Ideas are the Intangible Forces of Knowledge

Posted on February 3rd, 2010 at 3:33 pm by lmoulton

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I’ve always found ideas fascinating, where they come from, how the brain operates on the facts we accrue and observations we make, and the uniqueness of each individual’s path to knowledge. Age and generational shifts bring me back to the theme with new layers of understanding and added complexity from the life I live, what I read and observe in the world.

A recent article in Newsweek with the subtitle, Free markets require free minds, caught my eye; it was the “free minds” that I wanted to explore and contemplate. Since the article was based on recent decisions taken by Google regarding the use of its search engine in China, and because I am a search analyst, there was another reason to read on.

The very fact that I was free to read the article, later able to retrieve it using Google on the Internet is wonderful. Bringing to my reading of it a rich contextual background of knowledge about how search works, where content comes from, how it get created, managed and revealed to search engines was a bonus. Any lifelong learner and seeker of answers about all manner of topics can only marvel at the Internet and how we are free to roam its map of openly shared content.

As a librarian I know that there is much that is in the deep Web, content available only for subscribers, customers of enterprises, and proprietary content available only to employees or those with a clearance and “need to know.” In various work situations, as an employee or consultant for hire, I’ve had access to even more than I do now. But as a human being I find more than enough to feed my brain. I am challenged by the desire (and need) to put each new piece of content into a useful, usable or meaningful context. Sharing ideas about new information and what to do with it is both fun and interesting.

Access to tangible representations of others ideas, research results, shared facts and experiences is enriching. It is this access that enhances my ability to contemplate innovative applications of discovered content to individuals’, local and global problems. In my work and situations where deep Web access is needed to round out my research on a topic, I am confident that I can, by paying the entrance price, reach any commercially published content that I need. My experiences and the culture of my working world give me the unbounded freedom to pursue my ideas and the content that nourishes them. There are clearly boundaries to what I can access but I know enough to know when those boundaries are unlawful, unreasonable or against human interests and I am free to participate in communities to unlock them.

I am free to think the unthinkable and read what others wish I wouldn’t. A few years ago I met a Chinese student who had been schooled and lived in the West from high school through college. Being most comfortable with his Chinese language, outside of school work he accessed all content through a Chinese search engine and saw only what the Chinese Web allowed. Our discussions were disturbing because, while he had been “educated” in the West, his knowledge of the world was seriously bounded by a chosen lack of access to Western ideas and content. When asked about what non-Chinese media outlets he read, he shrugged and responded with an unconcerned “none.”

This is a point that “free minds” might consider when thinking about how far a growing Chinese economy can go. Blocking a Web of new and external ideas is the largest barrier to building a leading innovative and sustainable global presence. But only one who has experienced otherwise can truly appreciate what they are missing.