Is it just me, or does “knowledge products” sound like an egghead version of “cheese food”? Cheese food was (or maybe still is?) the dairy industry’s euphemism for a yellow or white spongy substance that was heavy on emulsifiers, preservatives, dyes, and other assorted chemical goo, and light on actual cheese. One suspects — or, OK, I’ll speak for myself: I suspect — that people who use a phrase like “knowledge product” may be fudging just a bit on the actual content of their wares. I’m sure there’s some knowledge in there somewhere; there was usually at least a little cheese in cheese food. But you wonder what the rest of the “product” might be.
I understand, of course, that weird phrases like “knowledge product” came into being because the word we once considered perfectly serviceable (“reports”) no longer fully does the job. Nowadays, “reports” take their place on websites alongside videos, blogs, webinars, webcasts, diavlogs, TED-like talks, and other whiz-bangery whose newfangled names have a tinny ring vaguely similar to the non-dairy contents of cheese food. But never mind; it appears that “reports” won’t do anymore. We need something broader.
Of course, we could just as easily say, “information” or “publications” (which, technically, includes non-text stuff that is “published” on the web). But a lot of people evidently consider those words too prosaic or old-fashioned. They don’t have the sophisticated, business-school cachet of “knowledge” or the hard-value seriousness of “products.”
I even wonder whether “knowledge products” is becoming more popular in the United States these days because so many political economists have been wringing their hands over the alleged decline in American industrial production. The typical headline is usually something like, “U.S. economy over-dependent on financial and other services; Americans no longer make things.” I won’t get into the merits of that argument; I’m simply suggesting that Americans might lately be feeling self-conscious about our overabundance of opinions, advice, and other gas-baggage, compared with our manufacturing of things you can touch, feel, and spread on sandwiches.
So what’s the solution — to produce more things? Nah. Just re-label the opinions and advice as “knowledge products.” Presto: A production boom!