The Atomization of Knowledge

We have learned that the ocean waves pulverize our plastic debris which is then consumed as dust by the fish we eat. The circle is closed and the poisons we have created come back to us in this altered form. The internet pulverizes human knowledge and feeds it back to us as unconnected bits of information. Our minds are bound to be ultimately  overwhelmed by all this new kind of poisonous debris.

Digital technology has had the peculiar effect of atomizing human knowledge and this in two ways. It has favored the creation of small bits of information which are passed around in digital messages. And it has overwhelmed our ability to concentrate on extended lines of reasoning. There is too much information, tempting us to move quickly from one bit to another. We are distracted by all these bits of knowledge that are offered to us so enticingly on all the websites of the world. This is already showing disastrously in our students who find it increasingly difficult to read whole books. We feed them instead with power point slides that contain carefully selected bits of information. Even this blog illustrates what is happening. Blogs are signals of the decreasing attention spans of those who write them and those who consume them.

One consequence of all this is that we find it increasingly difficult to weigh and assess the information that comes to us. We begin to believe things just because they have appeared somewhere on the internet. We lose our capacity to ask where this information comes from and who has authored it. The disunity of knowledge acquires thus a new and more extreme character. Human knowledge is a dispersed structure; there is disunity in it but there are also clusters of density and integration (theories, fields, disciplines, world-views). It is this equilibrium of unity and dispersion that is now coming undone. Click here

The result of all this is a wholly new condition for human knowledge. So, we need an epistemology that takes these developments into account. Call it a critical epistemology of the internet.