past the information age -- the Cognitive age?

Seems like now that information is pretty much distributed throughout most of the developed world, information is becoming less and less valueable, and what is now making people rich is their ability to make sense of the information. Does anyone know if Marshall McCluen or the like have predicted this age, where your cognitive ability is what gives you the competitive edge? Its happened in history with the elite, but now it seems to be overtaking society. Just being a “repository of knowledge” or having some specific skill based on a set of instructions seems to be a less desireable employee characteristic. Its the ability to put “Chocolate and peanut butter” together that, in my humble opinion, will soon be a minimum requirement for employment and / or financial success. (This is evidenced on the corporate level by Google, and on a person by person level with the increase in numbers of the “self employed” or “consultants”).

I would be very interested to hear from other dopers on this trend. If its the case, we need to completely revamp our educational system, pretty much removing “memorization” and focussing more on problem solving, particularly outside the area of Math and Science type courses.

We would also need to apply this kind of thinking to the investment community, to predict which businesses and industries will continue to grow and which will likely wind down.


Intelligence is a multi-faceted attribute. One aspect is the acquiring of information; which, as you point out, we’ve achieved - facts are at our fingertips. But another aspect is the ability to connect two facts in a useful way; call it wisdom, creativity, or synthesis - it’s the ability, not to know what the answer is, but to know what the question is.

I would have thought it has always been the case that your cognitive ability gave you a competitive advantage. Calling the next era the “cognitive age” sounds like Dilbert management speak to me :wink:

Even the “information age” is pushing it a bit. Do we share much more information these days than before? Sure, but one could have said the same thing after the printing press was invented or after the invention of telephones, radio, etc.

I’m not sure what you would call this age, assuming we’re out of the industrial age. I guess it depends on what has contributed to the most differences. Maybe the “integrated circuit age”? Either way, I think information and cognitive ability are enablers that have been present in various forms no matter what age you are talking about.

Hmm. This seems like a good OP.


I called a professional piano mover to move my 9 foot concert grand from one location to another within the same city. He said he’d do it for $1000. I protested loudly, told him I could do it myself for a fraction of that price. He responded so rapidly and thoroughly and petulantly that it was obvious he dealt with reactions like mine every day–he said:

You know how to remove the legs from a Steinway concert grand? Its a special junction. It takes a giant hammer kinda like a circus mallet, you got one of those? Know where you can get one?

You know how to remove the lyre where the pedals are? How to put it back on? You got a pallet to put the piano on when you transport it? The straps required to stabilize the piano in transport? Know where you can get them?

You got a truck with a lift gate that can support 2000 pounds? Know where you can get one? You know how to lift that much weight up stairs without crushing your spine? Know where you can get 3 guys to help you who aren’t concerned about crushing their own spines?

The point is that his job was essentially that of a consultant, but there wasn’t much “cognitive skill” required. His fee wasn’t just labor and equipment, but lots of knowhow–information. I could have spent a week searching the internet for answers to his objections and done the move myself, but really…

I view most consultants in the same way as that piano mover. They aren’t “chocolate and peanut butter together–brilliant!” thinkers so much as they are repositories of information and experience, and have access to specialized labor and/or equipment that the people hiring them don’t (which is also based on information).

Back to your big company, massive wealth premise: lots of recently public companies in the IT space, (floats from the past decade that made their creators vastly wealthy), do essentially what the piano mover does. If I want to outsource part of my production process and have it seem like those workers and facilities are in the next room, how do I do that? I contract with one of these new consulting companies. They aren’t creative geniuses, they are information repositories.

So I’d say the Information Age is still rolling along, and your Cognitive Age has always been rolling along with it–one is not about to supplant the other. I think your example of Google, Inc. hiring criteria is a special case.

I think we do share much more information these days than before. This message board is a case in point. There is an unwritten rule here that you have no credibility in any factual claim unless you provide a cite. Without Google, that rule could never be followed. Running to the library, or even to your own bookshelves and magazine stacks, is just not viable time-wise.

I used to engage in discussions with friends and foes and toss out supposed facts that I’d “read somewhere” without a second thought. Since getting into the habit of running simple, quick fact checks on my “I know I read it somewhere” info via Google, I’ve become appalled at how often something I believe to be true has no backing.

And the converse is true as well. Nothing succeeds like pausing a debate around the dinner table to go pull a cite off Google.

I look forward to the day when we can all wear eyeglasses (or contact lenses!)with build in heads up displays, and are connected to each other and the internet via Wi-Fi. You call bullshit on a claim I’ve made, I double click my teeth to pull up Google, find the cite via whispered voice query, and beam the cite over to you, all in the space of the smug drag on your cigar. :slight_smile:

I suppose instead of age I should have said economy. The information is becoming rapidly catagorized and available, and now its clarity–purpose, that will drive the economy, its where the bulk of human jobs will be, the basic required skills for survival, because the information will be readily available to anyone at little cost, so to prove a person carries enough value to justify their salary, they will need cognitive skill. Supply for those with cognitive skill is decreasing, however, as we are still educating as if its an information age, that is, to posess information, be it scientific, legal or otherwise, is still the focus for the vast majority, while only a select few, those who really figure it out on thier own, are able to contribute the cognitive skills required for our new economy.

Just for some added context, I am making this kind of comparison for the “bread and butter” of the economical and political powerbase of human kind:
hunter-gatherer—>agricultural–>industrial–>information–>cognitive–> ??

(The last three, of course, over the past 200 years)

BTW I should mention that all of these existed to some extent in all other ages, I am talking here about the basis, the driver, the root of economies, how most people derive their income for survival constitutes an “age” in this context.

I also wanted to point out that rapid automation essentially displaces the previous age in many cases…a small group of people and some very large machines can produce food for hundreds of thousands, so that industry is a relatively small employer. Industry, same thing…information–its happening very quickly, leaving cognitive then ??

I think this still qualifies as the information age.

The next age will be the genetic age.

I don’t know about media theorists like McLuhan, but economist Robert Reich, in The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism (Vintage 1992 –, surmised that in any modern industrialized society, there are three kinds of workers, in increasing order of earning potential and market value:

  1. Routine production workers – everything from farmworkers to factory workers to data processors; anyone whose work is essentialy repetitious and routinizable.

  2. In-person servers – waiters, doctors, librarians, retail store clerks – everyone whose service has to be delivered to the customer face-to-face. The most important qualification is a pleasant demeanor.

  3. Symbolic analysts – scientists, engineers, lawyers, financial analysts, professionals in general – those whose work involves making sense of information and putting it together in new ways, as you’re describing. Requires a very long and intensive educational process to produce one.

Routine production workers are the most replaceable, the most expendable, and the most likely to lose their jobs to automation or to outsourcing to countries with cheaper labor. In-person servers have better security in that their services, by definition, can’t be outsourced. Symbolic analysts are the new aristocracy – but even they are not entirely immune from outsourcing, as formerly Third-World countries are raising up their own professionals, and with modern communication technology it is possible for a legal brief for an American case to be prepared by a lawyer in India, if that lawyer has the research tools and sufficient grounding in American law and the English language.

But according to SimEarth it was going to be the Nanotech Age! Where’s my damn miniature robots?!

…and my flying car…