Einstein once said that imagination was more important than knowledge. By that, Einstein meant that scientific innovation was more a product of ground-breaking leaps of imaginative insight than a ponderous accumulation of isolated facts. In his own career, Einstein demonstrated time and again that scientific progress is often predicated on breaking free from established modes of thought and replacing old ideas with revolutionary new perspectives.
Consistent with Einstein's perspective, the majority of insights that have given life and direction to the information society have been produced by groundbreaking innovators who have adamantly pursued their own unique visions in spite of the violent opposition they have encountered from mediocre minds. For example, Apple Computers grew to be one of the most influential corporations in the world because its co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, insisted throughout his career on breaking out of one old computing mold after another. Rather than copying the success of his competitors, Jobs rejected the business models of IBM and Microsoft in an effort to build information technologies unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Yet, no matter how clever one happens to be, being an innovator involves risks. Breaking with the past necessarily involves casting aspersions on old, but venerable ideas. As a result, mavericks tend to exhaust the patience of their peers. For example, in 1985, Apple fired Steve Jobs and then languished for the next decade until Apple's board of directors decided to eat crow and re-hire their visionary founder.
Similar stories of friction between the old guard and charismatic innovators abound in the realm of information technology. Instead of building on old, tired technologies, the most successful innovators introduce entirely new ventures that circumvent the limitations of old school thinking and that, often in the blink of an eye, make well-established technologies obsolete. Thus, the Microsoft monopoly is grudgingly yielding to young turks like Google and Facebook who are steering the information revolution toward new and previously unanticipated horizons.
Nor is science without its share of tensions between forward-thinking innovators and an intransigent old guard. Gatekeepers have long maintained a zealous vigil at the entry points to legitimate academic publication. Throughout the Gutenberg era, publication outlets were so few in number, and each printed word was so costly and precious, that only the most worthy ideas could make it into print. Of course, the flaw in such a scheme was that a very small number of gatekeepers were in a position to exert inordinate control over the definition and content of "worthy" scholarship. Not surprisingly, ideas which resonated with gatekeepers were permitted access to publication, while ideas that failed to pander to the old guards' preferences were barred at the gate.
Thanks to the Internet, however, the days of the Gutenberg gatekeepers have come to an end. Since the invention of the Internet, the old guard has struggled to reimpose age-old biases on cyberspace. Due to their tireless and self-serving efforts, many high-prestige publications cling to the presumption that "worthy" publications are limited to those compositions that meet with the approval of gatekeepers. But while the old guard congratulates itself for reproducing anachronistic publication barriers in cyberspace, more innovative knowledge-seekers have taken advantage of the boundless opportunities afforded by Internet publication to sidestep the old guard and leave them in the digital dust.
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The old guard may not realize it, but Internet publication has no need of their services. Scholars do not need to seek approval from narrow-minded gatekeepers to publish their ideas. The Internet makes it possible to publish new ideas at the speed of thought. And not only is the Internet a more rapid and liberating medium through which to publish ideas, it's also a heck of a lot cheaper. As a result, authors can publish their ideas and a virtually unlimited number of readers can access their ideas all for the low, low price of"free.
The old guard may scoff. Free, liberated and easy-access Internet publication may never meet their exacting publication standards. To be fair, it is true that a small number of people still maintain rigid control over the most prestigious publication outlets. However, this situation conjures the image of a small group of dinosaurs crowding into a dwindling oasis. The dinosaurs are welcome to their patch of shrubbery. As the dinosaurs gradually fade away, a different breed of innovators will inherit a vast universe that stretches far beyond the dominion of the dinosaurs.
The future is now for Internet publication. With such tools, scholars have not only been able to instantaneously disseminate a greater amount of information over a wider area than at any time in human history, but Internet publication has also made it possible to redefine the very boundaries of innovative thinking. No longer will small groups of backward-thinking dinosaurs control the ebb and flow of ideas. Instead, the future will be defined by those who have the boldness and creativity to liberate their thinking.
Now more than ever, imagination is more important than knowledge.