There is something seductive about knowledge, and one's reaction to it can border on addiction - or perhaps there is no such border. This was illustrated by my trip last weekend to the San Mateo Maker Faire where the subtext of each exhibit is "how?". How do I make a robot, how do I knit, how do I shoot flames out of a 40 foot steel sculpture? Certainly some people go to the fair for the spectacle or the society or to pay $7 for a hot dog, but I believe most are driven by that fundamental question and the vendors at the fair offer answers in the form of example, tool, training and conversation.
But like any binge, there can be a hangover. In this case I have a pocket full of discount coupons, leds and batteries and a new set of half-started projects and distractions (I learned that both silver and platinum catalyze hydrogen peroxide reactions and I even learned how to knit).
Was it worth it? Well for me it was, just like a cool beer on a hot day.
There is a chemical reaction somewhere in the brain which is releasing something my neurons are hungry for.
I'm inching here towards the proposition that the quest for knowledge is something which is not entirely rational. Sure, it serves a valuable purpose, but like all instincts it can be exploited. A number of vendors at the fair are aware of this. And the same is true outside the fair grounds.
An example showed up in my emailbox this morning, an invitation (OK, corporate mandate) to fill out a "predictive index" survey so that people can know what motivates me and how I behave. A ten minute survey and my motivations, desires and behaviors can be known. So what sort of knowledge is this? Humans are complex, but are not entirely unpredictable. I do not doubt that the knowledge that this survey delivers is true at least at a gross level. But the real question is what is the value of the knowledge?
At first glance it would seem valuable. KNOW WHAT DRIVES YOUR EMPLOYEES WITH AN INVESTMENT OF ONLY 10 MINUTES!!! The proposition seems unbeatable. But the true measure of knowledge is not the absolute value, but rather the derivative of the function. What is the rate of change in my state of knowledge?
At the fair, my kids demonstrated this clearly. "We did that last year" was good cause to skip a booth and move on to something new. "They showed us some new tricks" was praise for the guys manning the soldering stations. In the case of this survey, what it adds to what is already known should be the true measure. And if that answer is zero Knowledge calories, then it is no better for us than a pink and purple puff of cotton candy.
I haven't taken the survey yet.
But the testimonials are all confirmations of its predictive power by people who already KNOW the behavior of the subject under test. It is praised because it tells us what we already know.
Now, with fading memory and all that, my brain gives me a warm twitch even on this sort of recycled knowledge. Trivia games play on this in a highly developed way. So is this sort of survey just a clever party trick or does it really provide value? I'll have to take the survey and find out...