An old man walked through the snow. All throughout his life he had been travelling through the country searching for knowledge. When he visited new towns and villages he would stop and talk to people, and ask them to tell him things he did not know. Often they would bring him their most treasured books to read. He carried a sack with him, and when he heard something new or interesting he would put it in his sack. Now he was nearing the end of his life, he often worried what would become of his sack—who would care for his knowledge when he was gone? This particular night was cold and he hurried along as best he could to try to find a warm house. The sack of knowledge grew heavier with every step. The nearest building he came to was made from black glass and it towered above the surrounding town. A woman in a silver dress greeted him at the door. ‘I’m looking for knowledge. And some food and warmth,’ he said. ‘Come in old man,’ she said. ‘Here you can find all the knowledge in the world at the snap of my fingers.’ The room he entered was large with a glass vaulted ceiling. The sorceress, for that was who she was, fetched him some food and drink. As he ate, she spoke of the riches of knowledge that she could give him. He was entranced, but wary. She asked him about his sack and he explained that it was his collection of knowledge gathered over all the years of his life. ‘And now I must find someone else to continue my work.’ ‘Perhaps,’ said the sorceress, with a mysterious smile, ‘Perhaps.’
That night the old man slept under the glass ceiling, with his sack clutched to his chest as always. In the small hours of the night, the sack started to move. The knowledge was restless. From the dark recesses of the room he could hear scrabbling and chirping. As the sounds came closer the sack started to jump more violently. The old man sat up to watch, and to his horror, he saw an army of small dark shapes advancing on him. Green, red and orange lights blinked somewhere in the darkness.
‘Dragon flies? Glow-worms?’ he wondered. But as they grew closer he became more and more frightened. This was something far worse.
He was soon surrounded by a crowd of devices: laptops, mobile phones, and PDAs. He shrank back in terror, trying to protect his precious sack of knowledge. But the knowledge itself wanted out. It scratched at the sack from the inside and the PDAs and mobiles nibbled at the sack from the outside. The laptops snapped their lids open and closed to tear the fabric. Very soon the sack burst open and a cloud of moths flew out, drawn towards the blinking lights.
Picture by Maria Skov Pedersen
‘My knowledge!’ moaned the old man in despair. Even as he watched the moths were fluttering higher and higher into the air until they left through the glass atrium.
The door opened and the sorceress entered. The devices turned and scuttled towards her, fawning at her silver robes affectionately. ‘What is wrong?’ she asked.
‘The work of my life has come to nothing! Your creatures have opened my sack of knowledge and now it is dispersed. Lost.’
‘Dispersed, yes. But nothing is lost.’
‘Please help,’ The old man asked. ‘I cannot get all my knowledge back myself.’
‘Of course I will help. We will all help.’
She snapped her fingers and her army of creatures marched into an orderly line. ‘Go and find all the knowledge which was in that sack,’ she instructed. ‘Every last scrap of it. And quickly!’
Almost instantly the creatures left. And almost instantly they were back.
The old man moaned once more. ‘I knew it. They couldn’t find anything!’
The old man peered at it. It was a familiar friend—a scrap of knowledge he had gathered many years before, except that it had grown. It was both bigger and more beautiful than it had been before.
‘What happened?’ exclaimed the old man.
The sorceress looked at him. ‘Your knowledge,’ she said ‘met the knowledge of the rest of the world. And see—it was transformed. But still you recognise it. And this is the answer to your question and to your search. You wanted to know who would care for your knowledge. The answer, you see, is everyone. Anyone who can share your knowledge can add to it, and share it with everyone else.’
The old man looked wonderingly at the devices which were now playfully chasing the thousands of butterflies which filled the room.
‘I could not imagine how this could have been done before,’ he said. ‘It goes beyond anything one man could do himself.’
The sorceress looked proudly at her creatures. ‘They cannot do this by themselves,’ she said. ‘They need people to direct them where to look. But used wisely, they can be a great help to us.’
The old man left the sorceress the next day, waving goodbye to all but one of the small creatures. The sorceress had chosen one of her favourite smart phones to accompany on his journey and send her some of the new knowledge he created. The creatures would store copies of everything in his sack to keep it safe. She told him that anytime he needed to find knowledge other people had created, his creature would bring it to him. He set out with a new spring in his step. The sack which had weighed him down for so many years felt as light as the air itself.