On Twitter this morning I was alerted by @israelblechman to a great article at the Social Computing website by Venkatesh Rao called "Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War." Rao asserts that different generations of knowledge workers have had quite different approaches to the perennial challenge of using technology to help generate, capture, and spread knowledge among people. He also predicts how the struggle among these approaches and their advocates will end:
"The Boomers will retire and the Millennials will win by default, in a bloodless end with no great drama. KM will quietly die, and SM will win the soul of Enterprise 2.0, with the Gen X leadership quietly slipping the best of the KM ideas into SM as they guide the bottom-up revolution."
Jeff Kelly replied with an equally valuable piece, "KM vs. Social Media: Beware the Warmongers" in which he cautions against, well, warmongering between the different approaches. His closing prediction is that:
"Our technology and society will continue to evolve; people will continue to be resistant to (but finally adapt to) change; youth will continue to disdain their elders until they become tempered by wisdom; and the opportunities to learn and prosper will continue to grow for those wise enough to do so."
I like Kelly’s caution against ageism: not all Boomers and Gen Xers are irretrievably clueless about social media or hostile to the ideas of information sharing platforms that are (at least initially) radically freeform and egalitarian.
But I also really like how Rao highlights that successive generations of technology to support group work and knowledge creation are not all the same, or essentially interchangeable. Instead, these different waves of technology reflect differing assumptions about the right, or smart, or best ways to go about these tasks. As I wrote earlier, "It’s not about the technology" is often a dangerous and incorrect oversimplification, and nowhere is this the case more clearly than with tools for group work and knowledge creation.
To make this point, Rao uses Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote that "the medium is the message." I also like Mitch Kapor’s insight that "Architecture is politics." You will get different politics, different dynamics, different levels and types of participation, and different results and benefits from different architectures of participation. And I’m with Rao that the newest architectures are the best ones we’ve come up with yet. Do you agree? And how ‘real’ is the war between KM and SM? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.