Archives for posts with tag: knowledge

Recently picked up The Varieties of Scientific Experience by the one and only Carl Sagan.

Carl attempts to make sense of current theology in the context of modern scientific knowledge, posing, above all, that humility and compassion should govern the human experience. Given our relatively recent ability to cause our own annihilation with nuclear weapons, this may be the only way humankind can survive. Further, he points to reasonable understandings of God and life given the context of the universe’s and earth’s history.

But I couldn’t help but feel that his arguments, though poignant, respectable, and logical, lack the fervor and heat required for humanity to move away from the disastrous possibilities we have created. Namely, he gives no alternative to the logistics of how we live and run our society other than better knowledge, understanding, and more perfect distributions of information.

Everyone should be wary of a dependence on a trajectory toward perfect knowledge, for with it comes power, which makes it political and costly (in more ways than monetary).

So, I propose Saganomics, a re-framing of economic theory (which by-and-large is a bastardization of more complex, dynamic, and chaotic systems we could not possibly comprehend completely). What could happen if we re-form the fundamentals of economics with a new assumption of humility and awe in the face of scale and history over rational self-interest. Not to discount self-interest as a motivation (of course it exists and would be silly to ignore it), but to credit the phenomenon of human life and its necessity to persist through our compassion.

Consider the cooperative (shared ownership) business model, which recently was pointed out to me to have a unique characteristic. Cooperatives tend to grow only as much as they are needed, largely by demand, and by the roles they fulfill in a community. Cooperatives do not grow for the sake of growth. That is the kind of economic structure that is consistent with a Saganomic principle of humility and that successfully transcends naive assumptions about rational self-interest.

United States Archivist David Ferriero opened the Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit today at Simmons College in Boston, MA. Ferriero discusses Openness, the archive’s new Wikipedian in Residence (go Dominic!), and the new plans and relationships budding for the National Archives.

Wikipedia and the Archive mutually benefit one another in a profound way. The Archive has infrastructure and a wealth of primary sources, Wikipedia is popular and can promote (remix?) the Archive’s collections in a way that connects a huge population to the vast resources that, currently, no one realistically browses.

However, the idea that Wikipedia’s popularity is what implies the benefit of its relationship to the Archive concerns me. I have been playing with a new thought experiment lately. What if tomorrow Wikipedia dropped to the 500th most popular website or lower? Would it not still be a wealth of material? But would it get the high-profile type of support from an agency or group like the National Archive?

Speaking directly on the issue, Ferriero points to general skepticism of Wikipedia as the root to why this collaboration had yet to form until now. This is critical for the Wikipedia Ambassadors to note. The opportunity to clarify the legitimate use and import of Wikipedia is here for you.

Ferriero cites “birth order” as reason to be open and to share. He is the third son. (Hand-me-downs? Borrowing? A family commons?)

Knowledge is locked in the ivory tower. Access to knowledge is restricted and the lines feel more and more arbitrary.

Today I tried to borrow a book from the UC Berkeley Library. I was sent to the “privileges” desk upstairs, where one man, sitting in front of a computer, helps patrons manage their privilege.

The long and short of our conversation is if I want to borrow a book, I need to pay a $100 membership fee. Otherwise, I could join the Cal Alumni Association for which the cost is $500 total, or $30 for the year with steps toward the full cost. The $30 plan isn’t bad, but it’s a lot of work and fact-checking just to get through it (am I going to have to pay the rest? will I get a bunch of spam asking for money?), which is at the very least another barrier.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I cannot get privileges to access electronic resources. At all. Ever. (Unless I pay tuition again.) This means no ability to read research or articles from any academic journals that are licensed by the University (they pay fees to middle-persons who turn a profit on keeping knowledge scarce). I hit my head against the research pay-wall this spring trying to write a paper for the International Journal of Communication’s open call on Piracy Cultures. Luckily my co-author had access and we went through him for important papers, though my ability to research in great depth was severely restricted.

On the other hand, say I’m just an average person, not a former or current UCB Student. The cost for me to check out UCB library books is a flat $100 a year. That’s a pretty penny for access to a few books–many of which will sit on the shelves for months and years at a time. Plus, there’s no way in hell I’m going to get access to scholarly research at any reasonable scale.

Complaining about this today, a friend pointed out a little hack I’d like to share. It’s not complete, but it’s a back door to sneak into the Ivory Basement for now. (Note: I just wrote “ivory basement” off-the-cuff, but now I’ve added it to the title because I liked the ring of it so much!)

The Berkeley Public Library runs two awesome services for getting books from other libraries: Link+ and Interlibrary Loan. The latter has a base fee of $2 per book and additional fees depending on the institution lending the book. Link+ is a special service that allows you to access books (at a pretty reasonable waiting interval of 2-4 days) from various academic institutions and libraries in California and Nevada… you guessed it, for free!

But, not UC Berkeley’s books. Those are still locked up, though theirs is the absolute closest research library to Berkeley Public.

Also, don’t expect access to electronic resources, especially if you’re a regular, everyday person.

FYI, this is the book I want, including a list of the Link+ libraries that have it… all 15.