Don’t Let Information Abundance Overshadow Wisdom

Photo by Patrick Tomasso, artwork by Luciana Cani.

Tristan, my son, doesn’t believe in what I tell him. My life’s instruction book seems to be outdated. Whatever I say seems to be wrong, or most importantly, obsolete. “I Googled it, your theories about life are wrong” — he loves to tell my wife and me, “Your way of thinking is outdated.” The point is he just doesn’t Google things, he looks for the latest content: 2016 seems to be a great vintage for him when it comes to knowledge. Wait, did I say knowledge or information?

2016 seems to be a great vintage for my son when it comes to knowledge

Like my son, many of us miss the point that Google mainly provides information in the form of news, tutorials, videos, life lessons, you name it. That’s pretty clear based on Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. You see, information. It doesn’t say ‘provide knowledge’. This is precisely what I want to address: do we recognize the difference?

“Search Me Something I Don’t Know”

Watching DIY videos won’t turn you into an artist

My short-term memory is not precisely one of my superpowers: retaining facts, especially names, is hard for me. Maybe that’s why I’m so amazed at seeing my son talking about a specific topic — no matter how complicated- for hour after hour. He just watches and can then share specific details non-stop as if he had been studying the subject forever. But knowledge is way more than that. Without underestimating the power of empowerment, having easier access to information doesn’t mean necessarily that we know how to do anything. Knowledge is more than facts and data, it requires a practical understanding of the subject: to put it in practice. Watching DIY videos on cubism painting techniques, memorizing the method, won’t turn you into an artist. Artists learn by doing. And it takes years of practice to master something.

The Illusion of Knowledge

Information on the Internet makes us feel limitless: we can prove any theory we want right or wrong.

I’m excited to be living in this moment in time. It’s a strange era where all paradigms are being challenged while we search for the new one. The value of expertise is at risk: we expect to get someone else’s knowledge for free. And we live in an era of shortcuts: the shortest route is at our fingertips (thanks again Google for delivering on your mission). Trying to make everything simpler, we face a risk: the danger of oversimplification. The hacking mentality is good but can easily turn into a deceiving mentality.

Information on the Internet makes us feel limitless: we can prove any theory we want right or wrong . And we can also the become the victim. Take diets for example. From no-carbs to no-fun, the diet of the week comes to save our day (and bellies). And we jump into it simply after reading a headline. We don’t validate our decision looking for alternative sources (a behavior related to knowledge). We love shortcuts, right? It seems that the more access we have to information the more stupid we become. Only 8.5% of web traffic makes it past the first page of Google’s search results. Easy access to information has made us become intellectually lazy.

Yoda, Buddha and the Internet

Our society is looking for another kind of “authority“, one that is not limited to owning information or power.

Searching for the latest and greatest knowledge, people end jumping from one trend to another fad. Wisdom used to be associated with age, but most importantly with experience. Wise people –gurus, Yoda, Buddha- were not appointed: like true leaders they earned their reputation and influence. People visited them looking for an answer (information) and ended up getting advice (wisdom).

At some point, humanity tried to control wisdom by using titles and hierarchies to separate the wise from the rest. Teachers, parents, doctors and bosses –to name a few- were put in a position of power that everyone had to respect, mostly because they controlled information and decision-making. Nowadays, that kind of “authority” is being challenged. Students can find more information and be more up to date than a teacher.

Parenthood, same as other power roles, is on the verge of death. In order to regain “authority” (or trust, as I call it)for the role cannot continue relying mostly on knowledge. Same for leaders, they need to let go of their titles and regain trust. The era of information abundance needs to leave room for an era of wisdom.

In Search of Wisdom

Wis•dom: the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

Wisdom is reciprocal learning: an equal relationship between apprentices and mentors where learning experiences are created together rather than teachers dictating their learning plan to their students. Wisdom is learning from others mistakes and sharing your mistakes as well so that they can become someone else’s learning.

Wisdom is not about taking sides but embracing all the sides: rather than dividing people into non-experts vs not, combine what everyone can bring to the table. Wisdom is not just a state of mind, it requires openness of mind.

Wisdom is bringing the new and the experience together: innovation happens on both ends of the spectrum. Young people come up with fresh perspectives because they are not afraid or they just don’t know: they come up with out-of-the-box ideas that would be dismissed by an expert (“too risky” or “it’s impossible to implement”). While seasoned people create new ideas in a different way: they create connections between different fields based on their experience and various knowledge. What if we bring them together?

Wisdom requires vulnerability: it takes strong leaders to exhibit fragility. By being reflective, humble, and asking questions they become more human/fragile rather than simply dictating answers. It is during times of crisis, is when true colors are shown: people want to see (and engage with) the human side of leaders.

Wisdom requires a great sense of humor: the moment we stop realizing that we are not that important, that nothing is that important, we get to see everything with perspective. “I often say jokingly that a truly selfish person must be altruistic!”- Dalai Lama.

Wisdom requires time and patience. My son Tristan will continue to Google the latest facts and push back. As for me, I’m looking to become wiser one day at a time. Hopefully we can learn to master wisdom together.

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