Luc Hoebeke on the IT’s Tower of Babel

Forrest ChristianUncategorized Leave a Comment

It’s interesting to consider that most people will interpret my title as being the mishmash of too many languages spoken in IT. Actually, that’s not the point of the story: Babel was disrupted because they all spoke one language. It’s in part a warning about the futility of single, monolithic human solutions.

Hoebeke, in “Against Scarcity in Science and Knowlege Management: Towards an Enriching Empiricism” [PDF], writes:

The first time I made the link between the myth of the tower of Babel and information systems was during a visit with the students in information management. Two of them were standing before Breughel’s [sic] famous painting of the tower of Babel. One of the said to the other one: that is exactly what we are trying to do with information systems in organizations. We try to implement one language and one speech, and the results of it are well illustrated by the half built, half ruined tower we see on the painting.

(Link to WebMusuem’s article on Pieter Bruegel the Elder added.)

All attempts to create a single way or language are doomed. We have been frustrated, permanently. The story is a myth in the great sense of the word: it is a story that tells us a variety of great truths by which we can order our world.

Hoebeke also uses the story of the Garden of Eden to show why knowledge, and by extension the freeing of knowledge so desired in knowledge management, creates consequences both good and bad. Eating once of it and you are “like gods” but you also gain death. A curse and a blessing.

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