There's an interesting meme doing the rounds about using pens as a metaphor for weblogs. Of course I can't resist adding my 2 cents when it comes to that topic :-) Lilia began with a post that explored the 'weblog as a pen' metaphor in relation to how weblogs serve many purposes - like pens do. This was as a reaction to the 'weblog as genre' discussion going on elsewhere. She ended up concluding that a weblog is not like a pen, "but blogging software is." That is, a pen is a tool - just like blogging software. Dina picked up on that theme and took the following path:

'weblog as a pen' ---> pen as a genre ---> pen as the creative potential in relationships ---> pen as a metaphor ---> (metaphors in general) ---> the future of the pen with Gen Y.

My contribution to this meme, like Dina's, takes a detour from Lilia's main point (but then that is what's fun about the social aspect of blogging - people pick up a post from someone else and use it as a springboard for their own ideas). So here's my riff on the 'pen as metaphor' theme.

Being John Baldessari

I have an image in the top-left of my homepage, borrowed from a photo of a John Baldessari artwork called Read/Write/Think/Dream - in which he transformed the facade and interior foyer of the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, into a colourful and interactive work of art. (nb: I wrote about it a month and a half ago). The whole artwork resonated deeply with me, but that sliver of an image you see in the top-left of your screen (you have to get out of your RSS Reader to see it!) seemed to 'fit' with the themes of my weblog. I hadn't really analysed why, until today.

People are central

It's a photo-mural of pens and pencils and it's just one part of the Read/Write/Think/Dream artwork. The image shows two people looking at the pencils and pens - one has stopped to look, the other is about to walk past it. Those people (and the ones who will follow) are just as much a part of the artwork as the pencils/pens. 

Baldessari said about the work: "The whole concept of the piece deals with the obvious: students are central to the university." To relate this to how I used that one image on my weblog: my readers (people) are just as much a part of my blog as my writing. To extend that even further: people are central to the blogosphere.

Order and Ideas

What's not immediately obvious in the Read/Write/Think/Dream artwork is that the pens and pencils are ordered according to the color spectrum of the rainbow. Here is one explanation of this:

"On one interior side wall is a photo-mural of pens and pencils in a neat row, each a different color, aligned according to their sequence in the color spectrum. These tools, neatly ordered, and the students, gathered in a row like carefully collected types, reflect Baldessari's deep-seated interest in sorting and systems of organization." (emphasis mine)

Once again, I can apply this meaning to my blog. These days I style myself as an Analyst, which is my way of saying that in this weblog I strive to examine and organize information - and from that create new ideas.

People + Tools =

Baldessari also said that "the pens and pencils represent the tools of the students' trade". This gives me an opportunity to return to Lilia's original point that pens - and weblog authoring systems - are just tools. We can use them how we like, but it comes back to the sum of: Person + Tool = Self-Expression OR Creativity OR Knowledge OR Blogosphere OR Etc. 

Applying this to Knowledge Management

My point here is: we need both people and tools in the equation. And thankfully, I think this is where the current Knowledge Management theories are heading. As Mike Gotta put it - "Knowledge Management: It Was Always About People". 

The problem with KM during the 90's was that everyone thought of Knowledge Management as being Technology-driven. Companies tried to implement Knowledge Management systems and tools. Well actually that theory wasn't total nonsense, because the reality is KM is about both People and Tools. If you look at Dave Pollard's principles of KM (which I found very inspirational), you'll see that it's a mix of tools and people-oriented principles that he advocates. 

I have a new catchphrase to express this: People are Central, but Tools are Crucial.

Would you like fries with that segue?

So that's my take on the 'pen as metaphor' meme. Heh, I took a big segue! but I think I learned something along the way ;-) However I didn't get to address Dina's point about "the future of the pen with Gen Y" - which is a fascinating question. I'll think about that some more and address it in a later post.