Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

persons, not relays

And from the same issue of the New York Times Magazine, these important thoughts from Jaron Lanier:

We see the embedded philosophy bloom when students assemble papers as mash-ups from online snippets instead of thinking and composing on a blank piece of screen. What is wrong with this is not that students are any lazier now or learning less. (It is probably even true, I admit reluctantly, that in the presence of the ambient Internet, maybe it is not so important anymore to hold an archive of certain kinds of academic trivia in your head.)

The problem is that students could come to conceive of themselves as relays in a transpersonal digital structure. Their job is then to copy and transfer data around, to be a source of statistics, whether to be processed by tests at school or by advertising schemes elsewhere.

What is really lost when this happens is the self-invention of a human brain. If students don’t learn to think, then no amount of access to information will do them any good.

I am a technologist, and so my first impulse might be to try to fix this problem with better technology. But if we ask what thinking is, so that we can then ask how to foster it, we encounter an astonishing and terrifying answer: We don’t know.

I will just add that in these matters the great challenge for teachers is to figure out how to get students to be smart, resourceful, critical users of the information available to them without becoming mere “relays in a transpersonal digital structure.” The more you teach students about digitized information, the more likely it is that their minds are conformed to the (after all, rather limited) ways that information is structured and presented. We want to help people be in the digital world but not of it. Unless they want to be.


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