Killing knowledge and culture

The world is changing so rapidly that our personal experience is being rendered obsolete long before we reach “retirement age.”

About 8 or so years ago, when I was in the regular business world, I gave a speech at The University of Tulsa School of Business about “knowledge management.”  At that time the half-life of knowledge, the time it takes for half of everything known to be rendered irrelevant or be found false, was about 7 years.  If memory serves me, it was about 18 years in 1965.

The consequences of this falling half-life are horrific.

This rapid change is one of the reasons I sold my business in 2018.  I was utterly sick of reinventing the d***ed thing every three or four years.  Each “reinvention” is fraught with risk.  Unnecessary risk.  I continually bought new equipment to replace stuff that wasn’t worn out, or even close to worn.  In the new world there’s almost no such thing as a long-lived durable asset.  Whatever piece of equipment you may buy will be obsolete or require upgrading within just a few years of purchase.  Constant “pivots,” new softwares, new legal developments, etc. meant I was never able to REALLY profit from all of hard work we had done as I might have 30-40 years prior.   “Creative destruction” ain’t.  See my series on the nature of evil.  Destruction isn’t good.  It cannot be.

I asked a high price, I got it.  I left.

The worker is in a constant state of training and can spend almost no time in a state of mastery. This has horrific consequences for quality of workmanship, everyone is new at their jobs. It’s not surprising most manufactured goods are shoddy.

Worse, parents are unable to give their own children the benefit of their own experience.  The world of work, dating, finance, everything, has changed so much since I was 18, I have little in the way of relevant experience to share with my 18 year old.

This rapid change makes it far more difficult than need be to just have a CONVERSATION with people of other generations.  I suspect this has a lot to do with the general animosity towards boomers.  The boomer is unaware of how fast and devastating the rate of tech, social, economic, political change is, therefore they do not understand that their “bad advices” from their childhoods and young adulthoods, while interesting, are almost entirely irrelevant.  The Gen X is at least aware of the devastating nature of the rapid change and can temper his advice to younger folks with caveats regarding those changes.

I’ve said this stuff publicly on many a podcast and maybe on these pages as well.

I was reading along tonight in Malcolm Knowles’ book “Andragogy: The New Science of Education” and saw that Alfred North Whitehead was hip to this in 1931.  From page 146

In an obscure footnote he (Whitehead) pointed out that it was appropriate to define education as a process of transmittal of what is known only when the time-span of major cultural change was greater than the life-span of individuals. Under this condition, what people learn in their youth will remain valid and useful for the rest of their lives.  But, Whitehead emphasized, “We are living in the first period in human history for which this assumption is false…today this time-span in considerably shorter than that of human life, and accordingly our training must prepare individuals to face a novelty of conditions.”

In 1930 the half life of knowledge is estimated to have been about 35 years.  He saw it.

Training to prepare humans for novelty of conditions just won’t work.

  1. There is an economic tipping point where the duration and amount of future cash flows resulting from new training aren’t sufficient to undergo the cash expense and opportunity cost of training.  The worker bows out.
  2. The capacity to learn decreases as the human ages.  It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  The capacity for dealing with novelty decreases with age.
  3. Have you helped anyone over 60 with an iPhone, a device that doesn’t even need to ship with an instruction manual?  At some point older folks may have the capacity for training but lack tacit prerequisites that allow younger people to master the new technology WITH NO DOCUMENTATION OR TRAINING.  The age at which this prerequisite deficit occurs is getting younger and younger.  It’ll be 14 years old soon.
  4. Novelty of conditions cannot be trained through for parents. There is no parenting training that can be devised that will give the parent the skills to help their children find a mate in an entirely new dating culture.  In fact, the training would need to anticipate the dating culture that does not exist yet, but will exist when the 10 year old is 16 years old.

Whitehead saw the problem 91 years ago.  You and I see it now.  It’s insurmountable and must be stopped.

Resist cultural and technological change.  Embrace serfdom.  More on this when I get around to it.

1 thought on “Killing knowledge and culture”

  1. Pingback: Education in the face of the knowledge half-life – ScottHambrick.com

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