Have you noticed that while we have all been focussing on the turbulent political and fiscal upheavals of the first decade of this millennium the means of access to knowledge has undergone profound change?
Information that our wisest ancestors often died searching for and our own parents and grandparents struggled to retain is now within the instant grasp of any child who can finger a computer keyboard. In fact with Apple's fabled i-slate seemingly about to become a reality, the tip of one finger alone will soon have sufficient force to prize open a store of knowledge beyond the wildest imaginings of the most prescient of sci-fi writers.
Liberating times! But - and it's a big but - how is this ease of access to information going to affect the powers of understanding latent within us all? What is it going to do to our capacity to think for ourselves?
Education - the ability to assimilate and grow knowledge - has been the cornerstone of societal wellbeing throughout the ages. In welcoming the opportunity merely to beckon and find multitudinous facts instantly to hand, we also put aside the need to flex the muscles of curiosity leaving our brains vulnerable to shrinkage and atrophy.
But there are individuals already amongst us with questioning minds that can raise human consciousness to its next level and they will, of course, utilise current search engines and their next generation prototypes to help them to do so. But no technological kit has yet been devised that can save anyone who wishes to propel knowledge onward and upward from having to don old style thinking caps, flex their own muscles of curiosity under them, and spend time and energy nurturing the fledgling ideas that emerge until they are mature enough to be set free to fend for themselves.
No amount of tapping into hand-helds is going to help with that scenario. There's no brain in a fingertip! There have always been small groups of individuals who believed that to discover knowledge for knowledge's sake was, in itself, a sufficient life reward.
For thence a paradox
Which pleaseth while it mocks,
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail?
What I aspired to be
And am not comforts me.
A brute I might have been
Yet would not sink i' the pail.
Individuals who - like Browning's Rabi Ben Ezra - deliberately positioned themselves to work for a goal they might not live to achieve and who willingly passed on the know-how they had acquired to the next generation. Such people also passed on to Society the ideal that – over time – the human race in general would evolve to do thinking at that high level.
And indeed, until a decade ago, that seemed to be the way things were progressing. But with search engines making facts such a doddle to acquire and quizzes such as Mastermind and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire turning people who are quick of answer and slick of speech into moneyed celebrities, the bottom dropped out of the knowledge market.
These days anyone trying to make people aware that certain questions are too complex to be answered in one sound byte gets howled down or branded a spoil sport.
But the world needs spoil sports, for only those prepared to put in the time and effort that active-thinking deserves are going to save the human mind from going the way of all flesh.
As the new decade dawns we readers of Management-Issues should resolve to become spoil sports. For one thing, with so few people in the same market, its likely to be a most profitable resolution.
Happy New Year!