Beyond The Information Age and into the Useful Knowledge Age

We have had the information stage. You could argue we are now in a curation stage. Or maybe an ‘age of reckoning’ where technology needs to step up and prove it’s worth. But what if we entered an entirely new stage? One that leads to the act of connecting the knowing with the doing. We could call it an ‘age of usefulness’. In this age we possess knowledge but the change will come from translating it into something useful. I’m not the first to use the label ‘Useful Knowledge’, I discovered there was a ‘Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge’ that was founded in 1826 with the objective of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal education. Our objective is slightly different but it serves a similar purpose. Make information more useful to the average person. To reframe the objective for 2020, how do we turn our world overflowing with information and stamped with likes and shares, into useful knowledge and actions for anyone?

Curation and the Slow Web

There are lots of apps and sites trying to curate – Pocket news apps like FlipBoard, Apple News, or Are.na. Some of these get the users to curate which makes sense. It’s logical to take all the information which is flooding our senses and try to filter the signal from the noise. These curation based apps are a welcome attempt to try and help us find the best content for us. Yet in our quest for to transform information to useful action, it still doesn’t get us much further in our objective. We continue to skim and like and share. It’s just a bit more relevant.

Is it a return of a slower mode of internet? I like the ethos of a ‘slow web’ as described here with some examples. It takes us back to a steady pace where we can take the time over consumption of content. An opportunity to halt the endless scrolling and trolling. However, the downside is it looks and feels a bit like regression. While they are wonderfully simple sites, sometimes they look like we just stepped back into the 90’s. It’s a struggle to know how to get started. This may be down to user ignorance because we are so accustomed to the mechanism of the social feed. Or it could be the fact that gossip and clickbait are addictive. For all its controversies, Facebook and Twitter made it easy for people to get going. The challenge with the ‘slow web’ may be the difficulty to get into a rhythm of this new mode of consumption, leading to a natural hesitation to dive in and engage.

Maybe It’s Time for Something Different?

It’s overdue that we try to create something more useful. We need to make the most of all the information we have available and take it to a natural next stage of evolution.

We could dream a little. Imagine a newly designed social platform that provides content. On this new platform, instead of a passive like, the user indicates something useful like intention. Intention that will encourage the user to do an action related to the content and let the provider of the content know that the user is interested. From this the user is guided to the next useful step. This may involve signing up, adding to a task list, sending an e-mail or anything that would logically follow as an action from the content.

This proposal isn’t exactly new. We have seen it before with the capture of intent via assistants or intelligence built in but somehow we seem to have missed a step. For instance, an assistant will try to do something for you if you ask for it. Sometimes proactively by trying to predict ahead and make suggestions. Although this approach sometimes it gets it right, other times it gets it so very wrong. The missing step is the connection between consuming the knowledge and then signaling your intention to move ahead with action. All too often, the assistant or system will try to calculate intention too soon when all that is needed is an initial nudge or nod that you want to take the next step. We’re trying to go from knowledge to doing too quickly and usefulness can be lost in translation.

From Knowing to Doing

The path from knowing about something to doing is full of obstacles and rarely straightforward.

We are very good at consuming content like information, data, and knowledge. We’re experts at searching and locating the content we need. However, linking action to that knowledge is not so easy for us. To do something on the basis of knowledge is essential if we want to have our new found knowledge make a difference. We can choose to take the advice of the writer, influencer, organization or we can let it capture our attention for a minute, move swiftly on and forget we even saw it. We’re none the wiser.

In the ‘Who Else’ section of Recknsense, I’m running an experiment to understand the connection between content and action. I post up content I have read or watched. These could be YouTube videos, films, TV, documentaries, Vistas, books, magazines or articles – anything I’m interested in. I invite others to vote to say yes they’ve seen the content too or if they haven’t, no but they intend to. I want to see if this connects the information to some kind of action. Eventually this could go to the next stage by saving the intentions for the user to act on at a future date or prompting with next steps. As a bonus for me, I get to see who else has the same interests.

Time will tell what results my experiment yields. In the mean time, I can enjoy the fact that I can control and curate my own content, I’m free from fast and fickle feeds, and best of all, I hope sincerely that some of it may turn out useful for you.

Feature image courtesy of eniganomis (Find more on Instagram)

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