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observations the value of X

missing the point

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some specialty or other, for instance, computers,” [Doris Lessing] said in her speech. “We never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new Internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc.?”

As someone once said, specialization is for insects.

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some specialty or other, for instance, computers,” [Doris Lessing] said in her speech. “We never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new Internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc.?” [From Blog, Blug. To the Writer Doris Lessing, It’s Whatever. – New York Times]

The comments in response to this are hard to figure out: do they not realize how they might be proving her point, that increased specialization (or more pointedly, ignorance of the wider world) is not necessarily a Good Thing?

General knowledge is more important than ever, even if it means one has to swim against the tide of what current norms. We’re increasingly able to program our entertainment, our political content — whatever we like, someone has found a way to slice and dice it into pieces that reflect anyone’s taste. (This is, of course, all about segmenting the audience for advertising and sales purposes.)

This is a real problem that will become more prevalent in years to come, as today’s high-tech kids come of age with their own personal media bubble. They’ll be voting, either in the marketplace or in the voting booth, using information they have cherry-picked, often without realizing it.

And someone who writes at “Pinky’s Paperhaus” thinks One Laptop Per Child — a laudable idea but one that can easily be perverted into a more global instance of a problem we see in the developed world — is the solution?

I came over here wondering if you had been misquoted in the Times piece. Alas, no.

Sorry, I don’t see OLPC as a solution to the increased segmentation of society (all the more for advertisers to “service’ us) and the blinkered education I see many kids getting as they construct their own media bubbles. I think that was her point. Whether or not she “gets” teh interwebs is not so important: I think the Nobel committee made their decision based on how well she understands humanity.

I’m not calling for a return to the steam engine and typewriter but I’m not sure an increase in specialization and a lack of general knowledge (history, geography, the basic sciences) is all good. There are adults of voting age who think human languages are as fungible as computer languages (while most modern languages were understood with a good knowledge of C, human languages lack the equivalent. A good education, ie what was provided 50 years or so ago, would have nipped this in the bud.)

I don’t think the future of literature is on the internet or in books but wherever people are. I think the internet is just one more way to share information and interact but it’s a tool, not a solution. As with the OLPC, the first is useless until there is a second. Consider the rise of books, reading, and printing, and their effect on the human condition. And the variety of books and ideas is what made it so valuable. It’s not clear that our self-selected media bubbles will have the same good effect.