The Google Society and the Snowflake Effect for Wise Old Men
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to talk to the emeriti forum of my university.
(If you don’t know, ’emeritus’ is a sort of sophisticated word for … I guess ‘retired’ – but with more of an emphasis on the fact that you have to earn that title through a distinguished career. I think we should use that kind of words more often!)
This was a distinct pleasure indeed, because I rarely get the opportunity to talk to folks in my own university and the audience consisted mainly of Wise Old Men – not surprisingly, there were very few women… Almost all of my talks at the university are to students less than half my age, so it was kind of refreshing to be myself only half the age of many in the audience ;-)!
Moreover, the event was very well organized: we had two preparation meetings to discuss the goals of the event; a nice lunch was organized to continue the discussion – and I much appreciated the two bottles of wine to take home, including one of my favorite ones (a Chilean Carmenere, if you’re interested)!
The event focused on the ‘google society’. As the slides hopefully illustrate, I talked about abundance as one of the core characteristics of the google society, the difficulties that leads to in terms of choice and how the Snowflake Effect can help to address that problem.
The second speaker focused more on ethical aspects. One of the topics he touched upon is how we have come to (mis-)understand privacy as secrecy, not unlike the way the Victorians dealt with sexuality: a theme that I’d like to read more about…
The audience asked some really good questions, about how for instance the legal system can deal with the google society – we used to rely on the law in order to control the balance of power, but it is quite unclear how that system can be deployed in a high-tech world.
Another good question challenged the notion of ‘knowledge as raw materials’ that is often present in much of the EU documents. Maybe we should talk more about information in this context, and remember the difference between information, knowledge and wisdom!
Yet another question related to how technology can be both employed to control individuals as well as to empower them. How do we make sure the benefit of empowerment outweighs the danger of control?
Maybe the only question I felt less impressed by was the one about Internet addiction: I replied, quite sincerely, that my parents were quite concerned when I was about sixteen that I was addicted too … to books!
Still – these were not just old men, they were pretty wise! And, on a deeper level, I much enjoyed the continued passion they showed for the Bigger Questions. In the conversations afterwards, it was very clear that they were as energetic and eager to discuss research questions as I have ever been – in fact more so than some of my junior colleagues!
I have only the deepest respect and gratitude for having been allowed to spend some time in their company! But I do hope there will be more Wise Old Women by the time I retire…