What Is Knowledge Anyway?

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Tuesday, 7.23am

Sheffield, U.K.

The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading. – David Bailey

I had a clearout yesterday and took the majority of my library to the charity shop. I was saying goodbye to old friends, ones that had helped me at various times with questions and problems that I had.

In 2010 I was teaching myself investing. In 2013 I was learning about business. Marketing and copywriting books helped me when I started writing. Before all that, technical books helped me create software and systems.

The thing about books is that they are useless unless you read them. They don’t help me or anyone stacked on the floor for years. If they are out there in the world they may help someone else. And I’ve always believed that when I need it the right book seems to turn up.

More recently, as I read research, I’m starting to realise that the ideas in books are often quite old and often not critically evaluated. Too many books have one idea stretched over 300 pages. Too many have ideas that sound good but are wrong. Many are recipes for action that don’t take into account the complexity and unpredictability of the world.

People read differently too. I came back with a bunch of empty bags and watched a TED talk about Chiki Sarkar and Juggernaut books. Sarkar observed that Indians made up the largest smartphone market in the world but the country had very few bookstores. She started a publisher that focused on delivering cheap books that people could read on smartphones in the time they had available.

The rise of such publishers is a reassuring thought. The traditional form of the book – the codex – is an amazing thing. What’s important, however, is not the form but the ideas in there – and those ideas can flow into the small screen of a smartphone for those of us without the space for large libraries.

Getting rid of hundreds of books has not destroyed the knowledge in them – it’s preserved in the world and in particular made accessible through initiatives like the Open Library.

While ideas in books are being made more accessible there is need for ideas coming out of research to be similarly accessible. Perhaps that’s the next platform that needs building, one that makes cutting-edge research available at very low cost accessible on a smartphone.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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