Sunday, April 3, 2011

Distributive Publishing, Communities and Knowledge

The different and evolving mediums of communication throughout the span of human civilization contributes to the development of specific forms of knowledge gathering and dissemination. The isolated communities of the hunter gatherers that communicated to co-create knowledge and innovate to survive has evolved through different communication mediums and technology into a much ‘smaller’   connected, networked world of global communities of practice.
These networks and communities of practice communicate to co-create new knowledge and innovation in all aspects of humanity; as examples – business , healthcare, entertainment , socialization, emergency response, and education.“ It appears that the very cognitive structure of the individual human being and the formal patterns of human social relations are intimately linked to the forms or systems of communication that are predominant in certain eras” (Rowland, 2007, p. xii).
Each of the media used by people creates its’ own space necessary to share and communicate knowledge to others. The well known the ‘media is the message ‘ by Marshall McLuhan
could be changed to the ‘media is part of the message;’ and the message still needs to be received, assimilated in context and put into action demonstrating knowledge.

Knowledge can exist in two forms; explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is generally defined as external well defined written knowledge. This is knowledge that can be spoken, written and is objective information. Tacit knowledge is personal, usually appears in interpersonal interaction and is contextual and difficult to communicate (Luoma & Okkonen, 2009).  It is the sharing of tacit knowledge through proximity and social networks and communities of practice that Web 2.0 and social media is contributing to. Etienne Wenger is an acknowledged scholarly expert on Communities of Practice (COP)  and on his website  describes  Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope” (Wenger E. , 2006).  COP have been an integral component of human learning and knowledge generation and sharing from the very beginning of humanity. The knowledge generated and how it is disseminated and demonstrated through human behavior has changed through how the media can be used through space (proximal and distance) to connect individuals and groups of people.

Media and Ways of Knowing in Early Civilization
“An oral culture without writing, print or electronic media, seems to be biased toward a particular pattern of sensory and expository capacity that encourages ways of seeing, hearing and indeed knowing that are remarkably different when other forms of communication are more prominent” (Rowland, 2007, p. xii).

Mankind began to communicate with each other by imitating images they saw with drawings on cave walls and scratching in the sand. Oral cultures require people to be in close proximity to each other for learning and dissemination of knowledge through story telling and narratives. Proximity required people to be in close physical space with each other and participate in groups/tribes to survive and disseminate knowledge and create innovation together.The physical pace of life would be slow, the opportunity to share and co-create with people and cultures not in their own tribe few and far between due to the distance of physical geography, lack of transportation and lack of numbers of people.  Stories, memorization and music were a way to bridge space and time and pass culture and knowledge through generations. Shirky  (2008) defines a community of practice as “ a group of people who converse about some shared task in order to get better at it” (pg 100). It requires the conversation between a group of people to create and share knowledge. Conversational knowledge creation is suitable for environments where  “the knowledge is not centralized, but resides with multiple owners who may be located far apart” (Wagner, 2004, p. 266). While Wagner is referring to knowledge management in today’s world of globalization and social media it is relevant to a time period on history of a culturally diverse, geographically isolated oral and auditory civilization.

Text and permanent recording of Knowledge
The use of text was originally used as a form of accounting or counting for business. Innovation and creativity are typically driven by survival but also by markets and business as organizations of varying strengths and sizes.  Knowledge develops and is created by communities of internal networks and structures through relationships, trust and social capital (Prusak, 2001) The well known ‘ a man is as good as his word” his reputation and ability to be trusted while still relevant, was critical in pre oral and oral and early literate cultures.  The creation of new knowledge is through the combination and exchange of tacit and explicit knowledge at the intellectual and social level of individuals and organizations (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). “ Most of the world’s early civilizations came into being using writing as their dominant medium of communication” (Crowley & Heyer, 2007, p. 4). Writing and literacy provided a new method of transmitting knowledge across space and time. Writing could be a method of transmitting information or instructions from an individual or through letter writing between individuals. Writing and literacy created a decrease in value on more traditional forms of knowledge and invested greater power and information in those that were literate in reading and writing. A more permanent form of media on clay tablet, papyrues and paper that kept knowledge and information that could be referred back to and kept records of.  Paper is light and portable allowing an increase of information, knowledge to be transported across physical geography over periods of time (Crowley & Heyer, 2007)

Those who could read and write and afford books became the keepers of knowledge and power. Information and knowledge in the form of the book and manuscript became powerful and communities of practice that formed around this medium were those of the aristocracy, the courts, the church, religions that co-created knowledge to the benefit of those on power. Information was transmitted to the general population and the population was controlled through information and not encouraged to participate in church and government.The social capital and networks in the writing age were through very specific institutions and the people in those institutions.Nahapiet and Ghosal (1998) identify networks of relationships as the central proposition of social capital and that  ‘much of the capital is embedded within networks of mutual acquaintance and recognition”(Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 243). 

The Beginning of Mass Media
The Printing Press was the start of mass media, text literacy, the education system. It provided a method of disseminating information to people, control of consistent messaging by governments. Printing provided the opportunity and access to information to everyone, and the interpretation of that information was now able to be formed by the individual and not the elite. COP’s were able to form around ideas and ideology from the same information (books).  Printing increased every man’s range in time and space, bringing together times past and times to come, near and distant, peoples long dead and peoples still unborn” (Mumford, 2007, p. 94). Information and knowledge becomes increasingly moveable by sharing books and discussing books decreasing the limitations of geography and space. 

 Guttenberg and the impact of the Printing Press

Reading as noted by McLuhan and more recently Jenkins and Logan is a solitary pursuit , done by an individual.  Creating knowledge and shared learning is located through social practices. Relationships are comprised of social practices and interactions. Interactions build social capital for individuals and build the dense and loose networks that provide the sharing of personal and organizational resources (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008) (Holden, 2001) (Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2003)As a media the printing press disseminated information to people. As a solitary medium there are significant transactional costs geographically, time and cost to form COP to create knowledge using books and the printing press (Shirky, 2008).

The Telegraph, the Telephone, the Radio and Movies
Electricity then allowed the development of media that didn’t rely on the transportation of the media but media that was transmitted to individuals (Crowley & Heyer, 2007).  The telegraph provided one way transmission of information, the telephone synchronous two way transmission of voice, the radio one way auditory transmission, movies and TV one way transmission of visual and voice information and entertainment. This allowed the development of reading public, mass society, no longer local and regional, but now inclusive of national and global information (Crowley & Heyer, 2007). The world becomes smaller as people become more aware of the world around them. Movies and TV bring back a form of the oral, narrative story-telling and revive images as photography to help disseminate the information and tell the stories. There are many ways of getting information to people syncronously across time and space, but the transaction costs of physical participation geographically remained high. COP remain localized in larger urban and community centers. “ The lower the human density had been in rural areas, the stronger the social emphasis had been on conventionality, fellow feeling and cohesion. But in cities, the higher the density became, the greater was the impersonality and normlessness” (Fowles, 2007). The available social capital in both urban and rural communities remained low as media used was one dimensional and used primarily to convey information, not to create co-create and participate in knowledge creation. Nahapiet & Ghosal (1998) define social capital as: "the sum of the actual and potential resources embedded within, available through, and derived from the network of relationships possesses by an individual or social unit. Social capital thus comprises both the network and the assets that may be mobilized through the network" (p. 243). 

Marshall McLuhan – The World is a Global Village
Back to the Future 

Technology and the pace of change and innovation in social media are changing the way
we communicate socially. As Clay Shirky states, “ When we change the way we communicate, we change society” (Shirky, 2008, p. 17).“Yet a new language is rarely welcomed by the old.The oral tradition distrusted writing, manuscript culture was contemptuous of printing, book culture hated the press” (Carpenter, 2007, p. 256).The new language of social media is certainly a language many are still uncomfortable with, but many are making great profits from.Technologies that can be accessed asynchronously without geographic or time constraints (across time and space) can be used to develop and standardize communication streams, build social capital and strengthen and develop diverse organizational relationships (Cooley, Hebling, & Fuller, 2003) (McWilliam, 2000) (Baker, 2003). Communication allows for bidirectional or multidirectional feedback that maintains an open system capable of change and adaptation.Knowledge is created when it is used interactively within an environment to create an action (Cook & Brown, 1999). Individual and group interactions create different knowledge and can be combined and internalized and codified into many different types of new knowledge. Lawrence Lessig  writes that the contemporary communication network forms an innovation commons, a place and space where creativity can thrive. Organizations, communities and teams need to be able to capture and utilize formal and informal networks to maximize the creation of social capital (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). “Social media offer new ways of collecting, sharing and finding information and knowledge using in information systems ” (Luoma & Okkonen, 2009, p. 332).
The well known participatory Web 2.0 and technology has created the opportunity for every  digital native  and immigrant to collaborate and participate in creation. Palfrey and Gasser   (2008) argue that this new interactivity is engaging youth at unprecedented levels in creating entertainment, knowledge and information. Most of us now have a virtual and physical identity that we occupy geographically and across time and space and we use both to communicate and co-create.The  Digital natives do not  differentiate between their digital identity and their private identity as discussed and reviewed in the book Born Digital. Clay Shirky follows the rise of the Internet, Web 2.0, privacy, copyright, digital technology and creativity. His book ‘Here Comes Everybody focuses on groups, group formation and how ‘everybody’ is influenced and impacted by digital technology. “ Conversational knowledge creation has emerged as the most popular way to create knowledge, largely in the context of online or virtual communicates. Conversational knowledge returns us to the oral culture of learning from each other in close proximity but it’s not the same oral culture.
An updated definition of a virtual COP by Yates, Wagner & Maajchrzak (2010) becomes pertinent. They define virtual communities of practice in an organization as “ a collective of voluntary knowledge contributors, distributed across traditional organizational boundaries, which enables members to share insights, experiences, and practical knowledge”. An organization may be a local community, global corporation, national government, global team of health researchers, interested group of students that can now collaborate across different traditional boundaries of geography, time and space as envisioned by McLuhan, Innis, Shirky, Lessig and Jenkins (to mention a few), to have the conversations that create new knowledge and learning . This is now happening at ‘warp speed’ creating enormous amounts of valuable and not so valuable information and knowledge development  collaboratively and globally. The social media has brought back traditional forms of learning such as orality, the narrative, imaging, text and auditory  in combinations that can provide the ability to learn and develop knowledge to all , at a instantaneous speed that creates enormous possibilites and problems in the ability to comprehend the social changes it influences. The choice and ability to use media  is altering our ability and choices in participation in society, globally and “establish loose and densely connected networks to collect and share knowledge that builds innovation and creativity that recognizes the strength of building collective knowledge”  (Watson & Harper, 2008; Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998) not possible prior to the Internet. “ Media, Innis  proposed, can never be truly neutral within the human environment. By their very application media refashion the choices, the pre-occupations, and the interactions of individuals and give shape to the form that knowledge takes in society and to the way in which it circulates" (Crowley & Heyer, 2007, p. 300).

 A New Way for Knowledge

Authors and Sites of Interest

TED Talks – Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson – creating the space and connections for innovation and creativity
Sept 2010
Jan 6, 2007

Works Cited

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