Over time, as the amount of global information in a system increases, its complexity increases and the global amount of canonicity decreases.
More properly, this can be referred to as Canonicity Decay.
Canonicity is the quality of being canonical. Something is said to be canonical if it is authoritative. What is authoritative is determined by experts. Experts typically are characterized as possessing a depth of knowledge about a particular domain than an average person might be expected to possess.
Notice, however, one of the trends I mentioned above. As the information available in a system increases, the system’s complexity increases. What I mean by this is that increasing information amounts to both more knowledge and more to know. Complexity increases as a result of much more knowledge, because limited knowledge leads to binary understanding (i.e., black and white). The rise of non-binary understanding in turn creates complexity.
What does this have to do with experts?
A global increase in information means expertise becomes incredibly narrow. Put another way, there are either more experts (locally) or fewer (globally) because there is simply too much to know. Consider my black boxes as a framework for exploring the complexity of our system. No one person can know enough about the system to keep it running single-handedly. Instead, it takes whole societies to keep the engines running. Wanna keep planes in the air? You need pilots, of course, and people to train them. In addition, you need engineers to design planes, workers to assemble them (or someone to assemble the robots that assemble planes). And these people need education. Their teachers need education as well. And that’s a narrow slice of the pie.
But I am not going to rehash the black boxes article.
The fundamental truth with which we must make peace is that there is nobody in charge. There can’t be. Thus, canonicity declines. Decays. Expertise narrows into the overspecialization required for a 21st century techno-civilization, but there’s only so much room in the space of expertise anyway.
What replaces the more general experts?
Amateurs. People who know enough to cross at least two domains, but who don’t specialize in any one of them. People who, for whatever reason, and usually constrained by circumstance, can accomplish this one task, this one time. Ad hoc.
But this doesn’t happen everywhere. Some domains are more susceptible to disaggregation than others. For those that are, we are seeing the results. No longer do we have the certainty of top-down control systems. Instead we are seeing the rise of grass-roots collaboration. Both models are in conflict, but the more agile will win. It is more adaptable. It is also costly.
We can lose too much canonicity, I suppose. There are lessons to be learned from history, and not all of the efforts of previous generations, though arising from top-down systems, belong in the scrapheap. Whereas each successive generation tears down the edifices of the previous ones, the trick is always in knowing what to keep. In the mean time, just remember that nobody is really in charge here.
- snightingale posted this