And let’s face it, Google isn’t making us stupider, it’s simply making us realise that omniscience is actually slightly boring.Posted: July 21, 2011
And let’s face it, Google isn’t making us stupider, it’s simply making us realise that omniscience is actually slightly boring.
Douglas Coupland, here. I’d add that omniscience is not only boring, but also not nearly as useful as one would have thought.
Scott Leslie asked me a great question a year ago that I never forgot. In the middle of a discussion about the decline of newspapers and it’s relation to the impending implosion of higher ed he asked me, since I was defending institutional relevance, to name one case where an entrenched industry made changes and avoided the hammer of fate.
I think I may have replied that industries don’t dodge the bullet (players within industries do), but even then I was pretty hard pressed to come up with a compelling example of a true evolution in the face of something like the Internet.
I think we might have one now. Borders is closing all around the country. It’s bankrupt and it is done.
While that might seem pretty counter to my claim, the point is that it signals to some extent the End of Days for the 80s/90s style bookstore chain is here. And yet Barnes and Noble is still around, to some extent, because of their embrace of the technologies Borders saw more or less as their enemy.
Commenting on Borders’ farewell note, Ian Crouch writes:
Borders, of course, isn’t going to say that the book trade is fine and sound and that it simply blew it. Yet setting the “eReader revolution” alongside a “turbulent economy,” and branding it an “external force,” reveals a decade-long blind spot that goes some distance in explaining how Borders got to this point. It’s been said widely, but can stand repeating: e-readers and digital content are not part of some tidal force bent on destroying all that is fine and good about the written word. It is just another way for customers to buy books, for companies to sell them, and for people to read them. The recession has been tough on all booksellers (Barnes & Noble’s tight spot last year brought on many of the same reflections about the state of book retail) but the growth of digital reading has not been equally hard on everyone. Short of changing its name to Kindle, Amazon has done just about everything it can to promote its e-reader; Barnes & Noble has doggedly pushed the Nook. Borders, meanwhile, owned just over ten per cent of the Kobo e-reader, and gave the device prominent placement in its stores, but never managed to make a clear connection in customers’ minds. (B&N has since shored itself up enough that commentators were suggesting it as a likely tennant in many of the soon-to-be abandoned Borders locations.) The Detroit Free Press gets it right this morning by noting that the company lost “a battle with competitors, technology and itself.”
In he long run, I suppose, there will be no bookstores, but as I believe Keynes first said, in the long run we’re all dead. Short to middle run is what matters in terms of shaping the world and (hopefully) making it better. And in the short to middle term there are major, major differences between how institutions go about their business. The ones that, like Borders, understand Just-in-time learning, peer-to-peer networks, and open content as “external forces” are headed for dismal declines. The ones that see these things as just more ways of doing the stuff we have always been about will be OK (or at least more OK).
Maybe Barnes and Noble will be under in five years, maybe Random State College will be under in ten. I don’t think any industry should desire to live forever in its current form. In the meantime, differences matter, and the institutions that adapt get to write the next page of history.
From Lawyer, Guns, and Money:
So to sum up–being right about policy is often irrelevant unless you have a mass movement of people behind you ready to engage in collective action to see those policies enacted. And I don’t think left neo-liberals often understand that. This is why I get so outraged when, for example, left neo-liberals support education “reform” that weakens teacher unions. We probably all agree that there are bad teachers out there and it would be great to get rid of them. But by weakening the one educational institution that can best mobilize people to protect our schools from conservative attacks, these reforms often further right-wing politics even if they theoretically achieve a left neo-liberal policy point.
This is perhaps a leap, but I’d contend that if we are going to have an new kind of subsidized education that is not completely controlled by corporations it is going to have to come out of current institutions of higher education. There simply isn’t any other set of large organizations that can make the case for education reform while fending off the attempts to pervert it and profiteer from it.
It’s frustrating, because change is like molasses in here sometimes. The temptation is to “route around damage” and not engage.
But if you look at who has the staff that goes out to high schools and tells seniors what education looks like, if you look at who has the ear of the news media, of parents, of legislators; if you look at who has the unions — it’s the institutions of higher education. I think most sensible people would look at the massive amount of influence higher education has in these issues, and the way it acts as one of the last barriers to a corporate takeover of HE, and I would think rather than argue for HE’s irrelevance one would argue that if there is going to be any non-corporate change to education it is going to have to come from within HE. There’s not a set of structures of comparable size with the best interests of the students at heart…there’s just not.
For those wondering, this blog covers two main things — stuff important to instructional design, and stuff important to my statistical literacy class. Here’s something on the latter…
Somewhere, somebody, probably employed by a bottled water company, said we should all get eight glasses of water eight times a day. Coffee doesn’t count, the water in your Hamburger Helper doesn’t count. Beer doesn’t count. It must be water, or something close to it.
That’s not remarkable, that sort of thing happens all the time.
What’s extraordinary to me is how resilient the myth has been in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence it is nonsense. The BMJ just published an article on this, but back in 2002 an article in the American Journal of Physiology completely debunked it. Snopes looked into the history of the claim in 2005 and found some of the water-as-cure-all garbage came from the self-published 1995 junk science book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, subtitled “You are not sick, you are thirsty!”
Since 2002 I have seen this claim repeatedly debunked or at least set aside as a not-so-helpful formulation. There is disagreement, but where you look at actual experiments (see here for a summary up to 2002) it’s pretty clear that:
- People without special circumstances (such as working hot days, taking certain medications, etc) can just drink when they are thirsty and they’ll be fine.
- The amount people need is highly variable anyway.
- Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages consumed in moderation count towards your fluid intake, not against it.
- Did I mention you can just drink when thirsty and you’ll be fine?
Basically the normal person needs to worry as much they are getting enough fluids as they have to worry they are getting enough calories.
So why does the myth stick around? I mean, if we can’t get people to understand that sticking 2 liters of water down your throat no matter what your activity level or food intake is not now, and never has been a requirement for health, what chance do we have with the Global Warming debate, where there are real stakes?
I don’t really have an answer for that, except to hope that we can get people in the habit of interrogating research without becoming cynical (It’s not all opinion, right? Here’s a case where science just tells us the 8 glasses people are wrong). The fact that the “8 glasses 8 times” was so sticky in our public consciousness shows that we crave quantitative formulations. We just have to be more discriminating about which ones we embrace…