Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books making us stupid?

Well, we've made it to Week 4 of #rhizo14, a full two-thirds done with this rhizomatic thing. But wait, if rhizomes are all middle with no beginning and end, what does two-thirds actually mean?

I guess the topic of the week is the printed medium, and the overall question of "is Books making us stupid?"  The question brought up immediately the mental image of Homer Simpson, from the show The Simpsons, pondering one such question.

Dave, in his opening salvo this week tells us that there is something in Books that he distrusts, in that books encourages objectivity, distance, a feeling of being removed from the audience. Something less participatory.  This is quite an interesting thought, considering that many (of a certain generation) would claim that Google (and the Internet) is making us stupid and we are losing out literacy skills because we aren't reading as much.  Just like those concerns over Google are unfounded, so is this concern about Books (in general).  Books are just a tool, and tools can be used, misused, and overused, underused and abused. Books haven't always made us "stupid," they have been used to transfer information and knowledge over the millennia from previous generations to new generations. They have also been used to obfuscate, inveigle and deceive potential readers, and to influence them to act or behave in certain ways that are not beneficial to their readers.

What has the medium of print done to learning? I think that books have done wonders for learning, and for scholarship, provided that people have the literacies necessary to engage with the content of the books, and with others about this content.  Books have allowed us to not only pass-on knowledge, news, information, and entertainment, but they have also serves as a chronicle of our own knowledge generation process.  Some may want to throw away old books because they serve no purpose - the knowledge in them is obsolete.  It is true, perhaps, that people might not want to reference these obsoleted books as a primary source of knowledge to be introduced to any given field, but as a historical reference these books, when compared to newer books, give us a sense of where we came from, and how we got to know what we know today.

Dave asks us to think about the implications of the book's (and thus the author's) objective distance. How does it impact what we believe is valid in our society both inside learning and outside of it? In the words of Walter Ong - Orality is "empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced".  I think that books are snapshots of any given moment in time in what we know about a certain subject.  Authors can write, with the intent of reaching out across the boundary of the book and influencing the reader, for good or ill.  That said, just because the author himself can't come and have a dialogue with you or your learning circle, it doesn't mean that you can't engage with the materials that the author has provided via the book he's written.  Think of the US Constitution for example and the intellectual battles that go on between people about the author's original intent.  Those guys are long dead. Even if they were alive, what would having them tells us the original intent accomplish?  Things have changed since 1776, and original intents could be incompatible, at least to some extent, with how things are today. What's important in these discussions, I would argue, is not always the original intent of the founding fathers of the US, but rather the discussion itself and what results it yields toward attaining a more equal and just society. We use the written word, but the written word is just one element in a grand ecosystem of activity and relationships that help us wrangle with bigger issues and move forward.

Does this make sense? or did I lose all of #rhizo14? ;-)

your thoughts?
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