The Myth of the Modern Knowledge Worker, Part 3: Collective Thinking

The problem is that we’ve shifted from being knowledge workers to collective thinkers. Anyone who works in higher education and has watched the last 5-8 years-worth of students coming into college has seen collective thinking first hand (whether they’ve recognized it or not, I won’t posit).

I remember, as a “non-traditional student” a few years ago, in the middle of an exam, a girl picked up her cell phone and started to dial it. The professor, obviously flustered by this, demand she put it away: She didn’t realize it wasn’t ok to call her friend who could help her out. Is this that show that lets you call the “lifeline”? No, it’s an examination of what you know, not what you can find out. I’m pretty far removed from K-12 education these days, but I have to assume that she got away with those ideals there.

Even when it comes to learning, that too is disposable to the collective thinker. As long as they remember where it was (or the search terms to find it), they don’t need to remember how to do something because after all: It’ll always be somewhere on the Internet. A consultant colleague of mine subcontracts with me frequently in areas that require work without a network. He gets a modest $100/hour to surf the Internet and read HOWTO’s to fix problems, but has significant troubles when there is no Internet access: Even if it’s a problem he’s fixed before. With some people I’d be afraid that “bad-mouthing” him here might cost me contracts, but he makes no bones about it. He, correctly, believes that he’s “normal”: Most consultants I work with who aren’t graytops have similar problems, they think it’s ok for their clients to pay them to use Google.

Forget the inevitable breakdowns of society and Apocalyptic futures, where there won’t be anywhere to search for the knowledge one has not bothered to possess- I’m not even going to get into that reality. How will we, as a society, move past the next hurricane/tidal wave/ice storm/power outage? The Internet goes offline at my place of work, and there are people pacing the halls like zombies with no corpses to feed on, slowly being sapped of their lifeblood. Sure, there are purchasing agents who use the Internet to place orders; yes, there are marketing personnel who use the Internet to canvas the competition: There ARE people whose jobs solely revolve around Internet access. Those are not the people who I’m referring to.

An apropos fortune cookie fortune I have says: If you spend all your time learning the tricks of the trade, you will never learn the trade.

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