Friday, June 29, 2007

Technology Tools and the Life of the Mind

"The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."
-Marcus Aurelius

A battle is raging at Brittanica blogs regarding the nature and value of Web2.0. Michael Gorman started the discussion with Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason Part I claiming that "an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise" is the direct result of "the often-anarchic world of the Internet" (it is interesting that he chooses to share these opinions via a blog with hotlinks!). Experts have weighed in on both sides of the debate.

Thomas Mann, author and Reference Librarian in the Library of Congress, worries whether "the Web, being geared toward the pictorial, the audio, the colorful, the animated, the instantaneous, the quickly updated, and to short verbal texts, is a tool whose biases may be conditioning us in ways that will have deplorable consequences for education." Among his concerns: "What will happen when all of the books in dozens of large libraries are digitized, and we find that, because we’ve also abandoned standardized cataloging in exchange for keyword access, no one can find the texts efficiently or systematically without being overwhelmed by tens of thousands of “noise” retrievals, outside the desired (but no longer existent) conceptual boundaries created by subject cataloging and classification?"

On the other side of the digital divide stands Roger Kimball, co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books. While agreeing with Gorman's "warning not to confuse an excellent means of communication (the Internet and all its works) with excellent communications (the product of the patient search for truth and aesthetic delight)", Kimball insists that "the issue is not, or not only, the digital revolution—the sudden explosion of computers and e-mail and the Internet. It is rather the effect of such developments on our moral and imaginative life, and even our cognitive life."

danah boyd is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley and a fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communications. She writes that "Unlike Dr. Gorman, Wikipedia brings me great joy. I see it as a fantastic example of how knowledge can be distributed outside of elite institutions." boyd reminds Gorman that "Like paper, the Internet is a medium. People express a lot of crap through both mediums. Yet, should we denounce paper as inherently flawed?"

All of the posts on the Web 2.0 forum have drawn vigorous defenders and critics. My belief: living in two worlds, print-traditional-scholarly and digital-modern-populist, is possible, even necessary, when teaching, communicating, learning in this 21st century.

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