In knowledge management literature the term ‘technology’ is assumed to mean digital media and networks: software and hardware that comprise today's ICTs. However, it is important to remember that pens and paper are forms of technology, along with whiteboards, sticky notes, and the other non-digital media that make up the infrastructure of our daily lives at work. These are not about to disappear: paper is robust and portable, text on paper is easily read and annotated, and most organisational, legal and financial systems still operate around signatures on paper! There is growing acceptance of ‘digital signature’ technology, but, culturally, institutions are still ‘papyrocentric’ in many respects.
It is worth noting that technologies of symbolic representation were originally the great breakthrough of literacy in society: writing, assisted by the technology of printing, enabled ideas to exist separately from people, and to be communicated across time and space for others to share and evaluate. People from primary oral cultures, who had no method for recording speech, had to develop ways to preserve knowledge and history through highly structured narrative techniques such as recitation, poetry and song. Interestingly, an important theme that is emerging in knowledge management research is the role of informal social contact for knowledge sharing, and the role of stories in organisations (see Section 4.2).
We should not forget that language is an aural technology that has taken each of us years to learn, and which we then learn to adapt to different cultural contexts. In this unit we will be discussing technologies for communities of practice, a defining feature of which is the way in which they talk. Although we do not go into the issue of language in any depth, this unit's core concepts of knowledge, codification and representation are skirting a vast research literature on how language influences knowledge and meaning.