Knowledge federation might be the most straightforward idea that’s ever been academically proposed. Knowledge and information being human creations and the very lifeblood of our society, we are proposing to handle them as we handle our other creations—to suit them to the core purposes that must be served.
This metaphorical image, called Modernity ideogram, motivates our proposal. By depicting our civilization as a bus, and our handling of information as its candle headlights, this ideogram points to our civilization’s essential piece that we’ve forgotten to modernize. There is of course a touch of irony in the fact that, in the “Age of Information”, it’s information that’s been left behind.
It is the relationship we have with information that has to change. Instead of reifying for instance “journalism” as “what the journalists are doing”, and letting it remain a tradition that perpetuates the past, we must consider it an essential part of our society as system; and adapt it to the functions that must be served. Instead of consuming information solely based on tastes, we must tailor its use to the effects it has and needs to have—on ourselves and on society; as we now tailor the use of prescription drugs.
I am using this strong word “must”, because as the Modernity ideogram suggests, in the post-traditional and technologically advanced society the relationship we have with information decides whether everything else will be used beneficially and safely. Or not.
The knowledge federation logo points to the key difference knowledge federation can make; and to the reason why we gave it that name. Traditionally, a “piece of information” is a description of something. It’s as if we sent out knowledge workers—scientists and journalists—to scout for us the details of what is, and make reports. As the volume of such information, and our world’s complexity, grew beyond bounds—both became impenetrable.
Knowledge federation means ‘connecting the dots’. Political federation combines smaller geopolitical units to give them visibility and impact. Knowledge federation does that to information. To federate knowledge means to combine and put to use disparate pieces, which are now separated by cultural traditions, academic disciplines and domains of interests—and create insights that illuminate the most basic questions of our lives and times. How should we pursue happiness? What will it take to really take care of global issues? What should our information be like to help us comprehend and handle the complex world?
A signature result of knowledge federation combines the basic insights from a multitude of disciplines and traditions—and topples down a popular myth.
And then there’s the exciting part—knowledge federation as a serendipitous discovery; as an academic black swan event. What I’ve said so far was common sense. What I’m about to say is circumstantial.
It has turned out that ‘connecting the dots’ and federating insights leads to overturns of conventional wisdom in pivotal domains of interest (innovation, communication, education, religion, values…). Furthermore, those domain-specific paradigm shifts add up to a coherent and profoundly different cultural paradigm. This is why we introduced knowledge federation by talking about Galilei in house arrest: Now again we own academic insights that are ready to ignite comprehensive change—as soon as we release them from the ‘house arrest’ of their native disciplines.
There’s been ‘an elephant in the room’, but we failed to see it. We heard our visionary thinkers talk about things like ‘the fan’ and ‘the hose’, often in Greek or Latin; they didn’t make sense and we ignored them. How differently our knowledge fares when we comprehend that it was ‘the ear’ and ‘the trunk’ of ‘a huge exotic animal’ they were describing—which nobody has as yet seen!
As knowledge federation‘s proof-of-concept application, holotopia is a vision of a realizable future, and an actionable strategy. Through it, knowledge federation empowers us to see and create a world worth living in.
Isn’t this exactly the kind of difference that a functioning pair of headlights would make?