by Julius WiedemannFeb 09, 2021
I would claim that our evolution resides in the ability to handle doubt. But what happens more often than not is that we have to reconcile this insecurity with a perspective that it is possible to learn more. As social beings, we do it by sharing information, knowledge, and wisdom. As soon as knowledge was liberated from the hands of a few, it found ways of creating incredible social, economic, and human development. Our first exercise doing it happened with cave drawings, then language, then documents, and others. One of our most defining leaps forward came when we finally started printing books on mass scale. When Johannes Gutenberg started printing books with letterpress about 500 years ago, it caused an explosion in the expansion and spread of knowledge. It took humanity another half millennium to create something equal to the book, which I consider to be the Internet. Books are now not the end point to get to know something, but yet a gateway to endless sources of information.
I would also claim that as a function in society that the Internet has now, substituted the function of books. When I go to a library now or a bookshop, I feel lost in a way because I am already thinking how I am going to search what is in there. I am not saying that all the content that is there in books is not well organised online and easily accessible. But I think it is undeniable that the ability to think about something and to connect that to knowledge available is much faster online. And I am also not making quality comparisons. That requires a very long debate about what we share and with what intent. When I am faced with a question that there is so much rubbish online and because of that sharing can become poisoning, my reaction is to think about newsstands everywhere, where a lot of rubbish is not only thought about, but is printed and distributed too.
Sharing may not be the central part of every digital initiative, but it is certainly one important ingredient. From playlists to wish lists, we want to share our enthusiasm and revolt. Online activism is not something fictional or abstract anymore. It is made of real people who make real claims and want real change. Their claims are available and spread online without physical presence, but their influence in public opinion has more power than many protests on real streets.
I think it is also no coincidence that personal experiences have become all about sharing. From the use of public spaces with art to sharing food on the table, from sharing spaces in an office and also having open floors in our houses with open kitchens, it is to me a clear indication that we are living in different times. This new framework is about a new dialogue that is a direct result of an inevitable channel digital media has created. It is for me a point of reflection, as to how far we have incorporated sharing as a lifestyle. It is not just the fashionable thing anymore. It is embedded in our social construct. From an artist’s point of view, when you have an original in digital form, you may not have any original at all. And yet you can share your art with the same quality as the original. It is a puzzle with no easy solution. But sharing in the digital world is about that integrity of information that is kept and passed along. And digital signifies that more than anything. From open kitchens to algorithms, it is a new symbology and a reality. Even when we are talking about fake news, they are put forward the way they have been received. I still believe that this integrity is for the good, and that sharing is the only way to arrive at the conclusion that something is false. It is trackable, and original sources will be eventually found. Information will go from place to place and will naturally generate a debate.
We can only grow if we open up to more knowledge. And that today means more sharing. And it’s not easy to be humble about what we do know, and to be humble about what comes from outside and might influence you. But sharing is maybe our most important evolutionary mechanism in social terms. We need to embrace it, with all enthusiasm and precautions, so it consolidates itself as a force for good.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.