In case you have watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire, perhaps you remember the scene where the inspector mocks Jamal for not knowing – what is written underneath the national emblem of India? The inspector says even his five years old daughter could answer that question, but not Jamal. Jamal responds by asking a simple question to the inspector – How much is pani puri at Chowpatty? The inspector could not answer the question correctly.
The scene though belongs to a work of fiction, still holds some serious implication in our lives. It implies – knowledge is never absolute. It has different connotations for different people. Therefore the important question that requires closer examination – how important it is to have knowledge?
First thing we need to understand is the fact that there is a clear distinction between knowledge and information. Most of the times people get perplexed over the two terms and they start considering the two as the same thing. Let’s talk about information first. Information is about facts and data that you have about anything. Information has always been a great source of theoretical knowledge (will describe that in a moment), but the relevance of keeping the information inside our heads has fallen considerably. This is due to two reasons – a) There is infinite information available and we cannot memorize all of that. b) The information can be stored, replaced and transferred through various resources. Google has been a great source of information over the years. If you can find it on Google within few seconds, why to memorize it in your head.
Knowledge on the other hand is a combination of information and skills acquired through education, learning and work. Practical knowledge is all about understanding of skills and functionality of various processes and works. Theoretical knowledge which is mostly derived from information is still different from it. Knowledge is what we do with that information. In a world where we all have the privilege to share all the information, it is what we do with that information, defines our knowledge. In the pre-internet era where the information was only available to few, they had the obvious advantage, and therefore were treated as knowledgeable. And also the ambiguity mounted.
Unfortunately we live in world where information is overrated. It is true that having information is an asset in itself and therefore can be treated as power in the information age where we live today. But it is also true that it is just another form of power and there is no need to exaggerate. Especially when it comes to – what we call as general knowledge. The daily dose of news, happenings around the world, and the current affairs is often termed as general knowledge and is considered as the signature of a wise person. Now that is a mistake. There is a reasonable difference in having wisdom and information. Wisdom which may be a distant cousin of knowledge, has nothing to do with information and therefore the definition of wise is ironically wrong due to our own ignorance.
There is a reason why most people tend to overestimate the value of information. It gives them satisfaction. One of the prime contributors to our satisfaction is the sense competitive advantage that we have over others. In twentieth century where money and material were considered as most valuable things, gave satisfaction to the people. But this is twenty first century. Knowledge is valued more than anything else, which of course is not a bad thing at all. Having the facts and information right, therefore is the new form of satisfaction.
I remember one scenario where a friend of mine was ridiculing another friend because of her ignorance about the various ministers in the government of India. I had to intervene and ask my friend what Jamal had asked the inspector. What else do you know apart from those ministers – I asked. And it silenced him. I knew one thing – people are limited by the walls of knowledge that they have created around themselves. They rarely think beyond that. They keep walking inside those walls and create the illusion of assuming themselves better than the others. This is how most of us think, and act.
The answer is – how does it matter. If you are happy with what you know, what else matters. I am not trying to encourage ignorance here, but think about this. If you are a talented painter, with supreme imagination and creative skills, do you really need to know about who won the most medals in last Olympics. If you are a programmer, how does it matter you remember our third president or not. Your contribution will be much better if you could work on your programming. One might argue that first of all we are citizens of our country. But then we are humans too. Why don’t we study anthropology first? The fact is – we create the illusion of information and we tend to justify it based on what we know or what we desire to know. The knowledge and information have no limits. The more we grasp, the more we desire. It’s all right to know only few things. Do not choke yourself for not knowing those things which you do not intend to learn.
So next time, if someone bullies you for not knowing a piece of information, stand up to your full height and tell them – It’s just a google search away. But at the same time make sure that you learn that you feel is important to you, what you think is valuable, not for others but for yourself. Knowledge is definitely a form of power in this world, but choice is yours – whether you want this power or you are happy without it. Any choice that you make, is the right choice.