Friday, October 18, 2013

Common knowledge

I was recently at a conference, and as part of the trip back I was set to spend the night at a chain hotel at the airport before flying out the next day. After getting to the airport, I went outside to the hotel shuttle area.

"Do I need to call for a shuttle?" I asked the guy who was working there. (Sometimes you do, and sometimes they automatically make the rounds of the terminals.  On one memorably long evening, the hotel sent a shuttle with nothing to indicate that it was going to that particular hotel, so I didn't hail it for a long time.)

"Which hotel?" he asked.

"Airport Hellscape Inn."

"Which one?"

"The one at the airport."

"Which one? There are two."

"I don't know."

"Find out," he snapped, and turned away.

Now, from his perspective, how could anyone not know that there were two Airport Hellscape Inns at this particular airport?  It was common knowledge.  From my perspective, it had never crossed my mind that there would be two, so it was not common knowledge. I looked at the printout, found out, and eventually got there.

I thought of this because in my new admin tasks, there's a whole raft of things that everyone takes to be common knowledge that it has never crossed my mind to ask about. "Of course so and so teaches this--is on leave--is involved with this program," I'll hear, or "this course is part of X esoteric requirement--needs to be reviewed by Y assessment office--is only taught every third year." There's a fund of common knowledge, written down nowhere, that I need to learn.  I'm learning it bit by bit, by asking questions of my colleagues, who are far more gracious than the shuttle guy.

It's not as complex as "the Knowledge," which all London cab drivers have to learn, but it's like that in that I need to be there, asking those questions and, even better, being in conversations where a question that I didn't even know I needed to ask arises from the conversation.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

Point of Irony: I have absolutely no earthly idea what "the Knowledge" of London cabbies refers to.

Very meta, no?

undine said...

Notorious--Ha--meta indeed! Now I have a post in mind about the knowledge & academia--you've inspired me.