When I think about power, the first word that comes to mind is knowledge. Knowledge is power. Let me explain. You know that feeling that you’ve had between you and another person when they have some piece of information that you want, but they’re unwilling to give it up without a cost to you? Even if it’s the simplest of pieces of information. “Sam, tell me what Mom said or I’ll punch you in the face.” That’s me threatening my older brother. “I’ll tell you, but first, you have to give me all of your money.” This is a pure example of leveraging knowledge to gain a position of power. There are plenty of other examples of knowledge being used in this way. In the most extreme case, we can think of Orwell’s 1984. In that dystopian scenario, the government knows everything about you including your whereabouts at every waking moment, but you, the citizen, have no idea about the movements of the government except for what they tell you. In this case, knowledge is used to gain power by creating fear.
Both examples above lean towards a Marxist idea of power. Use knowledge to gain power by oppressing someone or a group of people in a position of lesser power. However, knowledge is also empowering. From education to leaked information, knowledge empowers people to take action in their lives. Humans are both fascinated and terrified of the unknown. Driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine, we always seek to know what we currently do not. I’m someone who loves to learn. I’m addicted to it. Knowing that there is an infinite of things in the world that I can learn over my lifetime excites me. Education is power. And sometimes being educated about certain topics sparks anger towards the group that once withheld that information from you. Consider cases of leaked information. The country, on some level, trusts that the NSA is looking out for the best interest of the citizens of the United States. But when the world found out that we were being spied on, that information sparked anger in the hearts and minds of many Americans. We gained the knowledge that was previously withheld, and it empowered us to create a new perception of the NSA and our own government.
Among many reasons for loving the utility we get from the internet is the ability to access hordes of information. The phones in our pockets empower us every day. They empower us with the feeling of infinite knowledge through a Google search. They also empower us to feel like we know about all of the major events happening in the world. The reason Google is so successful is because it gives us what we want the most, power, by way of increased knowledge. The internet makes knowledge more accessible, thus empowering billions of people to report, share, and reflect on the happenings of the world. These are some of the themes that Castells discusses in his chapter called Changing the World in the Network Society. The emergence of “mass self-communication” has led to the ability to spread knowledge faster than ever before. The reason the network society is changing the world is because people can motivate others from the other side of the world. Castells says that movements require emotional mobilization. At one time, a man would stand on a stage and share his vision with a crowd. Now, a man or woman can speak to a camera and inspire millions to join a movement based on emotion and increased knowledge. Castells also points out that these new social movements no longer need a unifying leader. There’s such a huge distrust for formal leadership that new social movements reject it for more group-oriented-inspiration.
In each of these cases, knowledge is power. People leverage their knowledge to create all sorts of opportunities. Every successful business is somehow built on superior knowledge or at least access to superior knowledge. As the internet grows to reach more people, top notch knowledge will become increasingly valuable as more voices spew mediocre information. If you believe that knowledge is power, seek it out, and learn as much as you can.