The knowledge society or, what do I do when my PC crashes?

A lot is said about the so-called ‘knowledge society’. The scary thing about it is that people participating in it (whether they realise it or not) automatically become knowledge workers. Another clich√©, ‘closing the gaps’, enjoyed a brief life a decade back and could well do with a resurrection here as nowhere are there gaps as gaping as knowledge gaps.

People who hope to make a living using databases, Internet connections and electronic publishing need to learn how to control the tools that earn them a living. I suspect most of these workers asked to configure their own connection to the office network would experience difficulty.

When was the last time a knowledge worker of your acquaintance who had captured your e-mail address inhis or her Outlook file hammered you unknowingly with virus-infected rubbish? And did you open that innocent message that said something like, “Hi, here’s the file you requested, let me know what you think”. And if you read it and opened the attachment then you became the next to send out the virus to everyone who had the misfortune of be in your electronic address book. There’s a knowledge gap at work.

Do so-called knowledge workers defrag their hard drives weekly or even know what it means? Do they write macros for their word processors or wait until the help desk gets around to installing something for them? Can they do their work by command line or is a pretty GUI the prop they need?

Suppose they wanted to email their company logo at the top of documents to gussy them up. Would they realise that 600 dots per inch and 24 bit colour might just slow down the email a tad, seeing they were loading an extra 300 kilobytes to what should have been a 4 kilobyte message? Do their customers and suppliers start to doubt their abilities and lose a little bit of confidence in them as a result?
The knowledge gap can grow to a chasm when simple errors in equipment or lack of knowledge (that word again) prevent them from performing their tasks.

Web sites are a high-profile part of the knowledge society. You don’t pay to publish on paper you just knock up a quick Web site and broadcast yourself to the world, an instant potential audience of billions. That being the case, why are there so many shoddy Web sites? I suspect the sites that look homemade are knocked up by an office worker supplied with an old copy of Front Page. Having a computer and keyboard and a one day course in Front Page produces Web sites with as much panache as a kindergarten kiddie’s painting. If the equipment were all that’s required, anyone buying a PC and Microsoft Word would become a competent novelist. With a Stanley knife I’d become a brain surgeon.

The gap appears whenever the tool needed to complete the knowledge task is beyond the competence of the worker to understand, outside of a narrow focus. Until this gap is narrowed, knowledge workers should more accurately be described as niche workers.

Here’s a hint for those who hire and fire. If your heart sputters when you run up a few stairs, see a trained heart specialist, not a quack naturopath. Similarly, if you want your company to prosper from a knowledge society, hire a knowledgeable knowledge worker or train your staff thoroughly. I bet you some of your competitors do.