Atul Gawande has a provocative and interesting article in the New Yorker on what medicine can learn from The Cheesecake Factory: training practitioners on carefully considered standard ways of diagnosing and treating diseases.
This is a hugely important side of knowledge that Too Big to Know doffs its hat at now and then, but doesn’t discuss much. the Net has commoditized knowledge, making it incredibly easy to look up facts. In the same way, the Net is automating processes that used to require human intervention. ATMs did that for most of the transactions that used to occur in local banks, and the Net has already done it for most of the calls we used to make to the help desk of a company.
In fact, it seems that these two approaches are becoming increasingly bifurcated. (Does bifurcation admit of degrees? Oh well.) What’s automated is automated, and what is not is not. This actually feels inevitable: as our automated systems become more sophisticated, they handle more of our problems, so the problems we take to human support people are the trickier ones, and getting trickier as automation gets smarter.
We may be seeing a similarly increasing bifurcation when it comes to knowledge across the board. As more commoditized knowledge comes on line — more facts, more answers to more questions — we are freed to engage with the hardest, trickiest, most recalcitrant sorts of knowledge. The more cognitive surplus, the better.