes from.
This is progress?
People can praise “knowledge” to the nth degree, but let’s not forget something critical. Modern society equates “knowledge” with one thing: technology. Technology is associated with one thing: electricity. Take away the electricity, and technology crashes. This new “knowledge” is merely tissue-thin. Remove it, and we tank.
Gone, forgotten, or dismissed is the knowledge (the true knowledge) and skills that allowed mankind to thrive for 5,000-plus years of civilization. How to build a home from raw materials. How to make a fire without matches. How to hunt animals with only the most primitive of tools. How to make those primitive tools. How to raise crops, harvest them and preserve them through the upcoming year. The list of skills we’ve forgotten is endless. And here’s what bugs me: We’ve forgotten 5,000 years’ worth of skills in less than three generations.
Our “knowledge” may be doubling, but our skills are halving. Yank away most peoples’ smartphones, put them in a field of ripe wheat next to a lactating cow, and they would starve to death. We are more helpless and ignorant than we’ve ever been in the history of humankind. This is progress?
If you think nothing earth-shattering could ever interrupt our comfortable lives, think again. If you study history, you’ll see that wrenching change has happened over and over and over. Endless great civilizations have been brought to their knees through endless numbers of disruptions – famines, invasions, natural disasters, diseases. …
Yet we still have the arrogance to think it can’t happen again. As my husband points out, “The greatest conceit of mankind is, ‘It can’t happen to me.'”
Modern “knowledge” and technology make everyone’s lives easier, including mine. If it weren’t for modern medicine, I would be widowed, orphaned and minus one child. My gratitude for these things knows no bounds.
But like most things, “knowledge” is a two-edged sword. Please, think about what you’ve lost as you worship at the feet of “knowledge.”
Media wishing to interview Patrice Lewis, please contact [email protected].