How much knowledge does one need to be knowledgeable?

I had written about the problem of creating our own little worlds via our own little sources of information yesterday. Now, here’s a related observation…may be a problem too.

Let me start with an example.

You read the technology section of your newspaper and notice a piece on smartphones. You like it and get good nuggets of information from it. You also notice the journalist/columnist who has written it. A week later, you see the same guy writing another piece on anti-virus software – you like that too. What would be your perception about that journalist/columnist? That he’s well-versed in assorted technology…like smartphones and anti-virus, among others?

Hold on to that thought.

I wrote my review for a new Tamil/Sinhala rap/R&B/hip-hop album earlier this week in my music review blog and had referred to a Maldivian singer too in that. She has sung 3 songs in it in collaboration with a Sri Lankan composer. One of the mails that came to me as a response was an ecstatic reader from Maldives and she said, ‘Oh…I didn’t know you listen to music from Maldives too!’.

Hold on to that thought too. Please persist…I’m coming to the point after the next paragraph.

You go out for a walk along with your friend. Your friend starts talking about how cellphones are proving to be a health risk. You don’t know much about this topic, but you listen to your friend expand on the topic…about how the bee population has been wiped out in the US dramatically thanks to cellphone networks…about how they affect our brains and what not. You listen to all of it wide-eyed and think highly about your friend’s knowledge!

No more holding on to thoughts – now, think about it.

Who among the 3 examples above would you categorize as an ‘expert’ – the journalist/columnist? Me? The friend?

Chances are that all 3 may not be experts in the strict sense, but merely giving the perception on deeper knowledge about a subject…or a set of subjects.

So, the question – in this internet age, where information is available so easily and instantly, is it easier to create a perception about being knowledgeable? If I were to continue the line of thought from yesterday’s post, are we using limited sources to judge if someone is knowledgeable?

To give you a better picture, in my case, before writing that music review, I searched for background information on each artist working on that album. I read up a bit on music from Maldives and a bit more on the particular singer in question. But I really cannot claim to be even knowledgeable about music from that country – I barely know a few things, that too gathered over an internet search. So, I wrote back to that reader about this and asked her to share more information on music from Maldives…so that I could learn at least some basics, first-hand from someone who lives there.

What goes on in your mind when you find someone writing good, interesting stuff on the net or in the media? If someone is adept in using language, isn’t it far easy to fake knowledge using information available online? Can that be called ‘fake’ knowledge at all, considering some amount of research has indeed gone into it? But is that basic level knowledge indeed knowledge? I’d love to know what you think!

Photo by Lars Plougmann via Flickr.

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  1. Vijay Menon
    Vijay Menon at | | Reply

    Let me answer with the apochryphal story about Einstein and his driver. Having heard Einstein deliver his lecture on relativity many times, the driver says,”You know doctor, I’m sure I can deliver this lecture as well as you.”

    Einstein says, “Okay, the people in the next town don’t know me from Adam, so why don’t you speak in my name?”.

    The driver agrees, and delivers a flawless lecture. After the lecture, a man in the audience asks a question. The driver says, “You know, this question is so simple that I’m going to ask my driver to respond to it!”.

    Anybody can give a lecture. Ah, but can you handle the Q&A?

    1. Karthik Srinivasan
      Karthik Srinivasan at | | Reply

      I like that logic, Vijay 🙂

      But here’s the deal – that was a live situation. I can confidently say that if this was on the net, the driver could handle the Q&A too, if he knew how and where to search for information. That was my point in this post – if everything can be searched/researched online and we have the option to create an image of being knowledgeable in any subject, does that fall under ‘knowledge’ at all? Or, do we need to rethink the meaning of knowledge for the internet age?

      1. Vijay Menon
        Vijay Menon at | | Reply

        Fair point. Inder Badhwar, the guy who hired me for my India Today stint in my distant past once said that every journalist is an expert on a topic for the duration of that story. But of course no journalist has the depth for sustaining that expertise over more than a couple of areas. I could respond to a couple of queries on Quantum Chromodynamics or the Hamsadhwani Raga by searching online but beyond that anyone with more than passing knowledge would out me. Wikipedia is no substitute for a PhD.

  2. Tweets that mention How much knowledge does one need to be knowledgeable? | Beast of Traal -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karthik Srinivasan, Karthik Srinivasan, Karthik Srinivasan, Swaroop C H, Subramaniam.S and others. Subramaniam.S said: RT @beastoftraal: How much knowledge does one need to be knowledgeable? http://bit.ly/gtMFil Almost a sequel to my post yesterday. […]

  3. Amrit Pal
    Amrit Pal at | | Reply

    I concur the way Vijay puts it, though Q&A instances might be rare unless one can honestly do that on a solitary basis.
    IMO, there’s a limit to which you can assimilate content without building insight on it. Unless the information leads to creation of insight, which the receiver lets out (via blogs, microblogs, tangible implementation) he cannot be justified as knowledgeable in that domain. Seth Godin recently posted on this, consider reading http://ow.ly/1s1iNF.

  4. Smarika Kumar
    Smarika Kumar at | | Reply

    I think this post kind of overrates knowledge, by making it the focus of discussion. I mean why is knowledge in itself so important afterall?…it’s only an end to something, right? In terms of utility etc. Yeah, maybe people can “fake” knowledge more easily now, as you put it, but that hardly matters, simply because it is available to everyone. What the focal point should be is perspective. Like Vijay’s story tells us, Einstein had both knowledge and perspective, *so* he was better than his driver and could answer the question. The answer is more often than not hidden in the information one carries only, what one needs to find it is perspective. But yeah sure, if today you lack knowledge to answer, you can search the internet- which is cool. But it’s perspective which makes an expert, not knowledge. Like Einstein himself put it, Imagination is more important than knowledge. And in that sense, I don’t think much has changed since Internet.. ..infact, it has just made easier the access to one of the important tools of expertise- i.e. information/knowledge, But that doesn’t mean that expertise will necessarily follow.

  5. Doug
    Doug at | | Reply

    I occasionally rail against people who scrape information from established sources and use it to establish themselves as â??expertsâ? in order to sell products and programs on this area. Others will accuse me of being unfair; they have done their research, they found the information and taught themselves about it and now want to share what hey have learned. Does that not give them credibility?

    I tend to scrunch up my nose at them and say, â??nooooâ?¦ I donâ??t think so.â? They may have acquired some knowledge, maybe even enough to speak intelligently about that knowledge, but can they put it to practical application? Can they use what they know to make correct projections about aspects they have not read about yet? When they understand the information completely enough to do that, then they are well versed, perhaps expert in their fields. Otherwise they simple have some knowledge.

    Iâ??m a writer. Like you I research topics to write about. With sufficient research I can craft an article that would make me appear to be expert, but Iâ??m not and I would not claim to be.

    I like your response to the Maldivian readerâ?¦ a good opportunity to learn first hand.

    1. Karthik Srinivasan
      Karthik Srinivasan at | | Reply

      Exactly my thoughts, Allan.

      Just that, in an age where there’s a LOT more information than time to consume/appreciate it, many people don’t find it important to see the difference between knowledge vs projections of superficial knowledge. Can’t blame them either – it’s the times we live in.

  6. Mugdha Win
    Mugdha Win at | | Reply

    Is this not a case of facts versus interpretation of facts.

    Of course, one may get various interpretations too. But finally only one projection of it fits onto our memory. The one which we further project. It is our assessment of the entire data we went through, which reflects our intellect.

    Knowledge is always restricted by scopes and one cant keep on overlapping scopes forever. Final assessment should be with respect to current periphery and when further influenced by other scopes, they should be assimilated to refine that instant onwards assessment.
    So, I believe it is fine to be confident in expressing your thoughts and ‘say’ on a subject and further be flexible to refine it, if one come across a convincing cross-argument.

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

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