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« The Economics of Elvis reredux | Main | TV Alert »

October 19, 2002

Tacit Knowledge -- Polaroid

Friedrich --


Polanyi: How can we know what we don't know we know?

Have you run across Michael Polanyi's concept of "tacit knowledge"? The idea is, roughly, that there are two kinds of knowledge -- "explicit knowledge," which is consciously learned and consciously held, and "tacit knowledge," which undergirds everything else. Tacit knowledge is what we "just know"; it's knowledge we don't think about, that we've somehow picked up along the way.

"Explicit knowledge" would be knowing, for example, how to use Photoshop. But think of the volume of "tacit knowledge" that has to be present in order to make that explicit knowledge possible -- familiarity with machines, with electricity, with how digital imagery works...

Polanyi was a fascinating guy, by the way. I'd think that anyone whose brain buzzes to the ideas of Hayek or Sowell would get a charge out of him. You can explore Polanyi and his ideas here, here and here.

Which is a long-winded way of kicking off an occasional new 2blowhards feature, Tacit Knowledge: an ongoing attempt to put into words things that are known but aren't known to be known, and to bring a few widely-known-but-generally-unacknowledged things out into the open. Though, depending on our mood, it's also likely to degenerate into another 2blowhards way to have a little mischievous fun.

And in that spirit, here's Entry #1. An executive once told me this story:

She was on a business flight and found herself sitting next to a guy who worked for Polaroid. He had a few drinks, and started to talk about his employer. "We don't kid ourselves," he said. "We know what most of our cameras are being used for. Lots of photos of the kids. And then...." -- and he cocked a flirtatious eyebrow.

Do you suspect, as I do, that "being able to shoot ourselves having sex without anyone else knowing" also helps explain the popularity of videocameras and digital cameras?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at October 19, 2002




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