250 Columns later
So, fine. But then the column goes on to tout the human element, claiming that focusing only on the technology can lead us to forget that “technology is designed to make our lives easier. We, the humans, must be able to work with and gain benefit from the tools and not be a slave to or forgotten because of those tools.”
Well, duh. Did anyone actually need to be reminded of this in 1998? I hope so, but only so I won’t today look quite so pretentious and foolish. So, sure, let’s say for now that, yes, it needed saying, and I’ll thrash it out with my therapist later.
My emphasis on the human seems to be a continuing theme in my columns over the years, at least according to an unreliable little Python script I wrote this weekend to count the frequency of terms in the approximately 210,000 words of my combined columns. Unsurprisingly, the word that shows up the most is “knowledge”: 493 times. Then “people”: 333 times. “Information”: 294. “Web”: 288. “World”: 255. “Idea”: 244. “Think”: 236. “New”: 224. “Data”: 190. “Business”: 142. “Internet”: 138. “Human”: 104.
While this sort of seat-of-the-pants analysis probably says something about my interests over time, it only says something about KM as a field if my interests have been reflective of the field and industry’s viewpoints. I’m not sure how true that is. For one thing, it’s the role of a columnist to try to say things from a different point of view. But I suspect that I’m less compelled by the business reasons for building KM systems than many of those in the field, and certainly less involved in the actual tech than practitioners are. I am glad that there are many great people making the business case for KM and figuring out how to build and deploy awesomely useful systems. But personally I tend to be more committed to the way that knowledge can change us as people and as groups. Maybe that helps explain why the stats show that I’ve talked about information 50% more than about data: data is numbers shorn of context, but information in at least some of its uses is a component of human understanding.
My main interest has always been in how ideas are expressed in our technology. But that is happily compatible with an interest in KM, for where do ideas and tech intermingle most profoundly other than knowledge management—the field dedicated to creating tech for generating, distributing, and making knowledge and ideas understandable and usable.
That’s what’s kept me fascinated by KM for so long. And having passed the 20-year mark writing for KMWorld, an expression of my gratitude and patience to you all is long overdue. Thank you.
But please don’t read that as a farewell. The Lord and this journal’s management permitting, I hope to keep writing in these pages about knowledge as an idea, as a resource, and as something essential that we humans do together.