Michael Gorman is blogging (ahem) for Britannica (cough, cough) on the subject of what’s wrong with web 2.0. In two parts, he raises the usual issues: information online is too inclusive, playful, and … digital. Printed texts have authenticity and fixity, whereas texts that are digital may not be what they appear. I’m guessing Gorman hasn’t read Tristram Shandy lately.
One assumption he makes seems really odd to me: “Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experienceâ€”the oldest and earliest type of learningâ€”and they learn from people who know more than they do.” Libraries by his definition only serve the second kind of learning. There is no experiential learning in libraries, only sitting at the feet of authorities absorbing their wisdom (providing you are literate enough to do so, which most Web enthusiasts are not). This seems to position learners as automatically stuck at the most basic level of Perry’s scheme of intellectual and ethical development, received knowledge, whereas ironically the engaged, interactive nature of read/write culture that he criticizes more closely resembles the highest level, constructed knowledge.
But that’s the trouble with diatribes. They either say “this way of doing things is utterly new and revolutionary and it will make everything better” or “this way of doing things is utterly revolutionary and destructive and everything will be worse.” In fact, reading and writing and learning have always been experiential and two-way. It’s just a lot more obvious now. As Michael Oakeshott said in 1959 in “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind” –
We are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation that goes on both in public and within each of ourselves . . .
Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.