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An Original DocumentA Necessary Learning Process

By John S Veitch


To succeed as a nation - Learning is critical

You Become What You Think About

Economist www linkLester Thurow: "To avoid in future paying Bangladesh wages to everyone we need to re-educate and retrain half the population." We choose what we are interested in and hence what we know. Likewise the same process has chosen what we are ignorant about. You are the only source of your own understanding, you choose your knowing and you choose your ignorance.

Learning all you need to know

The message is clear, and those who understand what's happening know they have to be forearmed with knowledge. Each of us has to take www linkresponsibility for our own learning and our own future. Hopefully the firms we work for will recognise our developing knowledge and use our skills. Alternatively, the firm we work for might fail to adapt, you might be facing a quite different future. Will you have the skills some other firm needs? Will you be able to start on your own if you need too?

For me, it's really about trusting my own instincts. I believe that if I'm diligent and if I engage with the world and with my work in a sensible and disciplined way that I will learn the things I need to know, and that knowledge will be available to me when I need it. I have no proof that such is the case, but it seems to be working, and I have faith in my own choices.

Some people will find ways to be very successful in this data rich, global, changing world.  Employment for the rest of us may be largely dependent on what this elite group can achieve. World wages are heading to a broad but low level.  www linkLabour is cheap, and in countries like the Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, static or falling wages will be the general experience. In the lifetime of most of us, both oil and water will become expensive.  Environmental problems may mean that some risks like flood and storm or www linkepidemic infections are beyond insurance in many areas of the world.

Creating Communities of Practice. If any community is going to be an information society each participating person needs to create and maintain an online identity.  Members will remain involved over long time periods, the "community" depends on those long established identities for it's stability.  People will make an effort to know and remember each other.  Slowly, as a group interacts there will be a development of status in the group.  Members of good standing will be widely recognized.

Speaking Truth to Each Other. To improve professional practice we need commitment to a desirable outcome, good training supported by a community of practice.  The ability to recognize and correct mistakes, arises out of the ability to www linkspeak the truth to each other.

For the information society to be effective we need the leaders of the world to commit themselves to a process of choosing to act on the basis of information, even if that is difficult to do.  That would be easier if we and the others could speak the clear truth rather than some concocted "political truth".  Unless we can name the problem, unless the community has quality data and real knowledge they can't begin to form valid opinions.

Secondly we need as many people as possible with a good education, and also the ability to collect and share accurate data.  If more citizens are information aware effective political action should be possible.  People need a certain amount of self confidence and self belief before they are happy to make public statement on something as wide open to public access as the internet.

Finally everyone in any "knowledge society", the public, civil servants and the political classes need legal protection so that people are encouraged to speak the truth.  Where mistakes have been identified we must be able to admit those mistakes.  Where the truth is hidden and where failures are denied, the system gets forced into a cycle of repeated error that compounds the injustice and the pain.

A Peer to Peer World

People need the confidence to be able to define themselves easily and simply in a public way.  Such confidence does not come without effort.  It’s in becoming members on list servers and in using chat rooms that people will become more confident about who they are and about what they know.  The peer to peer aspect of the internet is the part that has enormous potential and is seriously neglected.  It’s direct person to person contact that is most powerful.  Business and government use of the Internet, lacking person to person contact, is of low priority and of low value to most people.  Business and government attempts to have more influence and control over the internet have failed.  The political problem caused by the internet has not been resolved.  Now "the peasants" have access to the sort of detail once only seen by senior officials in government.  As a result ordinary people may be much less willing to accept their lot in life.  In this new world, the truth will emerge, and not everyone will be happy.  We would be disappointed if governments in fear of the power of person to person contact imposed restrictions on use that attempt to destroy peer to peer user freedom. 

Recognition of Information Workers

Information workers "learn their jobs" in a very real way.  For this reason one information worker cannot be replaced by another with the same result.  Both the information workers and the people who employ them are trapped by their existing belief structures.  These structures limit the scope of legitimate questions and the data sources one might consider to be valid.

It may be difficult to understand what an information worker is doing.  It may also be difficult to appreciate why an information worker comes to accept a particular "truth" if one has not taken the same journey.

For this reason information workers are subject to the www linkMartin Luther principle, their expertise may lead them to conclusions their superiors do not yet share.  As Martin Luther discovered, that is a dangerous situation.  Both local and international law should recognize this potential problem and offer some protection to information workers who in the process of doing their jobs honestly and well develop a view contrary to their employers.

Take for instance www linkDr Joseph Massad of Columbia University.  He teaches a course in Middle Eastern Studies, and one of the topics is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.  This course has history as it's focus, it's not new.

But this year, 2005, a small group of students complained claiming that Massad was adopting a strong stance against Israel's action and policy position.  They demanded his dismissal, they got the story in the main newspapers and they put huge pressure on the University to relieve Dr Massad of his job. 

In Southern States of the USA, some elected officials have www linkopposed the teaching of geology and evolution. Courses will be discontinued because the prevailing theories in those subjects are "anti-biblical".  Several staff in one university may lose their positions because of this decision. 

Information Work

Artists and knowledge workers can have a lot in common.  When you are working with lots of data, nobody can be sure what secrets it might contain or what the output may be.  Artists create music, sculpture or paintings where there was nothing before.  New understanding is just like that.  There was nothing before and now we have this potentially useful or potentially destructive idea.

Information workers can only function in a climate where there is freedom to experiment and communicate and a high degree of trust and acceptance of differences.  You can see the problems this creates, in education, in business, in religious matters and in the challenge to the way we organize our communities.

Even in science this has become a problem.  it's very hard to get funding to search for useful ideas, but if you can promise something somebody wants you might get support.  Sometimes the process of getting funding is corrupted by people who make ever more grandiose promises in the hope of getting a share of the cake.  (www linkRonald Reagan's Star Wars) This contributes to making a mockery of the ideals of the information society.

No community that I'm aware of, fully appreciates to opportunities for real developmental change here.  Success depends on both open communication and on active participation.  Those two things allow us to be increasingly aware of each other, learning both to understand and to accept who we are.  The building of trust, sharing ideas and resources and the offering of mutual support, such as occurs in social networks is essential.  Sadly in my experience, few people "get" what social networks are all about.  They don't join, or if they do join, they fail to participate.  I my view, this behaviour denies each person involved the opportunity to become globally engaged, to develop new ideas, and become a well informed future leader.