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Open | Controlled | Provisional: Three Digital Epistemologies
Gideon O. Burton

Last modified: 2015-05-07


We need a new epistemology for the digital, a set of values endemic to the electronic frontier, a set of clear and defensible propositions by which to test the currency, viability and quality of our knowledge systems, products and institutions. I offer three knowledge values to begin framing such an epistemology: open, controlled, and provisional.

Openness holds an almost sacred value -- a shibboleth to test latter-day enlightenment. But we advocates for openness may pass over our investment in is counterpart, control. Computation offers control on both granular and grand scales, but students of knowledge rightly tremble at the ideologies and idiots using authority to stem or stop knowledge. Our languages and machines are hybrids of openness and control, and it is only a careful calculus that balances the two. The digital domain broadens the scope and influence of these opposed values, and we must see that plainly.

The digital environment to some degree transcends both openness and control by way of a third mode for knowing: the provisional. In a cognitive economy of abundance, in an ocean of data and novelty with precious few landmarks or mooring points for peer-reviewed certainty, we make our way through trial and triage by adopting a battlefield intelligence, set to engage what is partial, momentary, tentative, and interim. Our relationship to knowledge must be agile and elastic, unbound by that print-based worldview of settled, vetted, finished knowing. The provisional is not escape from knowledge; it truly is good enough for now.


knowledge, epistemology, open access, openness, control, provisional, digital

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