NETFUTURE Technology and Human Responsibility -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Issue #79 A Publication of The Nature Institute October 27, 1998 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (email@example.com) On the Web: http://netfuture.org You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. CONTENTS -------- Editor's Note Quotes and Provocations On Selling Educational Software Do They Have Television on Mars? Finding Wholeness in a Pile of Manure DEPARTMENTS Letter from Des Moines (Lowell Monke) Why Information is Not Enough: Tales from a high school computer lab Correspondence College as a Cover for Grade School Failure (Dan Lyke) What the Objectors to Distance Education Ignore (Peter Denning) On Activism and the Credential Wars (Bruce A. Metcalf) Words Past and Present Conquering time, space, and labor About this newsletter --------------------- ** From the NETFUTURE Archives ** "Nobody sees the stars now .... Though observatories are multiplied, the heavens receive very little attention. The naked eye may easily see farther than the armed. It depends on who looks through it. No superior telescope to this has been invented. In those big ones the recoil is equal to the force of the discharge." (Henry David Thoreau) (For an updated context, see "Words Past and Present" below.) ========================================================================== EDITOR'S NOTE I have again managed to coax Lowell Monke away from his high school advanced technology classroom, and away from the finishing touches he's putting on his Ph.D., long enough to give us another "Letter from Des Moines". Fortunately, we'll be favored with a series of trenchant commentaries from Lowell in coming issues, all seasoned with his immensely sane wisdom and tales from his daily experiences with kids and machines. After many years in high school education, Lowell hopes to make a transition next fall to a college setting, where he can use his rich experience and his "Foundations of Education" doctoral work to help other teachers find their way amid the tremendous political, social, and commercial pressures brought to bear on the school classroom today. If I had the resources, I'd hire Lowell to work for NETFUTURE. As it is, some college is going to be very fortunate. SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS On Selling Educational Software ------------------------------- Dr. Jane Healy, in her new book, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- for Better and Worse, tells of attending a "technology in education" conference in the midwest. She stopped at a prominent display for a multimedia package designed to teach reading and writing "all in one iridescent package with countless components and a huge price tag". The salesman started up the demo, which resembled nothing more than "a loud, gaudy Saturday morning cartoon". As she tells the story: "You interested in our great new system here?" he booms heartily. "I'm not sure. Can you give me a couple of reasons why I should use this instead of regular materials -- you know, books, pencils, teachers?" His eyes widen, and he stares at me as if I had just landed from outer space or, more likely, should be sporting a hoop skirt, bonnet, and bustle. "Well, I don't really have an answer for that", he fumbles through the promotional flyers. "No one ever asked me that before." "How long have you been selling this product?" I inquire. "About two years." "So how many educators have you shown it to?" "Oh, I don't know ... probably several thousand." "And I'm the first one who ever asked you why it is better than traditional methods?" "Yup. What do you do, anyway?" (I'll be reviewing Healy's book a way down the line. I can tell you right now, though, that it's an excellent antidote to software salesmen, whether they're on commission from Microsoft or the White House.) Do They Have Television on Mars? -------------------------------- "You'd have to be made out of wood to not want to go to Mars", claims Robert Zubrin. The 46-year-old aerospace engineer wrote The Case for Mars and recently founded the Mars Society to work toward early exploration of the red planet. We are a nation of pioneers! [Zubrin says] .... We need a central overriding purpose for our lives. At this point in history, that focus can only be the human exploration and settlement of Mars. Zubrin has managed to generate a lot of passion on the subject. One leader of the Mars Society, a NASA researcher, talks about members chaining themselves to the White House to promote their goals. Oddly, though, members also fret over what they see as a major obstacle to their hope: space travel is mind-numbingly boring. As one reporter summarized their concern: space travel "has to be turned into entertainment or the American public will never care". So it is that there is talk of privatization, television rights, an Olympic-style logo, advertisements on the astronauts' spacecraft and clothing, lunch boxes and action figures for kids, and so on. But one wonders: if it is really all that urgent to escape ourselves and our planet, and if mindless distraction is the way to do it, then why go to Mars? We've already got television and the Web here. (News from New York Times, Aug. 18, 1998.) Finding Wholeness in a Pile of Manure ------------------------------------- Will Brinton, who runs a prestigious agricultural laboratory, began his talk by saying, "I do reductionism by day and wholism by night". A specialist in soil quality and composting, he keeps his ripening manure piles artfully camouflaged, lest the conventional, daytime customers of his laboratory get alarmed. Not that he has any problems with credibility. As founder of the Woods End Research Laboratory in Maine, he is beset not only by curious scientists, but also by television crews, Pentagon officials, and the agricultural ministers of foreign states. One reason for their interest: he solves their problems, such as what do do with toxic wastes. Folklore credits him with being able to compost "anything", from oil spills to radioactive sludge -- and many of these things he has composted -- but he is perhaps most notorious for having found a way to convert the explosive TNT into fertilizer. As Mother Jones whimsically summarized the recipe: Blend a ton of waste from any mint (the plant) processing factory with TNT sludge. Mix well. Sprinkle in one ton of carbon-rich sawdust from a local lumber mill. Let stand. Spoon in a ton of buffalo manure. Bake for 30-90 days. Feed your flowers. (Warning: "Composting can produce an intense heat," says Brinton, "which is the last thing you want with explosives.") Brinton explains that the incomprehensibly complex life processes in compost take up toxic substance and transform it into the terms of their own healthy existence. While the details of the transformation may be hopelessly beyond analysis, the overall achievement is by no means hidden from us. We can gain an ever deeper understanding of the process as a whole, and we can observe the effects of compost when applied to cropland. Brinton's own considerable accomplishments have resulted from his ability to look at crops and soil and compost, and "read them whole". And that is what he tried to get across to his audience of about thirty people, who met last October 10 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts: the difference between a wholistic and a reductionist stance. One way he illustrated the difference was by describing soilless farming. He showed a picture of "factory-produced" lettuce: the crop was grown on huge, thin slabs of nutrient-impregnated styrofoam, standing on edge (nearly perpendicular to the floor) and facing a bank of lights. The system is based on the most exhaustive analysis of plant requirements the researchers can manage. Each individual nutrient is calculated, the nutrients are drawn from separate tanks, mixed, and then applied continuously to the top edge of the styrofoam. As the solution drains downward, the plants absorb what they need. Of course, analyzing what the plants need is equivalent to analyzing all the transactions going on in a compost pile: it can't be done. But the compost pile, under the supervision of one who has learned to understand something of its dynamic as a whole, will go ahead and do its work regardless of the incompleteness of our analysis. That piece of styrofoam "soil", on the other hand, will not; it provides only the elements packaged in the nutrient solution, and these elements are guaranteed to be incomplete. This is not just an incompleteness of knowledge; it is an incompleteness of the critical life processes producing the lettuce that you and I have very likely been eating. Grow lettuce in compost-enriched soil, and, in an immediate, practical sense, you have wholeness. Grow lettuce in styrofoam, and you have reductionism. Not surprisingly, there is a more or less continuous series of problems to be overcome in the lettuce factory. To begin with -- although it is not seen as a problem by those who run the factory -- some $40,000 in plant nutrients are collected at the bottom edge of the styrofoam and flushed into the environment every year. "Why can't it be re-used?" Brinton was asked. Because the collected soup of nutrients is too untrustworthy. The lettuce plants continually vary in what they take up, depending, for example, on the time of day and their degree of maturity. In other words, once those well-analyzed nutrients get caught up in actual life processes, you can never know what will happen in any precise, analytical sense, and therefore you don't know what you'll get in the left-over solution. Then there are pest problems in the factory. The industrial-strength remedy is obvious enough: fumigate the place with poisons regularly. Unfortunately, this seems to be causing health problems for the workers, so the managers acknowledge that they may be "forced" to adopt integrated pest management. They lament, though, that the more they experiment with that alternative, the dirtier their factory tends to get. And god forbid that their lettuce should come in contact with dirt! A few comments of my own. Reductionism is necessary as one direction of thought. We really do need to consider the reduced, skeletal pictures we can produce by analyzing particular elements out of a phenomenon. Brinton himself has done much analytic work to elucidate various aspects of the composting process. But he does not imagine that his analyses add up to anything like the whole. Moreover, his analyses will remain on-track only as long as he continues to grasp and respect the whole -- only as long as he insists on reconnecting every analytic product back to its never fully analyzable context. The problems arise, then, when reductionism is our only method. This drives us to pursue our analyses with a kind of fanatical absoluteness; we must isolate all the parts, since we have no other way to get at the whole. But in a world that really does come whole, this simply isn't possible -- not just because things are too complex, but because it can't be done even in principle. True wholes do not yield a definitive list of parts. Everything depends on how you look at them; each such view is limited, and there are always new, revelatory vantage points. (For examples of this wholeness, consider any meaningful text, or the human body with its various organs, or for that matter an atom, which turns out not to be absolutely separable from all other atoms.) How, then, do we see wholes? The answer, of course, is that we don't, or scarcely so. We have for too long strained toward the opposite, analytic pole. That's why so many of the efforts to develop wholistic disciplines have proved disappointing. We have a long learning curve ahead of us. But we can glimpse enough of the path to take the next few steps. Brinton -- or any farmer who is still intimately connected to his land -- can tell a great deal about the health and the needs of plants by simple inspection. How? The overriding fact, I think, is that he must attend to the sensible qualities of things -- the very same qualities that scientists consciously chose early on to ignore, and that every analytic thrust tries to eliminate from consideration. Qualities are expressive; they must be read in the way we read meanings. They have none of the yes-or-no character so desirable in all quantitative and analytic inquiries. It is this absence of hard, sharp edges that makes it possible for quality-laden images to interpenetrate, to shade into each other. And this in turn is why profoundly reading any part of a qualitative image is at the same time to read the whole. A trained eye attending to qualities can read the whole of a plant in a leaf, and the whole of the soil in the plant. This is the contrary, balancing gesture required in order to keep reductionism from becoming a one-way dead end. In sum: either we will have a science of wholeness that is also a science of qualities, or else we will have no science of wholeness. There is hope. Some of the images of health and abuse that Brinton presents are so powerful that many of those committed to a purely reductionist science are sitting up and taking notice. And Brinton points out that more and more research shows, for example, how crops benefit from compost in a manner far exceeding what would be expected from an analysis of its recognized nutrients. That styrofoam-entrapped lettuce, apparently, is missing out on something good, and we don't know what it is. Take off the reductionist blinders, though, and we know very well what it is. It stares us in the face and sticks under our fingernails: good, quality dirt. SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== WHY INFORMATION IS NOT ENOUGH Lowell Monke (firstname.lastname@example.org) Letter from Des Moines October 27, 1998 --------------------- TALES FROM A HIGH SCHOOL COMPUTER LAB Recently, one of my students designed and managed a Web page for a project involving the comparison of cultures from various parts of the world. This student gathered and categorized hundreds of messages so that others could reference all contributions easily. For several months he did just what proponents of "Information Age Education" say we need to teach our students to do: he organized, selected, processed and even electronically published information that was sent to him every day. He did such a good job and was so proud of his work that we decided he should enter the Web page in a contest. But the entry form completely baffled him. He spent an hour pondering and asking me for help with the question, "What is the value of your project?" With all of his hard work he didn't seem to have any idea how to express why he had spent so much time developing this extensive body of information. Finally, I gave in and told him what I thought the value of his project was but it did little good. He soon came back, unable to remember the exact words I had used. This nice, hard-working young man, who can gather and process information off the 'Net so well, has nevertheless been failed by all of us in the educational system. His problem had nothing to do with technology or information and couldn't be fixed by them. His problem was lack of insight, the inability to discover meaning by finding relations between experiences and ideas. In a truly educational environment experiences and ideas interact to create knowledge and the insights that feed the seed of wisdom. This recalls T. S. Eliot's famous lament, "Where is the wisdom lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge lost in information?" (1963, 147). Still, our infatuation with technology has blinded us to this discrimination and resulted in data and information being lifted to exalted status. The promoters of information have inflated its definition to absurd dimensions (Machlup 1983). John Perry Barlow (1996), for example, claims that "Information is an activity. Information is a life form. Information is a relationship". As information becomes a "living" entity inhabiting the electronic grid, once-prized attributes of human life like wisdom and truth -- which technology cannot traffic -- have become empty terms almost embarrassing to utter. "Living in the bureaucracies of information, we don't venture a claim to that kind of understanding" (Birkerts 1995, 74). Even in education we no longer speak in those terms, and end up with students who have no idea how to find meaning in the information they process. As Theodore Roszak has pointed out, "An excess of information may actually crowd out ideas, leaving the mind (young minds especially) distracted by sterile, disconnected facts, lost among the shapeless heaps of data" (1986, 88). The Internet provides us with nothing so much as an excess of information. Trees and Spiders ----------------- How does a child understand trees? At various times I have watched my son Benjamin climb our trees, sit under their shade, pluck their leaves, break off branches, listen to cardinals singing in them, peel their bark, watch them sway in the wind. Without conscious attention to learning, he has come to know our trees and, by extension, the idea of trees. This is a depth of understanding that comes only from experience that employs all the senses within the context of a physically rich environment. The 'Net (or a CD ROM or an encyclopedia for that matter) can only teach Benjamin about trees. There is a huge qualitative difference here. The information obtained is fragmented, desensualized, decontextualized. Taken alone, its meaning to him will be obscure and lifeless. It will never be linked to refuge from a blistering sun, or the strength of an immovable living object. It will never carry the emotional force of first-hand experience. I recently participated in an Iowa Public Television panel discussion which focused on technology uses in the classroom. As part of the introduction a videotape was shown of a second-grade class that used the computer to produce an electronic book report on Charlotte's Web, the charming children's classic that teaches about living and dying, friendship and community. The teacher explained that her students were so enthusiastic about the computer project that they stopped going outside for recess, preferring to stay in their seats working on the report. (This echoes a recent advertisement by IBM (1997) which tries to impress the reader with the same message.) The teacher's enthusiasm was contagious, but I found it troubling that the scene of three students sitting completely still, narrowing their attention to a colorful but flat 10" by 12" screen, struck my colleagues on the panel as preferable to exercising (and most certainly educating) growing legs and arms, not to mention lungs, hearts, vocal chords, and, yes, fists and tear ducts. I also found it sad that the teacher chose to encourage her students to take pride in the jerky animated movements of a coarsely drawn oval with eight lines sticking out of it rather than help them develop a sense of wonder through observing real spiders spinning fluidly in a terrarium; that in studying a story that conveys dignity and meaning to the life cycle the children spent their time working with machines rather than visiting elders and infants in the community; that in a story that focuses on farm life they preferred to stay in their classroom rather than visit local farms. (This is Iowa, after all, where farms are not hard to find). On the one hand, the world can be represented as the same old decontextualized, abstract information, but with the added intriguing feature that the child can now manipulate the representations using the computer. On the other hand, we can encourage the child to relate directly to the people and things of the world. These are fundamentally different ways to approach learning. One stresses control and manipulation of objects, reduced to abstract images -- the world as information. The other forges connections between the child and his or her immediate, personal, concrete world, and invites the child to become involved with the tangible things and people that exist in it. Both approaches promise to spark interest in a child. But the former does so through mechanical maneuvering, while the other reaches the mind through the heart. The former can be fun, the latter can be deeply fulfilling. The former is ultimately dehumanizing, the latter helps the child to discover himself or herself in the world. This does not mean that information is not important in its own right. Gradually the time will come when abstract information about trees, elders and the world in general, will be valuable to learn. But that value will be in proportion to the amount of opportunity and time the child has been given to repeatedly engage the real thing. Information eventually becomes important in confirming and analyzing experience and providing a test for ideas, but to place it at the center of education is to build the search for meaning around a meaningless core. Give Kids a World First ----------------------- The issue here extends beyond just small children or learning about nature. In my field of teaching I constantly encounter students who possess a technological sophistication that astounds adults, but rarely do they display a strong social, political or even ethical maturity to guide it. Name your destination on the information superhighway and they will take you there; but ask them to tell you what it means when you arrive and, like the student mentioned earlier, they tend to be at a loss. Design a web page? No problem. But ask them, as I sometimes do, what "freedom of speech", "citizenship", "justice", "ethics", or "community" mean and their responses rarely rise above the level of the undigested sound bites they have consumed through other electronic media. My students, having been raised on TV, and later video games and computers, bring ever fewer first-hand experiences and ideas to my classroom, and find little to do with computers except what the computer itself offers. Joseph Weizenbaum warned twenty years ago that the computer "enslaves the mind that has no other metaphors and few other resources to call on" (1976, 277). Left without those other resources, many of my students default to the computer and make it their primary metaphor of thought and life. Ironically, these students generally have trouble thinking of projects to undertake even with the vast technical resources they have available in my lab. Their minds are full of skills, but empty of impassioned ideas. They have plenty of ability, but too little real-world experience on which to draw to inspire and guide its use. Certainly, not all of my students exhibit these qualities. But it is a growing problem. I find myself wondering how much these students' extensive computer education has prepared them for contributing to community life? How much has it distracted them from preparing to contribute to it? Given that prophets of technology like Barlow and Rheingold (1993) are heralding a new form of community engendered by the 'Net, it seems to me that we have a greater responsibility than ever to teach children what community can mean before dumping them into this disembodied form. How do we do that? By having them do on-line research on community, justice, equality, and so on? By participating in listserve discussions, where flaming is endemic? Or by first concentrating on helping them experience and eventually reflect upon the physical community in which they reside? Does this require high technology? No. It requires the physical and active presence of those most important to their lives. How the Quest for Power Displaces Learning ------------------------------------------ So why have so many embraced information as the cornucopia of education? It is my contention that it is, in part, because they have confused and substituted for the greater purpose of education -- the development of a responsible, thoughtful individual able to live a fulfilling life -- its occasional consequence, power. The real significance of the Internet for students lies not in its educative capacities but in the power it confers. Look carefully at the hype swirling around the 'Net as a means of education and you will find that it is all about power, or what Perelman (1992) calls "intellectual capital": power to access information any time from any place; the power to "go" and communicate with anyone anywhere in the world; the power not only to access but to publish mountains of information. In short, the power to overcome time, distance and the limitations of our own physical bodies. Learning in the era of the 'Net tends to get degraded from comprehending ideas through experience and thought into enhancing personal power through the possession of information. All of the attributes of power cited above may be valuable in the world of business or politics, but in the realm of education they are deadening. They focus attention not on developing thoughtfulness and insights but on improving performance. In part because of the mindset encouraged by the computer, the words of Kenneth Keniston are, if anything, even more on target today than they were when he spoke them over a decade ago: we measure the success of schools not by the kinds of human beings they promote but by whatever increases in reading scores they chalk up. We have allowed quantitative standards, so central to the adult economic system, to become the principle yardstick for our definition of our children's worth (Keniston, quoted in Elkind 1984, 53). It is the pursuit of ever higher levels of performance that guides educational policy today, not a concern for developing strong, deep comprehension of the world. Students have to produce measurable skills at every rung of the educational ladder. With the emphasis on performance and the measurability of that performance, there is neither the time nor the payoff for letting children sink those deeper, less measurable roots of understanding from which meaningful knowledge can eventually emerge. Rather, we search for the vendor who can sell us the machinery with the necessary skill built into it to help the children meet decontextualized standards of performance. And already a disturbing trend can be observed: the more we rely on the ever increasing capabilities of the machinery, the more time and effort we invest in learning the technical skills necessary to get performance out of the machine. From the moment our children enter the school system we systematically sacrifice reflection upon ideas and experiences for the development of skills that will "empower" them. And more and more this empowerment is seen as coming through the computer-based accumulation and manipulation of information. References ---------- Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies -- The Fate of Reading in the Electronic Age. Faber and Faber, Boston 1994. Barlow, John. The Economy of Ideas, part 2. www.nirvanet.fr/bienvenue/cybergate-fr/cibrary-fr/economy2-xfr.html. 1996. Eliot, T.S. "Choruses from The Rock". Collected Poems 1909-1962. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1963. Elkind, David. The Hurried Child -- Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon. Addison Wesley, Reading, MA 1981. IBM. "IBM's Reinventing Education Partnerships," advertisement in The New Yorker, p. 125, October 20 & 27, 1997. Machlup, Fritz. "Semantic Quirks in Studies of Information" in The Study of Information, eds. Fritz Machlup and Una Mansfield. Wiley, NY 1983. Perelman, Lewis. School's Out. Avon Books, NY 1992. Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 1993. Roszak, Theodore. The Making of a Counter Culture -- Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY 1969. Weizenbaum, Joseph. Computer Power and Human Reason -- From Judgment to Calculation. W. H. Freeman and Company, New York 1976. Goto table of contents ========================================================================== CORRESPONDENCE College as a Cover for Grade School Failure ------------------------------------------- Response to: "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78) From: Dan Lyke (email@example.com) Once again, thank you for a great NETFUTURE! (And: "Damn. Once again he said it better.") I saw through the fallacies of department heads who insisted I take classes on subjects I already knew so that their enrollment figures could be higher, and the expectations that for most people effective learning takes place in a lecture environment, and all of those other lies, and dropped out of college so I could further my education. I look back at my sisters who've graduated liberal arts programs with crippling debts, exhorted at their graduation speeches to "go out and change the world" while saddled with debt which made it necessary to immediately join the wage-slave consumerism grind and after enduring four years of indoctrination into the worst aspects of that philosophy, and wonder how long we'll continue to put up with this hypocrisy. For the most part, the college system that exists today is an excuse for the failure of grade schools to teach and to instill a desire for learning, and a breakdown in the mechanisms of trust. Those who rely on degrees as confirmation of ability are assuming that the skills necessary to follow rules, sit, listen, and parrot back what they heard at test time are transferable to real world tasks. Perhaps they are, but I'm glad to have avoided those particular tasks so far. Dan What the Objectors to Distance Education Ignore ----------------------------------------------- Response to: "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78) From: Peter Denning (firstname.lastname@example.org) Steve, I enjoyed your article in NETFUTURE about higher education. I resonate with much of what you say: I've been sounding the same warnings myself for nearly 10 years. I've also worked with Perelman over the past two years and don't find his claims about hyperlearning to be as one-sided as you might have concluded from School's Out. There's a growing "movement" on campuses, crystallized around David Noble's objections to distance education that echos some of the same themes you have brought up. The rhetoric is about quality; but when you decode it, it's about the concern that distance education will displace teachers and that course materials will be claimed as university (rather than faculty) intellectual property. There's little concern about the vast audiences of adults who want more efficient, practice-oriented, customized and individualized curricula. Or about the private for-profit corporate universities who are threatening to take the adult education market away from universities. Take a look at these reprints and see if they resonate with you or not: http://cne.gmu.edu/pjd/PUBS/teachers98.pdf http://cne.gmu.edu/pjd/PUBS/ProfComp.pdf Peter Denning On Activism and the Credential Wars ----------------------------------- Response to: "Who's Killing Higher Education?" (NF-78) From: Bruce A. Metcalf (email@example.com) > I've often wondered -- especially after interviewing such an effective > spokesman as Sclove -- why I myself am so little drawn to traditional > forms of activism. Part of it is probably that I have no skills for it, > just as I have no skills as an entrepreneur. Part of it, too, may be my > discomfort with those portions of the political spectrum (on left and > right) that seem to spawn most activism. But much of it, I fear, may > just be a personal irresponsibility I've been managing to conceal from > myself. Buck up, buddy! To fail to see activism in your life is to ignore the impact your writing and speaking have on others. True, you may not be manning the barricades against the advancing Know-Nothings in the physical sense, but the best of your efforts do tell. Thomas Paine was a notorious rabble-rouser in person, as well as in print, yet I do believe he would be remembered as an "activist" had he remained mute. Do not underestimate the power of the written word -- observe how long Russia has suffered as the result of a single book! Know that "traditional activism" has many forms, and that you have chosen well-worn and carefully sharpened tools from an ancient and honorable arsenal. Know too that you use them well. On which point, let me thank you for the main essay in #78. At four times I was driven from my keyboard to wander the house, muttering to myself as I considered the implications of your words (this is a good thing, BTW). Having taught at five different colleges, public and private; in industry, both directly and through a college; and having fought in the credential wars throughout my education and employment, I found your commentary most illuminating. Not that your proposals have a snowball's chance in hell, but you knew that, right? I only regret that I am not presently a member of a faculty on whose lounge walls I might post this article. Bruce A Metcalf Adjunct Instructor Valencia Community College mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.magicnet.net/~bmetcalf/ --------------------- Bruce -- Thanks -- I needed that! Steve Goto table of contents ========================================================================== WORDS PAST AND PRESENT (See "From the NETFUTURE Archives" above.) Today, even more than when I reproduced it in NF #20, Thoreau's remark (taken from his Journal for January 21, 1853) strikes me as a wonderful penetration of technology. Perhaps it is because in the meantime I have had occasion to think about the telescope, and how its "recoil is equal to the force of the discharge". The irony of the telescope, as Thoreau points out so well, is that it brings the stars nearer to us, and yet we scarcely see the stars today. Many children grow up never having noticed the Milky Way. And as for the rest of us, we may dream of traveling to nearby stars (see "Do They Have Television on Mars?" above), but stars we must get into a spaceship in order to visit are stars that are no longer with us. There's a principle at work here that goes to the heart of the technological incursion into modern life. Many technologies, perhaps nearly all, are intended in one way or another to "annihilate" space or time or labor. It's not terribly odd, therefore, that today "we are learning what it means to have no time and no place" (Albert Borgmann, quoted in "Move Along Now!" in NF #69). Borgmann might have added: "and no meaningful work". The general opinion, of course, is that we need to overcome time, space, and labor in order to get to that other time, that other place, that other work, which is somehow going to be fuller and more deeply meaningful. Yet it doesn't seem to work this way, and I tried to point out some of the reasons why in "Speeding toward Meaninglessness" (NF #17). SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER Copyright 1998 by The Nature Institute. You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. You may also redistribute individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this paragraph are attached.
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To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture:http://netfuture.org/subscribe.html.Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #79 :: October 27, 1998 Goto table of contents