Encounter Knowledge

passportWashington   Hopping on a plane to Dulles and then over the water to London for various meetings with ACORN United Kingdom organizers and others, you find yourself dragging over to the airport and running through the pros and cons in your mind.

Believe me they may be almost giving away gas at the pump in the United States, but flying is still very pricey. The exotic and romantic nature of travel on planes has changed over my years of travel in remarkable ways. Planes are now buses with wings that assemble and take off from shopping malls. You still had best bring your snacks with you, but you don’t have to wave a plane down by the side of the road and usually the bathrooms work better than the grey-dogs and mega-buses do, but otherwise it’s what and what.

Going from country to country there are unfathomable barriers. Subcontracted, on-line application procedures for visas are different country to country, for example easy to Kenya, impossible to India. This trip was supposed to be a cheap stop in London for business in route to my annual trip to India where we had exciting opportunities in Bengaluru with partners to fashion video recruitment tools and were working to identify organizing opportunities with prospective French trade union federations, but instead after two mysterious and inexplicable visa application rejections from India, that part of the trip was scuttled forcing the by station stop to swallow the cost of the fare.

I read a piece recently that argued that tech might increasingly replace travel. In the age of the internet, the meetings via conference call, video presentations, and other devices which put you “in the room” almost, many businesses are asking why take the time, trouble, and expense to carry the same weight.

God knows it’s tempting, but is it really the same? Is the same information and exchange really available in such meetings or through endless research on websites and YouTube? The author introduced a counterpoint. He argued that there might be such a thing as “encounter” knowledge. Intelligence only gained by being on the ground, seeing with your own eyes, experiencing the random events, and visiting with the people in unscripted and natural settings.

Helping make an organizing plan for a union of domestic workers in Morocco, I felt crippled by not being able to be on the ground where I could test theory to reality. Sitting in a worker center in Los Angeles, I could see from there to the future in a way that wouldn’t have been available from armchair or screen.

It’s a relief to be allowed to believe that dragging my wagon on and off a plane, moving from couch to subway to meeting to train to meeting to plane is not just old school, but continues to be a way to gain deeper and superior knowledge, not just a force of habit.

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