When you think of pretentiousness, you probably think of failed attempts at being intellectual or profound. It’s the failed attempts that you think of. It’s not pretentious to actually be profound or intellectual, but when an artist’s ambition is not matched by his talent, it usually ends up feeling phony. You might think of a college chick who wants to open up your third eye with a shitty tambourine dance and some pot; or you might think of some indie developer who tries to tackle the sensitive issue of rape with an 8-bit sidescroller. In both cases, you’re thinking of someone who bites off way more than they can chew. You think of Peter Molyneux.
Nicholas Carr, my favorite writer on technology, has just written a deep article on post-secondary education’s blossoming movement to go digital, free, and ultra-convenient through the Internet — and how the magic of the classroom may be lost in the process.
Personally, I consider the school system to be the greatest evil in our civilization, while I believe the Internet to be one of our greatest goods. The idea of remodeling school to take advantage of the wonders of the web couldn’t be more exciting to me — if it wasn’t for the inevitability of its failure on every meaningful level. Carr focuses on the restrictive nature of programming code and the Internet, which are incapable of simulating the organic, “ineffable” spirit of the classroom, where professors often guide students towards unexpected conclusions and discussions are free to take any number of detours along the path to enlightenment. My own skepticism has nothing to do with the supposed magic of the classroom, and everything to do with the fundamental nature of the “education system” itself.
You see, when it comes to technological pitfalls, nobody is sharper than Carr, but when it comes to education, the man to listen to is John Taylor Gatto. What he has discovered — through decades of award-winning teaching in some of the worst neighborhoods in America — is that the “education system” is actually just a “school system”.
I’ve said before that I think the Internet is doomed in the long run, despite the victory over SOPA and other misleading “anti-piracy” censorship schemes. Right now the FBI, DEA, and the RCMP are roaring because IPv6 will make it more difficult to track what everyone is doing online. Meanwhile, “Digital Rights Management” is the name of the game in the video game world, where major companies impose ridiculous restrictions on how and when customers can access the content they’ve already bought (Diablo 3 being a perfect example), making people wonder what they’re actually paying for and when the paranoid power-grab will stop.
Well in case you forgot, the United Nations thinks that it should be in charge of policing and the world (big surprise!), and is overseeing a conference on the subject, the World Conference on International Telecommunications. CNET reports on the secret document leaked to the public from the conference:
Several proposals in the newly leaked document, for example, would authorize governments to inspect incoming Internet traffic for malware or other evidence of “criminal” activity, opening the door to wide scale, authorized censorship.
There are plenty of greedy, power-hungry organizations seeking to have a hand in the rewriting of the treaty, including ones who want to tax content providers, control how new IPv6 addresses will be distributed, and otherwise shut down anything they don’t like at the press of a button. Will they be successful? I wouldn’t be surprised. The La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo would be happy at least, don’t you think?
Want to know how I cure my boredom? I go online and look for these two guys. And speaking of all those things, I noticed that Nicholas Carr has responded to something Clay Shirky said about boredom and the Internet. Well, ain’t that a coincidence!
Carr replies to Shirky like so:
“Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment”: that’s well put. We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.
Perpetual boredom is an unattractive state. So is perpetual nonboredom.
The web does expand to fill all boredom, so if you’re bored (and let’s face it, you are) then slow down and watch Nicholas Carr share some more of his insights in this interview.
On Feb. 27, a diplomatic process will begin in Geneva that could result in a new treaty giving the United Nations unprecedented powers over the Internet. Dozens of countries, including Russia and China, are pushing hard to reach this goal by year’s end. As Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last June, his goal and that of his allies is to establish “international control over the Internet” through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a treaty-based organization under U.N. auspices.
Guardians of the Net, take up your spears! The Wall Street Journal has sounded the alarm, and this time it ain’t some American Intellectual Property bill. The Communists are coming!
I found this interesting. Fans of Metal Gear Solid 2 know that the game comments on the permanence of digital information, portraying traditional culture as fragile and transient, and digital culture as a swelling “flood” of eternally accessible garbage. Physical records conform to the idea of evolution and natural selection, he suggests. But yesterday, respected technology prophet and bestselling author Nicholas Carr flipped this idea on its head by suggesting that it’s actually old, physical culture that remains accessible, and digital information that becomes swept away in a stream of technological change…