On Making Information Unknown, As Well As Known
‘I know that I know nothing.’
The term Exformation, coined by Kenya Hara, describes the inverse state of information. If the creation of information is the process of ‘making known’ then the creation of exformation is the process of ‘understanding of how little we know’.
Mapping the cultural relevance (or irrelevance) of Exformation as a new information format should be one of primary concerns.
Our ability to navigate Exformation’s ambiguous state through new mental models, systems and tools is nothing short of an evolutionary necessity to adapt to the new environment in which we have now found ourselves. This new environment is not yet defined, nor definable, but consists of an amalgamation of post-truth, post-internet, post-pluralism and post-post-modern conditions and phenomenon that we are becoming accustom to.
‘We are not meant to know everything. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day?’
— Dave Eggers, The Circle
In many ways Exformation returns us to the origins of human nature. It renders us humble again in reality of the limits of human understanding of the world, embracing and accepting the status of the unknown and unknowable. Exformation, by my own interpretation, might see us to once again learn to rely upon our gut instinct, intuition and mood when making meaning of the world around us.
The contemporary internet search engine could, and should, become a tool to navigate Exformation equally alongside information.
The raison d’etre of contemporary internet search engines is to answer queries, to couple query with the most relevant information contained within the internet. Google’s co-founder Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as a machine that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want”. Such an ambition is logical but, like most technological ideologies, comes with a distinct trade off; in coupling an internet query with specific information of exact relevance all that is deemed irrelevant is dismissed.
Unknown knowns (human knowledge of any category which is currently unknown to the query maker but has been previously perceived and archived as information) might have opened doors to new solutions and realities but are now eradicated in their perceived irrelevance to search engine algorithms. We are becoming worryingly isolated within monolithic world views and realities dictated by algorithms organised by notions of perceived relevance.
Rather than subverting or contradicting the affordances and purpose of information, Exformation should be viewed as a natural and complimentary implication of information. The very fact that the limits of data storage capable by the human brain are now dwarfed by networked data storage mean that both individually and collectively we can only ever perceive minute slithers of the information available to us. Rendering everything else in this ‘capacity gap’ as Exformation, at least on our individual level of human experience.
The acceleration of data creation* and the sheer volume of that data** have a clear implication; our brain can not consider all of the possible information available to us and as such we have no other choice than to rule out most information as irrelevant.
* IBM estimate that 90% of all the world’s data has been created in the last two years.
** The human brain is estimated as capable of storing circa 2.5 Petabytes of data, Google is estimated as capable of accessing 15,0000 Petabytes of data.
This is a highly amplified phenomenon, rather than a new phenomenon, however. The artists Pablo Picasso described the phenomenon as such;
‘There are so many realities that in trying to render them all visible, one ends up in the dark. That is why, when one paints a portrait there comes a moment when one ought to stop, having attained a sort of caricature. Otherwise, at the end, there would be nothing at all.’
Picasso in conversation with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 1957
Perhaps it is the state of stoping, in leaving possible knowns unknown, in making reality unquantifiable rather than entirely quantified that Exformation exists. In accepting that we should remain humble and limited by realities unlimited potential we can appreciate the wonder of the human condition ‘delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown’.
My own explorations in working with Exformation as a new information format is currently realised through the alternative search engine platform of else, and more specifically MODES OF THINKING. These speculative Information Retrieval models might allow us to better understand our understanding, understand the understanding of others, understand the boundaries of culturally presupposed limits of understanding and potentially, most importantly, understand that Exformation can be considered alongside with its equal and opposite partner of information.