[PEN-L:3391] Re: Knowledge Management and elists

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at SPAMprimenet.com
Sun Oct 22 23:31:37 MDT 2000


Greetings Economists,
    An interesting reply from Gar Lipow which articulates an every day feel
of e-lists that underlies what I was pointing at in the knowledge management
technology.  I think part of what Gar writes is similar to my understanding
of what makes e-lists work.  However I want to emphasize that thinking about
e-lists is important with respect to exactly what Gar likes about e-lists,
and not in the sense that Gar thinks organizing through e-lists might be
what I meant.  I am not arguing an e-list is a great way to get out the
vote, or get people out for demo's etc.  They may be extremely good for
that, but the real strength of the lists is about what Gar likes about them.
That is the conversational quality of the e-list.  This skill to talk to
each other is what makes an e-list a very new and different form of
organizing on the left.

    I want to emphasize the "conversation" structure as that appears on
e-lists.  We experience the "conversation" as a series of remarks upon a
thread, but we for example don't know how the total audience reacts to this
thread.  We would think it odd in a theatre that the audience didn't make a
single noise during a performance.  These emotional aspects of what could be
part of the e-list are related to bandwidth and lack of software tools to
produce such knowledge in a fast and efficient manner.  These obvious
limitations of contemporary e-lists in turn restrict the content that can
develop in the conversation.

Gar Lipow,
In a discussion like Pen-l or lbo-list no subject is ever closed. Nor is
there any real limit on topics to be introduced nor on how abstract
discussion should be. Speaking personally, as someone more on the
grassroots end, I learn about things that will never be discussed in
day-to-day organizing. I get a continuous flow of facts from people on
the ground in struggles to which I do not devote my primary efforts. All
of this helps keep my day to day struggle grounded in a larger reality.
It helps to preserve me from an ignorance that could lead to a gradual
slippage to right on all issues but those I am active in (a phenomena I
see too frequently). In addition there are plenty of postings here on
opportunities for action, and on resources useful to activists. And if I
have a question I can usually get it answered quite quickly.

Doyle
Conversation is a kind of knowledge production where the significant
knowledge is what people gain not from one person but from several voices
that produce more knowledge than a single mind can encompass.  This suggests
directions in knowledge production which surpass what we can do in face to
face talk.  Mainly in the sense that speech cannot show visually.   As I've
pointed out where productivity increases would support the basic premise of
conversation, bandwidth production increases suggests sureness of how people
feel we write to.   In addition we could know the audience reaction to
conversation.  The following quote from Gar then assumes that what I mean by
organizing is something very different from what I was actually pointing
out.

Gar,
Now there is no reason why e-list cannot be used for other left-wing
purposes. I would be against turning existing lists such as pen-l or
lbo-talk into such an "organizing" list, but the establishment of
organizing lists could be useful in their own way. Such a list would
come out of either a single issue or organization, It would have an
agenda, with only a few issues at a time being discussed. There would be
fixed period of time for a given issue, after which discussion on it
would closed (possibly to be re-opened in the future when circumstances
change). If such a list were to be democratic then there would be a
democratic way of introducing a topic, and setting the length of
discussion. A list that belonged to an organization might actually vote
on a topic after discussion was over and decide on collective action.
Alternatively a list might serve as an organizing tool without
ultimately coming to a single decision but rather by ending each topic
with a document that summarized any area of agreement, and majority and
minority opinions on all areas of disagreement. It could also include
similar sections on tactics -- that is what tactics were universally
recommended, what tactics were supported by a majority, and what only by
various minorities of the group. Even when on lists that made decisions
such a summary of view could prove useful.

Doyle
What I think Gar is overlaying here is an older structure of understanding
the primary goals of organizing workers.   Mass organization of workers has
depended upon the ability to find the means to communicate with large
numbers of workers quickly.  Mass communications have meant movies,
television, public gatherings which are fundamentally not conversational.
this obscures that much organizing work is about how workers can talk to
each other to create social structures capable of the work of advancing
workers interests.

Gar,
Now there is no reason why e-list cannot be used for other left-wing
purposes. I would be against turning existing lists such as pen-l or
lbo-talk into such an "organizing" list, but the establishment of
organizing lists could be useful in their own way. Such a list would
come out of either a single issue or organization, It would have an
agenda, with only a few issues at a time being discussed. There would be
fixed period of time for a given issue, after which discussion on it
would closed (possibly to be re-opened in the future when circumstances
change). If such a list were to be democratic then there would be a
democratic way of introducing a topic, and setting the length of
discussion. A list that belonged to an organization might actually vote
on a topic after discussion was over and decide on collective action.
Alternatively a list might serve as an organizing tool without
ultimately coming to a single decision but rather by ending each topic
with a document that summarized any area of agreement, and majority and
minority opinions on all areas of disagreement. It could also include
similar sections on tactics -- that is what tactics were universally
recommended, what tactics were supported by a majority, and what only by
various minorities of the group. Even when on lists that made decisions
such a summary of view could prove useful.

Doyle
The ability to form social organization is deeply related to the ability of
individual workers to connect socially with other workers (having developed
social skills appropriate to electronic digital communications) through
simple conversation.

Gar,
No need
for fancy technology to accommodate it to a variety of goals.

Doyle
Yes there is a need for fancy technology at least in a business sense.
Japan has rapidly asserted wireless internet access for their people.  Their
imode systems broadly are putting their people at a higher level of
knowledge production than is the U.S. at this time.  In turn this wireless
technology is more suitable to countries who have no potential broad band
wired infrastructure unlike the U.S.  High bandwidth devices that are
handheld or wearable (and relatively cheap compared to desktop computers)
which require no literacy would put many peoples on a much more equal
footing to typical U.S. workers with regard to knowledge production (in the
sense of conversation).

Gar,
BTW, without commenting on any specific personalities, optimistic, warm,
friendly, open people with a good sense of humor, and a low level of
condescendsion and hostility make the best moderators..

Doyle
I don't agree with this.  I enjoy nice people, but your point lacks a sense
of what exactly it is that someone moderating contributes to a conversation
list when they work in the above manner.  Moderators imply a restricted size
to the list, that is roughly how much volume they can read and react to in a
day.  This does not jibe with the obvious increase that are coming with
bandwidth and wireless technology impact on lists.  One has to ask, how much
can one person do, and how groups of people can work together to have large
volumes lists.  How can automation help as e-lists increase beyond the scope
of a single manager or small group.  I hope one does not envision e-lists
remaining tiny groupings.

It is not wrong to want to feel happy with the character and quality of the
conversations on lists and how they are managed.   It is important though to
understand what conversation might lead to as bandwidth and connectivity
changes in the next period of time happen.  We can see in corporate work,
that the next step for e-list organization may well be about wireless, broad
band systems.  Wireless because this allows people outside the U.S. the same
sorts of access as in developed countries.  Broad band because that allows
actual increase in quantity and quality of the conversation.  These will
appear in business as necessary forms of business needs concerning knowledge
capital, and for us shaping the workers experience of knowledge production.
thanks,
Doyle Saylor






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