David Weinberger is one of the Internet's clearest and cleverest thinkers, an understated and deceptively calm philosopher who builds his arguments like a bricklayer builds a wall, one fact at a time. In books like Everything is Miscellaneous and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, he erects solid edifices with no gaps between the bricks, inviting conclusions that are often difficult to reconcile with your pre-existing prejudices, but which are even harder to deny.
Too Big to Know, Weinberger's latest book-length argument, is another of these surprising brick walls. Weinberger presents us with a long, fascinating account of how knowledge itself changes in the age of the Internet -- what it means to know something when there are millions and billions of "things" at your fingertips, when everyone who might disagree with you can find and rebut your assertions, and when the ability to be heard isn't tightly bound to your credentials or public reputation for expertise.
Weinberger wants to reframe questions like "Is the Internet making us dumber?" or "Is the net making us smarter?" as less like "Is water heavier than air?" and more like "Will my favored political party win the election?" That is, the kind of question whose answer depends on what you, personally, do to make the answer come true.
Weinberger starts with a history of knowledge, from the pre-Enlightenment idea of knowledge as something that is revealed by one's understanding of the divine, to the scientific method and the positivist notion that knowledge requires falsifiable hypotheses. Read the rest