Who is the smartest person in the room? I doubt you know the answer.
“The smartest person in the room is the room itself”, says David Weinberger, the author of the award winning title “Too Big to Know”. What exactly does he mean by this statement? Weinberger is referring to the seismic shift in how we have developed, created, and shared our ideas. This seismic shift of course, is the internet.
The internet allows us to expand our knowledge in ways that we have never had access to before its birth. If one had the desire to look up a fragment of information, they would have to go through the process of finding a book that has the information they need, find that information, and once that information is found, the flow of knowledge ceases. The internet not only allows the continuous flow of this knowledge, but encourages it. The quest for information on the internet begins the same way as the quest for information in a book, in which one would search for the information they require. After the information is acquired however, the flow of knowledge does not simply cease.
Chances are, there will be links or connections to other pieces of information to expand the knowledge that you have just acquired. Aside from that, the internet exposes its consumers to an abundance of different opinions, theories, and speculations made by other consumers which continues to build upon what they already know. The internet provides a paradigm shift in which we view our information in a room of networks or webs of different interconnected pieces that fit the final puzzle which is our personal understanding of the world. So who is the smartest person in the room? It is none other than the room itself.
But what happens when this room turns into a fiery inferno of controversy? There’s no denying that the room is filled with knowledge, but what happens when this room begins to permeate into other aspects of society?
This is exactly what took place in 2013 when Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks went from giving us the latest dirt on high and mighty public figures, to giving us inside access to the secrets of the NSA.
The room we have created is so intelligent that we might just be playing with fire that once unleashed, may be unstoppable. This certainly was the case with Snowden as he continues to release classified documents while in asylum.
What about on an individual level? Snowden and WikiLeaks provided a new macroscopic view of our government, but how does the internet infuse into our personal lives? The answer lies in the internet’s collection of data. We live in an era where discoverable data in the form of social media, clouds, or even search engines are prevalent. You may not be aware of it, but the internet already knows a lot about you. The new single you just downloaded? The new shoes you bought on amazon? Your picture on instagram of your family vacation? All of these things, Big Brother already knows.
So how then should we go about dealing with the room? I think that Weinberger puts it best when he says “I have my leanings, but I am ambivalent about everything in the past fifteen years’ messy cultural societal transition. But my ambivalence shows up in how to navigate on the unambivalent ground on which I stand. I stand with the net.”
I believe that it’s important to remain skeptical about how we continue with the net as we have seen many times, how much of a double-edged sword it can be. I do however, believe in progress, and see the internet as one of the most revolutionary forms of progress that we have today. Our ability to continue the flow of information via the room is one of the best innovations that we have in our time, and to stop the flow at this point would be counter productive.