The future of knowledge

The Knowledge Quarter's inaugural conference, The Future of Knowledge, explored the role of knowledge in an age of untruth. We report back with our favourite moments from the day and, in true Scriberia style, a sketchnote summary of key points.


Fake news, echo chambers, augmented realities; the only thing we know for sure these days is that the very concept of ‘knowledge’ is more precarious than ever. Going forward, how we can restore integrity and trust to our media, political and academic institutions?

Determined to tackle this riddle, the Knowledge Quarter – a cluster of organisations in the King’s Cross and Euston area – marked their third anniversary with The Future of Knowledge conference; a one-day event where a diverse range of speakers from politics, media, philosophy and academia were invited to take part in a thought-provoking line-up of talks and workshops at the British Museum – London’s hub of culture and knowledge from across the globe.

Enthusiastic members of the Knowledge Quarter, and experts at using pictures to process, organise and communicate knowledge, we couldn’t wait to examine knowledge in all its kaleidoscopic forms. Here are some of the key themes from the event that will, hopefully, help us all make sense of the future of knowledge.

THE POWER OF VISUAL STORIES

Visual storytelling, if you haven’t read before, is a powerful tool for helping us commit information to memory. And, so, we were at the front of the queue when we heard about Dr Nick Barrett’s fascinating talk, Heritage collections and wellbeing: The future of the past?, which explored the incredible power of digital memories, both written and visual, to boost our wellbeing and prevent the offset of dementia.

Knowing that every picture or post on our social media timeline is etched into the Internet’s infinite memory can be a daunting prospect. But according to Barrett, this bank of memories, when organised into a meaningful collection of events, can be hugely valuable to our mental agility. He called for millennials to begin curating digital memory archives of important moments, to help trigger more detailed memories and preserve knowledge in later years.

Barrett explains: ‘By curating your memories online – or indeed offline for that matter – you flex your mind muscle. You are doing research, organising your life and creating a memory timeline, and the act of doing that helps keep you mentally active and statistically seems to give you a better chance of avoiding dementia.’

You might recoil at the thought of your first, cringe-worthy Facebook profile picture, but it could help to unlock an important chapter of knowledge in years to come. Here at Scriberia, we too have found visual storytelling a useful tool for talking about health and ageing. Our Frailty Focus animation for the NHS explains a number of other simple lifestyle changes that can help you stay mentally and physically agile in later years.

WE NEED BETTER STORIES

‘Stories in flagship newspapers aren’t always told in a way that I see the world,’ Shelina Janmohamed, author, commentator and journalist, told Sarah Baxter, Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times.

Describing herself as a ‘teller of unexpected stories’, Shelina called for better stories from a more diverse array of voices, reflecting on her own difficulty in getting her far-from-mainstream narrative about Muslim women into publication.

Having sent her story to a number of publishers, she received a stack of rejection slips, before finally finding a publisher to represent her chick-lit memoir. While there’s no shortage of diverse stories out there, Shelina said, the real challenge is tackling the systems that stop them from getting the broadcast they deserve.

We couldn’t agree more with Shelina that ‘diverse stories are the most important thing for the future’. And having scribed for a wide variety of teams and organisations, we know for ourselves that it’s an incredibly empowering experience to represent a myriad of stories and voices on the scribing wall.

Alongside diversity, David Olusoga, historian and broadcaster, took issue with the reliability of stories that are published on and offline. Reflecting on Brexit, he says, ‘we didn’t discuss facts, we discussed opinions. We’re failing on the dissemination of facts.’

Speakers throughout the conference stressed the importance of equipping our children with the critical faculties to detect fact from falsehood in their news streams, perhaps signalling for a wider reform to our education system.

STEP OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

According to author and Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, Lisa Feldman Barrett, we regularly conflate news with entertainment, choosing only to consume ‘facts’ that are fun and familiar.

‘When we come across stories and experiences that challenge our deeply-held views, it can be an unpleasant and uncomfortable experience,’ she says. ‘But that’s when you know you’re on the right track.’

Instead of avoiding information or experiences that make us feel uncomfortable, Barrett pushes us to pursue: ‘When you feel very unpleasant, it often means that you should go and explore to expand your knowledge and understanding. It’s important that we don’t disengage with knowledge just because it’s puzzling.’

At Scriberia, we’re firm believers that trying something that at first feels alien - be it picking up a pencil for the first time in years or experimenting with a new form of digital storytelling - can be a really rewarding experience. Expanding your knowledge in a different discipline has a whole host of benefits to help widen your outlook and broaden your horizons - find out more here.

TRIBAL TAKEOVER

‘Tribe’ was the buzzword of the day.

Sally Adee, Technology News Editor, New Scientist, noted how we often amplify our most salient traits online to create a ‘tribal affiliation’ with others. (Illustrators retweet illustrators, sports fans follow fellow sports fans…you get the gist.)

Everyone from MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, to Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times, Sally Baxter, cited tribalism as a key factor in the formation of social media ‘echo chambers’; where, thanks to algorithms, our feeds become saturated with the views and opinions of fellow tribe members.

Meanwhile, Claire Fox, Director at Institute of Ideas, warned of the danger of collaborating with like-minded institutions: ‘Knowledge creators feel they can colonise people’s lifestyles. The danger is that we’ll collaborate with people who are just like us, rather than people who will challenge us or bring another point of view to the table.’

According to Fox, collaborating with organisations that have alternative views or skill sets is key to challenging the tyranny of the loudest voice, encouraging real debate around important issues.

Having collaborated with a wide pool of industries, from banks to charities to governments, we agree with Fox that there's enormous value in combining skill sets and outlooks. And, more often than not, we find that the richest creative ideas are sparked when a diversity of opinions come together in one place.

Inspired by a day of insightful talks and stimulating debate, we hope to continue enriching our own knowledge through more creative collaborations and partnerships with our Knowledge Quarter neighbours.


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