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The Free Exchange of Knowledge: How Our World Has Changed

Posted by on Jun 11, 2012 | 2 Comments

While skimming through my blogroll at the right of this page, I came across a post written by my friend Kate. She wrote about the free exchange of knowledge, which is a passionate topic for me. I’ve written about this topic before, but Kate’s post struck a chord. She mentioned a post I had written in the past… I believe it was this one:

The New Gift Economy

Kate’s plea for people to adopt the idea of freely exchanging ideas probably wouldn’t have been possible 15 years ago. Why?

The Internet.

The Internet has changed our world in ways most of us don’t fully realize. Most of us acknowledge that it has put virtually all information at our fingertips- both figuratively and literally. Need to find the atomic number of Seaborgium? How about the cooking time for a twenty pound turkey? Need to identify that mountain you see in a random picture? How about the most common name for girls born in 1962? Each of these questions can be answered in about as much time as it takes you to type the question in the Google search box.

We also realize the Internet has changed the way humanity interacts. Geography is no longer an issue. Back in the day, your circle of relationships was limited by propinquity. The internet changes that by giving us the ability to communicate with anyone with a connection to the Internet anywhere in the world. The Internet is a social phenomenon as much as it is a technological phenomenon, and it has forever changed the way humans communicate.

The real power of the Internet, however, is the opportunity to expand our circle of influence at little or no cost. Back in the day, the only people that had an audience were people involved in mass media. Reporters, writers, TV producers… all of them had access to a platform that could get their message to the masses. Their positions were privileged. There were gatekeepers that controlled who could ascend to positions of influence. The same gatekeepers also controlled how the select few could ascend. Things like family influence, college degrees, certifications, and the “good ‘ole boys’ club” controlled who got in and who was shut out. You could get in if you knew the right people, had enough money, or were willing to jump through the hoops and navigated the red tape.

The Internet completely removes these barriers. Anyone with access to an Internet connection and a computer can produce tangible information. That may include writing, photography, graphic art, web-based television shows… whatever. The Internet gives all of us the power to produce art.

Back to Kate’s idea of freely sharing knowledge- once all of us have the power to produce information, we can either sell it or give it away for free. We’ve been conditioned to hoard knowledge, keep it sacred, and sell it for profit. It’s based on the scarcity principle. The more rare the knowledge, the more valuable it becomes. The more valuable it is, the more we can profit. The more we profit, the more motorboats we can buy.This is the idea Adam Smith talked about all those years ago.

If we choose to give it away for free, we violate the scarcity principle. Suddenly our sacred knowledge is no longer valuable because it is rare. Once you give something away, it’s tough to make a profit from selling it. This is especially true of knowledge. This realization creates a bit of panic- we realize we may not be able to buy our motorboats if we don’t have information to sell. Hell, we may not even be able to feed our families!

I address this concern in the “New Gift Economy” post linked above, so I won’t re-hash the idea here. I’ll just say not only is it possible to make a living off freely giving away information, it’s actually advantageous in today’s world. Simply put- the people with the most influence are the people that reach the biggest audience. The people that generate the biggest audience are those that freely give gifts of knowledge to their audience.

The world is changing. Some people realize it. Some people don’t. Those that DO realize it have recognized the change has to do with freedom of production. That freedom for all of us to be producers of information has forever changed the economy of information. Those of us that insist on hoarding knowledge and profiting from it will continue a trend of diminishing influence. Those of us that embrace the idea of freely giving information will continue to build influence.

Want to increase your influence on the world around you? Have an idea that will help others? Share it freely. Don’t rely on the knowledge itself to pay the bills. Give the knowledge as a gift. The resulting influence can be leveraged into opportunities that will pay the bills.



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  1. Bare Lee
    June 11, 2012

    You mean like this?:

    • NickW
      June 12, 2012