Collective Syndication: Creation of Prosthetic Knowledge
“Scientia potentia est.“
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
The most potent transformation in human evolution has been the development of symbolic thought, represented in pictographic depictions on cave walls, hieroglyphics, the scroll and codex, onwards to the present. What these share in common is the ability to not just record information but the necessity for this knowledge to be shared through space and time with another reader. Recorded knowledge is useless if never accessed; the purpose of literacy can be considered to be one of access rather than understanding. With this in mind it can be shown that the move from traditional literacy to the so-called digital literacy is defined by our familiarity with the context of knowledge and how we gain access to it.
Brian O’Leary outlines his theory of Context-based publishing in his video titled, appropriately, ‘Context First‘. By making the push of a container a tertiary concern, ie: the selling of a physical book, a push for subscription services, et cetera, the dissemination of the information through limitless channels becomes the battleground for access. Erin Kissane makes this clear in her article ‘Contents May Have Shifted‘ where in the first paragraph she outlines the move from ‘pages’ of content to a liquidity of information that can be deposited into any semantic ‘container’ it is placed into. Jim Groom lectures on this, as well, using clips recorded from Jon Udell (an appropriate use of a fluid informational container) on the move towards a syndication-oriented architecture for personal publication and content creation.
An immediate and noticeable effect of a generation of digitally literate individuals is the widespread adoption of many modes of accessing prosthetic knowledge. We can consider prosthetic knowledge as information which we do not know, but can access as needed with technology. The Rosetta Stone can be seen as a type of informational prosthesis in much the same way as a Haynes manual. The most widely accessed of these is unarguably Wikipedia, but not the only source of publicly curated knowledge. Instructables and Wikihow offer similar informational prosthesis. Litt discusses (Baym 324) how public discourse to many audiences, real and imagined, comes with inherent problems with address and reception, but this is a misleading assumption: when knowledge is made public and free to stand on its own in this prosthetic context, the audience seeks out the message rather than passively receiving it. Even the former language barrier to the written word is no longer the issue it once posed, and there is a push to reduce the usage of jargon to only the most necessary fields of use (Roland 1, 2).
The move has been from static information in the form of books, periodicals, and other printed media to a dynamic form that can be accessed from innumerable devices that are now commonplace; smartphones, laptops, smart TVs, and most every device capable of an internet connection. The move away from devices fixed to a single location, the desktop computer for example, has created an opening for many more contextually-aware information sharing applications that fill specific niches. Apps like Tinder allow users to engage in context-specific self-presentation and link it to geographical awareness. This differs from typical dating sites by giving a new context for the availability of an individual; that is, physical proximity. The ‘container’ has been shifted away from a static place to the mobile accessibility of a smartphone.
The move away from static information to content that is driven by context and situation will not stop. From content that can be served through endless syndication to whichever device or delivery medium requests it, to instructional knowledge that moves past simple information to useable steps worded for the average user, and even closer to the user with information visualizers like Google Glass. Our personal information, even more than simple text, is being fed back into this architecture to allow for non-human users to capitalize on what we’ve learned.
The obvious progression is towards moving what is recorded at higher speeds to those who wish to know. Whether pictures, words, music, or any sort of information, we see the effect our liberation from static delivery points as one of freer use of context and an adoption of fast delivery methods that allow end users to have access to more information with much less latency between the desire, and the satisfaction of that desire, to know. While some get wistful at what seems the end of one form of information gathering it is worth bearing in mind that no past form really disappears. The modern webpage mimics the scroll, once thought a form outdated by the codex. The modern website, taken as a whole, mimics the indexed chapters of the codex. As the car liberated the horse from daily labor and freed it to be enjoyed for its own beauty, so does the digital make the physical free from expectation, and allow us to enjoy it for the simple beauty that is inherent to its design.
Baym, Nancy K., and Danah Boyd. “Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 56.3 (2012): 320-29. Web.
Ellison, N. B., J. T. Hancock, and C. L. Toma. “Profile as Promise: A Framework for Conceptualizing Veracity in Online Dating Self-presentations.” New Media & Society 14.1 (2012): 45-62. Web.
Groom, Jim. “Syndication-Oriented Architecture: A Solution to Problem of Coherence.” Bavatuesdays. N.p., 16 May 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Kissane, Erin. “Contents May Have Shifted.” Contents Magazine. N.p., 25 July 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
Nadel, Ryan. “The Book as Artifact.” The Mark News. The Mark, 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.
O’Leary, Brian. “Context First: A Unified Field Theory of Publishing.” 11 Feb. 2015. Web.
Roland, C. G. “Jargon.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 204.4 (1968): 317-18. Web.