The Age of Interconnectedness: knowing and unknowing

The Age of Interconnectedness: knowing and unknowing

September 23, 2016

One of the most sought after personal attributes for life in the 21st century is the capacity to filter and process the relentless flow of data that washes over us each day to extract what is useful, timely, and necessary. This particular skill points to an individual’s ability to work comfortably in an environment where there may be an excess of information, characterized by a distinct lack of clarity and structure. We become uncertain because we know too much, about everything, increasingly about each other. Filtering, processing, analyzing, prioritizing, and deciding are certainly high-level 21st century skills. The exercise of discretion and wisdom in that filtering process is highly demanding.

Accordingly, our approach to education, particularly in the final years when our senior students are on the threshold of graduation, must prepare learners for life that is at times overwhelmingly complex, often blurred, sometimes alarmingly transparent, and perhaps frighteningly uncertain. Through the ‘miracle’ of technologically mediated connectedness, our lives, both corporeal and virtual, now extend far beyond the neat, clear-cut boundaries of an earlier age to the point where it is very difficult to draw a clear distinction between home and school, social and academic, personal and institutional, ‘me’ and ‘we’. Our role is to help learners develop a level of comfort with ambiguity, to inoculate them against ‘complexity overwhelm’.

Ultimately, we should ask ourselves and our children: what do we do with all that we know? Knowing and acting are complex and often warring states. Can we, should we, act on all that we know? Do we ‘know’ what we think we know? As the volume of information has increased, its shelf life has shrunk. We are often wrestling with the ‘too much information’ syndrome, and may feel paralyzed by indecision. Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WeChat, Kik, Viber, QQ, amongst many others, all offer a relentless, inexorable flow of ‘data’ which we may choose to ignore or embrace, but which link us together regardless. We are tied with the ‘bytes that bind’, connected regardless of distance, in ways that have never been possible in the past.

This interconnectedness gives us access to knowledge, and by extension, power, for which many in positions of authority in an earlier age would have given all. This same interconnectedness also exposes us in ways that no other generation has had to endure. Our mistakes, missteps, misjudgments, and miscalculations are all remembered, stored, and visible to anyone with ‘access’ – essentially everyone. Our children are no longer afforded the protection of ‘youthful’ anonymity. The views and exploits of the inexperienced, exuberant, naive, immature, remain available to eyes, both friendly and hostile, for years, even decades. In opening up connections that never shutdown, we have lost the social modesty afforded by discreet personal distance; our privacy has been sacrificed to the ‘need to know’ or perhaps the ‘need to share’.

So where does that leave us as learners, leaders, educators, and parents? Do we plunge headlong into any situation with ‘full knowledge’ and let others suffer the consequences? Do we ‘turn a blind eye’ and blissfully ignore what is inconvenient or difficult? Or do we find an almost mythical place somewhere between ‘wise ignorance’ or ‘inert knowing’ that permits mature and measured action informed by judiciously selected knowledge? We must, at all costs, and for our mental and emotional health, all learn to recognize what is important and act on it; the rest, we must learn to pass each day into the immeasurable vastness of electronic entropy.

Dr. Malcolm Pritchard
Head of School

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