This book is one I began more than ten years ago.
It’s now one I’m finishing in the middle of a plague.
It began as a vision of our knowledge institutions—our universities, libraries, museums, archives, public broadcasters, and others—recognizing the immense power that they have, especially with the Internet in each of their arsenals.
It began, also, as a call to action for them all to come together and with the power they have—we all have—as publishers to purvey verifiable truths. To have our knowledge institutions put knowledge online. To have us publish facts into a world gone mad.
It’s being completed as a health and information pandemic rages around the world. As five hundred thousand newly dead from the pandemic here are buried and cremated.
It’s being completed as criminal men try to tighten their grip. As the number of unemployed rises to and passes Depression-era levels. As universities, libraries, museums, archives, and schools worldwide are shuttered and staying closed.
And as fewer and fewer people can even discern truth from fiction anymore.
But this is also a book of hope. How can one possibly write a book of hope now? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of The Social Contract, wrote in his memoirs, during the original Enlightenment: “If I want to describe the spring it must be in winter; if I want to describe a fine landscape I must be within doors; and as I have said a hundred times, if ever I were confined in the Bastille, there I would draw the picture of liberty.”1
The competition for our attention on our screens and our speakers, and the allure of false and malign information, has begun to intensify in ways that were almost unimaginable even a few years ago. The pandemic has provided us with incentives to change the form and frequency of our knowledge conveyance. We are also in a new time, a video age, where the opportunities for free-thinkers can only grow.
How knowledge institutions will handle the challenge of working with video—and with their new responsibility generally—remains to be seen.
Peter B. Kaufman
February 23, 2021