Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Sum of All Human Knowledge

I never meant to talk about Steampunk exclusively in this blog, so here's my first real divergence from that theme.

For once, I'm not talking about Wikipedia when I refer to the sum of all human knowledge.

Instead, I would like to talk about my old belief that everybody is constantly learning, so surely the sum of all human knowledge is constantly increasing. The world, in effect, is getting smarter, and I have to struggle to keep up by learning as much as possible. This is what it felt like when I was in school: everyone around me was always learning new stuff, so I had to learn those things, too, to stay ahead of the game.

It has become increasingly obvious to me that this is not the case on a worldwide scale. People on this planet are not getting any smarter. Any bit of knowledge that I gain puts me that much further ahead of the game.

Take, for instance, my knowledge of computers. Surely people all over the world are constantly using computers, so the sum of knowledge about computers is going up? Probably not, or at least, not to the extent you might think. For every person who figures out a shortcut or a scrap of HTML, there's someone who steadfastly refuses to learn how to use the devil box, and someone else who is just starting out and learning how to get the magical internet pixies to show him or her electronic mail.

My knowledge of history is the same way (and doubly so here in America). For every cool historical figure I learn about on Wikipedia, I'm gaining that much more information about something historical than most people have. Think about it: studies have shown that something like 30% of college students think that Martin Luther King, Jr., was arguing for the abolition of slavery.

If I come off as being snobby and rambling, just imagine me sitting in an armchair by the fireplace, curling my mustache around my finger with one hand while stirring my tea with the other, an open book on my lap. See, now I don't seem so bad, do I?

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