Books making us stupid – too soon?

A bridge too far
I keep saying this to myself. For those of you not familiar with mega-cast war films from the seventies, the protagonists in the film referenced in the title try to get the whole war they are in ended in one attack by capturing three bridges. The last bridge, though bravely captured and defended, is lost and the venture is left unfinished. The war continues on. This… is how I feel about week 4. The book thing has not gone as planned – people seemed to think i want to get rid of all books. I do not. I wanted to juxtapose the Nicolas Carr lambasting of google against his enlightenment attachments to books. Google makes us think shallowly. How do books make us think? Is it actually great, or are we just used to it?

Why the book week is important
This course is meant to be a process of unbundling and bricolage. Of challenging the assumptions that underly what we call learning and then, as we come to the closing weeks, finding new assemblages that we can use to help us move further down the road. I see the book as a symbol of the bundled. Of the pre-fabricated. Of centralized, expert driven content. I also see a house of my own entirely clogged with books of all sorts. I challenge ‘book as construct,’ not by wanting to burn them or throw them out or turn away from them, but to take apart the ways in which we see them to see what they are doing to us.

I challenge the book the same way i challenge consumerism – not by wanting to stop being a consumer, I like things, but by thinking deeply about it to understand where it impacts what I am doing.

Book as curriculum
The book in all of its bound paper glory, is a powerful instrument. There are books written by all kinds of people saying all kinds of things. Some good, some bad, and yes, we should be critical about what we read. My critique is about something other than this. Those books were all written by people. Real people. The book is an artifice (often necessary, particularly when those people are dead) a cultural artifact that separates us from the person who’s idea were reading. It is a one to many artifact – no matter how many book clubs deconstruct it. It is broadcast. It is lecture.

I love an awesome lecture. But it is not what i want from education… it should be rare rather than omnipresent because a lecture is very different than an interactive session. A keynote different from a breakout room.

The book is a DEEPLY embedded artifact in the minds of almost all ‘educated’ people.

A book different from a community.

(more on this in week 5)

A dave gone too far – Apologies again to Jenny
I have not done well by the excellent Jenny Mackness’s blog (or by Jenny). I have posted two comments there that have not reflected how i see myself as a participant in the community of learning. I was frustrated with myself for not getting my point across and, I think, that leaked over there. My apologies Jenny.

11 thoughts on “Books making us stupid – too soon?

  1. Hi Dave!
    I am intrigued that u say wk 4 didn’t go as planned. How will u know? When will u know? Is a course a success when u get what is unexpected at the end of a month? Are we skilled at looking for the wrong signs within our time? Isn’t the unexpected reassuring?
    What is said, what is written is only a visible tip of a tip…

  2. I chuckled when I read this Dave “This… is how I feel about week 4. The book thing has not gone as planned – people seemed to think i want to get rid of all books. I do not.”
    Uncertainty, being misunderstood – I think we can embrace these, we #rhizo14ers
    We all see our own partial, filtered, interpreted #rhizo14.
    One might have thought that the little four-letter word that is ‘book’ was some sort of common concept but the rich exploration of the joy and tyranny of books was right there for me in ‘my’ #rhizo14.
    Now community, that’s a far more fluffy concept – let the uncertainty continue!

  3. My reading of Week 4 was that it generated a lot of discussion, alternative perspectives, blog posts, some great artefacts and was highly stimulating, as have been the other weeks. Thanks.

  4. Hi Dave. This made me think of something I recently wrote.

    Merely being well-read is not enough to be knowledgeable, as possibly first noted by Socrates. Plato wrote in Phaedrus that Socrates felt the written language would result in ‘men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, who will be a burden to their fellows’. Socrates saw a core truth in learning from artefacts like books. We cannot become complacent with knowledge and just store it away. It has a shelf life and needs to be used, tested, and experienced.

    Books are a technology that take much away from the oral tradition, yet also enable mass literacy and one could even say the scientific revolution. The community as curriculum may have effects just as profound on society. Books did not destroy conversations, and the internet will not destroy books. At least I don’t think it will, given the huge increase in book sales this past decade.

  5. Hang with us, Dave. The Rhizo14 community will get you through it. Perhaps we should unbundle the concept of teacher. We’re likely to find that none of us really want to do away with teacher anymore than we want to do away with books, but also that we have assumptions about both that no longer work so well for us. I’m pleased that you continue to open new spaces for us—all of us, including you—and I’m not surprised that we sometimes bump into each other. That sort of thing happens on the soccer pitch all the time. It’s part of the game. When soccer players rush into an open space, it takes time to figure out the new arrangement of ball and players and what role each is playing, who is addressing the ball how, new dynamics and trajectories, and so forth. In most cases, we can say no harm, no foul, play on.

  6. Dave, you’re far too hard on yourself! I think the question you asked about books is one that many (including myself) responded to emotionally, as books are such an intrinsic part of our culture, our learning, and our identities, especially for those of us with an academic bent. But you did also make us trouble the notion of the rigidity of the book and who it privileges, and to explore the differences between the linearity of books and the randomness of rhizomes. I’m still thinking about it, and likely will write more on it once you stop wasting our time with all these other interesting things to think about!

  7. The most important thing about Week 4 is that no one mentioned that you got your ears lowered. I think the questions that you pose are fascinating — and are doing exactly what I think you want them to do — encourage us to think, question, seek out new information and most importantly to challenge our assumptions. As Keith said, “no harm, no foul. Play on!”

  8. Hello Dave
    what you think about this sentence;
    “Predicting the future: does the MOOCmakers will be better than BOOKmakers ?”
    Alain (a french native)

  9. Is book making us stupied?. My reflections on this is that you cant easy just answere yes or no. Research shows that reading books develop your literal skills and experiences, it also stimulate thinking, fantast,y learnng to know other situations, feeling, other kind of mindsets etc. With reading you come into situations maybe you not have the possibllut to come close to otherwise. I wil say each media oral, written, books, newspapers, internet, film, music, etc can both be used in positive ways, but can also be abused. There is however one thing with text, Journals, books etc that thre is along production time, so when it is printed, it might be somewhat old, but the user need to be aware of this of course

  10. Books, blogs, news media make us not stupider, but perhaps more passive in what we define as learning. Books serve to “catch me up” on things. But dialogue with other humans — that’s where I learn, that’s where I teach, and that’s where the action is. Socrates FTW.

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