Monday, December 22, 2008

Knowledge and power

click photo to enlarge
"Knowledge is power"
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher and author

In his book, "Powershift", Alvin Toffler maintains that there are three routes to power - violence, wealth and knowledge. He argues that in the distant past violence was used to achieve power and amass wealth, that the Industrial Revolution saw the middle classes produce wealth and use it to take power from the nobility, and that today power increasingly flows from the acquisition and use of knowledge.

And he may well be right (though plenty of governments and the wealthy find that bombs and dollars still do the trick.) But, here's the paradox. Whilst countries and companies might benefit from a knowledge economy, the extent to which the individual can become more powerful through knowledge is highly questionable. Many will disagree with that statement citing the internet, broadcasting and publishing as the means by which more knowledge than ever before is available. But therein lies the problem. Whatever your point of view you can find support for it somewhere; and today people are increasingly encouraged to consume the knowledge that they choose or that is sold to them. Consequently, despite the plethora of information, many are less exposed to a wide range of subjects and viewpoints than formerly, when information was less widely available. The post-modern idea that truth depends on context is also rampant. It's not that there isn't objectivity in the fund of available knowledge, it's that it is so much harder to find and discern. If you want knowledge about global warming the arguments are there, for and against, equally vehemently expressed, with interest groups lining up on either side. Try to find knowledge about, say, crime in society, and you'll find different versions massaged by the media, politicians and the police to support their respective agendas. Many newspapers bend the truth to sell copy, and increasingly report as news mindless trivia about television, celebrities and the like. I'm sure that if Karl Marx was alive today he would change his famous dictum to "Celebrity is the opium of the people." Some may not see a problem with this sort of "fun" reportage, but it displaces the kind of important and democratically useful news that the media traditionally purveyed, and without that knowledge we are less free and more easily manipulated - we have less power.

This photograph, that inspired today's ramblings, shows the blue on/off button (and the red hard drive activity LED) on my computer case. I decided to capture the electric blue and glowing red with a hand-held shot where I deliberately moved the camera during the long exposure in order to produce blur. The shot was taken in the evening in my study so the exposure was slightly longer than I envisaged - 8 seconds! Still, I quite liked the 3D effects that were produced.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 8 seconds
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off