Imagine viewing the Earth from space, through a lens that reveals information and its flow around the planet. You see a web of light: bright high-bandwidth optical fibers spanning the oceans in thin threads, gleaming networks crisscrossing North America and Europe, covering Japan and the edges of Australia with ribbons of fire, extending tendrils into other continents and islands ... plus glowing microwave links reaching across tundra, desert, and jungle, beaming up to satellites in geosynchronous and low earth orbit ... shining copper wires fanning out from central offices to homes and businesses ... flickering cellular phones passing data first to one tower, then another ... neon television and radio stations splashing out their signals. And you see the nodes in the information web: white-hot libraries full of books ... data repositories like beacons ... fiercely glowing CDs, disks, tapes, and other media.
But that's mere data --- bits of raw, uninterpreted information. Where's the knowledge on this planet? Knowledge implies conscious understanding, something that happens only in minds. (Perhaps animals and machines can have minds too, but that's another topic.) A knowledge-display of the Earth from space shows people as brilliant points of light ... reading and writing ... listening and speaking ... learning and teaching ... clustering together in great cities and spreading out in search of solitude ... drawing information from static storehouses, manipulating it, unifying it, and converting it into useful things.
But that's just knowledge. Where's the wisdom on this sphere? Wisdom is understanding transformed by thought and experience into deeper meaning. What would a wisdom-image of the globe reveal? Mostly an abyss of darkness ... a long night broken at intervals by sparks of realization, as individuals grapple with the questions of life and existence ... occasional faint flickers when caring people meet and open their minds to one another ... glimmers of light as they risk sharing the depths of their griefs, their hopes, and their loves.
How is wisdom stored and conveyed across space and time? Not through high-bandwidth channels, 3D-graphics rendering, supercomputer clusters, terabyte servers, TCP/IP, or any other technological marvels. No, wisdom grows in one mind at a time, as each person wrestles with reality. Wisdom moves at its own pace ... a torch passed hand to hand ... thoughtful conversations ... difficult books read and pondered ... challenging lectures ... and years of agonized meditation. It cannot be hurried. But if we watch, and wait, and care, it will come.
Thursday, July 22, 1999 at 21:21:28 (EDT) = Datetag19990722