The price of knowledge

The other day I wrote about granular vs. global views when teaching or considering a topic.

This got me thinking about the price of knowledge, or assessing value to knowledge.

My take on knowledge has always been that theoretical knowledge per se is fine and dandy, but ultimately it only comes into its own when it is applied in a practical context (unless you are an theoretical particle physicist or something similar, that is). Similar considerations apply to sharing information: I profited from people who passed their knowledge onto me, such as Stanley Longstaff, Rip Tompkins, Knut Foppe – and many, many others.

Therefore, from an ethical point of view, I consider the only right thing to do is to continue to pass on insights and understanding I have gained over the years, be this through things I learned from the folk I mentioned above or read about, from practical experience, testing or from research. This is after all a key motivator to travel and do presentations or workshops, to organize and take part in industry events: which is to facilitate and engage in the process of sharing information and knowledge.

This is not to be confused with the open source concept.

I believe it is correct to quote the provenance of concepts or ideas where possible, it is only fair to give credit where the origins are clear, not merely for altruistic reasons but also because this is part of our cultural heritage, take for example Jason Blake’s first description of the Blake’s Hitch in an arboricultural context in Arbor Age in 1994, Francois Dussenne’s introduction of the Machârd tresse at ITCC in Halifax, also in 1994 or Ulli Distel’s mis-tying of a Swabish Prusik, unintentionally creating the Distel. Today, when I demonstrate the V-Rig (or M-Rig, whichever cuts the mustard for you), I will credit Jon Hartil and Mark Chisholm as the first people I saw using this technique and so on…

Sharing knowledge is a mindset that has always been very much at the heart of tree climbers’ culture – after all, the first jamborees (that would later evolve into ITCC and all the other TCCs) aimed to share and disseminate knowledge and information.

I am therefore puzzled and somewhat nonplussed by an seemingly increasing tendency of people putting a price to their knowledge. I understand and accept that when someone has invested time and effort, they expect some form of return on investment – yet selling ideas? How about the people they gained their knowledge from? Was that also on a paid basis? Does this train of thought not lead to a point where every exchange of information is degraded to an mere monetary transaction? Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that ideas have no value or should be handed out for free – on the contrary –, rather that there ought to be a balance… some ideas are part of a bigger picture and should be shared, other information, especially if it is novel and required a lot of background research needs to be credited and acknowledged, in whatever form – monetary acknowledgement is after all only one form of such recognition.

But hold on, Mark, you are applying double standards there. I attended a treemagineers workshop a while back in ☐ Rivendell, ☐ Gotham, ☐ Shangri-La, ☐ …. (tick as applicable) – and I certainly paid for that! So in fact you are charging for the information you are offering.

Not really.

To make these events financially viable for the individuals, companies or organizations who host them we work with a pretty moderate day rate, that essentially covers for one day of presentation and one day of travel… anything less and I can earn more staying at home doing tree work. So in fact you are paying for the expense of putting on the event, not the content that is delivered…

In my opinion if we lost that open flow and exchange of ideas it would be very sad and we would lose something essential: an open and balanced discussion about techniques and tools also introduces checks and balances that will (hopefully) weed out the really weird and whacky stuff. However, if in the future all these discussions were to take place in closed groups or get locked up behind pay walls, they may fail to attain the same depth of critical review they might have otherwise.

So I would suggest that we continue to share rather than hoard our knowledge – by doing so each of us contributes an aspect of his or her specific skill set to the great mosaic of collective knowledge surrounding working in trees.

Smart Monkey