Recently I’ve been fascinated and consumed by the concept of the collective knowledge of kids and youths.
It started with my daughter learning games and rhymes at school that I had learnt 25 years ago. These are games and rhymes that are learnt in the school yard between classes. It represents a very pure form of collective knowledge; perhaps the purest persisting form. After 25 years they have changed somewhat but many of the lessons passed down are exactly the same.
The transfer of the collective knowledge of kids between age groups/cohorts is on a scale that is smaller than intergenerational, smaller than semi intergenerational. The high resolution of the scale – in terms of the short time between transfers – is what I think lends to the accuracy of the information transferred. I imagine it like playing Chinese telephone where you pass the message very quickly as opposed to taking a break between each transmission.
What is most fascinating about it to me, is that adults have moved further and further away from reliance on collective knowledge, as we have come to rely on other methods of discovery and storage of information. I think in a way we have also lost the respect that I think collective knowledge deserves, and also lost appreciation for collective knowledge as a resource. I also think that as people move away from the third world reality of village life, to the first world ideal of the immediate family unit (The American dream) that the pathways and connections that provide the infrastructure for collective knowledge break down, and a lot of the collective knowledge is lost. The information becomes isolated in the persons retaining knowledge. These people eventually age and fall out of the collective; and so knowledge is lost.
Going back to the infrastructure example; our community is like a computer hard drive with each person being like a megabyte of storage in a super computer. in order for information to circulate there has to be connections – electrical circuitry. In the community format these are relationships and interactions. As the amount of interactions reduce as a result of a more individual approach to life, which is caused by the aspiration to the concept of people being independent and an island standing alone or with the immediate family unit, the circuitry breaks down. When people aspire to this lifestyle the unintended consequence is that the amount of time spent connecting with others reduces. That in the hard drive example is a loss of circuitry.
The thing about the community hard drive is that it is constantly regenerating with people dying and people coming into existence. With a loss of circuitry we eventually lose information that just can not be transferred because the rate of transfer is just too slow. It is like having a slow internet connection and trying to download a catalogue of movies. A lifetime is simply not enough.
Many people have recognized this process happening under our noses and have tried to intervene by encouraging young people to have conversations with old people, or to record the stories of old people and put them in museums. These things are like last resort attempts to save a species from extinction by forcing it to breed and keeping specimens in zoos.
What is clear to me from the observation of the collective knowledge of kids,is that in order to counter the loss of collective knowledge in the wider community, what is needed is to build up circuitry.