Learning cycling and the persistent illusion that all knowledge can be accessed online

8/19/2011 | Christian Kreutz

Remember when you learnt cycling? The first time you stepped into a pedal and tried to balance the bicycle; the voice behind your neck telling you to keep pedaling and you will be fine. Learning cycling is a wonderful example of how difficult it is to "transfer" knowledge and that most of our wisdom is not just published in the Internet.

Have you ever heard of or read a book about how to learn cycling. I am sure there are books for that out there, but would you learn cycling from one? Without practice, patience and using all your senses, you will not succeed nor overcome the fear of falling down. Learning cycling shows how difficult it is to learn other than by just doing and experimenting.  About 80% of knowledge in our brain is tacit and cannot be written down.

I have recently stumbled over a nice article by Noam Cohen, in which he argues that the citation rules by Wikipedia, introduced as a quality mechanism, can also hinder knowledge sharing.

"In the case of dabba kali, a children’s game played in the Kerala state of India, there was a Wikipedia article in the local language, Malayalam, that included photos, a drawing and a detailed description of the rules, but no sources to back up what was written. Other than, of course, the 40 million people who played it as children."

The same article also linked me to a great video called "People are Knowledge -  Exploring alternative methods of citation in Wikipedia" by Achal Prabhala.

People are Knowledge (subtitled) from Achal R. Prabhala`

At this point one could ask, what about social media? Knowledge sharing happens through conversations. But, let's be honest, how many tweets would you need to explain sufficiently how to cycle? There is an inherent limitation in written exchange compared to face-to-face exchange. Ana what about video? Visual exchange can make learning easier; for example, I have read a dozen articles about how to repair my old espresso machine, but only the video explanation made me fully understand how to do it. On the other side, Mike Davies argues in recent post:

"The lack of very local digital content is acute in Africa and is one reason even Google’s strategy is challenged here. Google Trader (among others) have offered cool new technologies, but without any real content they're just not being used." (http://blog.esoko.com/2011/08/mark-davies-part-ii-content-is-king.html)

But he also conludes that "we should also recognize that content can come from a multiple number of sources. Isn’t that the lesson we’ve learned over the last ten years? That content provided by your neighbour may be equally or even more relevant than that provided by your government, or by CNN."

Through my experience with the hyperlocal open data platform in Frankfurt, I have realized how little information is available on the local level in Germany – information such as finding out why a red traffic light lasts longer or shorter (by the way,  there is a regulated framework called the "Richtlinien für Lichtsignalanlagen" – Guideline for Signal and Street lights). It is maybe a small detail, but that is what citizens care a lot about in Frankfurt.

So, it seems we need to work on two issues, making more knowledge explicit, particularly local content. And we also need to be aware that most knowledge won't be on the Internet, and especially piles of opened data will not change that either.