Why use the Internet?


Since I was in Military Intelligence throughout my military career, I was very familiar with the pace of change in computers and the Internet. The nature of knowing is changing. How do you prepare for the future?


I also love books. Yet I heard a guest writer answer the question: “What is the future of writing?” with “Books will be archaic in fifty years.”


Reading, I suspect, will still be important. I have to qualify that. Already reading is becoming less necessary for routine living. Video is replacing the need for much of the reading that had become part of being an educated American. And with good reason. I ask students to think about one of their favorite movies. I ask them to describe a scene. Then I ask other students in class if they remember what happens next. Invariably most students in the class can picture exactly what follows. Then I ask them to think about one of their favorite books. Fewer react as though they have one and typically a title given by one student is unfamiliar to the other students. Then I ask that student to tell me about a favorite paragraph from that book. Silence. “What do you mean, quote the paragraph?” Well why not? (We can do this.) Most students will remember parts of the book, but not as read. They remember the “video” they made while they were reading the book.


I usually point out that is one reason why most philosophy books will seem more difficult to remember. You have a harder time making a memorable “video” in your mind of an argument, then you do of an action novel or play where you can imagine the action. But here the point I want to make is that video memory, which takes up 1/3 of our brain, is far more powerful than textual memorization.


A well done two hour video can teach as much as a book that would take a week to read and the video will be remembered far more readily than the text. (We can argue about this. Music works in a similar way. What does this say about the future of books?


An argument concerns the nature of what we do while we are reading compared to what we do while we are passively watching videos. I am not sure that we are passive while watching videos. I suspect this is only argued to enhance the view of texts. Reading does take more work and requires more imagination. It is a more difficult skill. We are constructing networks of linguistic and graphic concepts as we read (enforming our brains). Some people have no problems “learning” to watch TV but will never be adequate readers. But this does not mean that reading, while more difficult, is more valuable than watching videos.


Perhaps a better argument concerns the quality of most video productions. There are some awful books available, just as there are awful videos available. There clearly is more blatantly popular and simple videos that offer sex and violence rather than intellectual material. But then, most of popular print has been like that as well.


Do books encourage readers to be more critical thinkers than videos? I would say that only certain books do this, just as certain video productions also do. The issue, I would argue, is over encouragement and direction. Parents and teachers that succeed in helping young people to become critical thinkers and better problem solvers show this by doing. They encourage cultural attitudes about what to think about, how to think about things, and how to be critical and positive about those things, by loving those things themselves. I would even argue that the situation typically discovered in public schools reflects this. Even in a school system like the Anchorage School District where teachers are hired using the same standards throughout the system, and schools are funded the same way, curricula are the same, but some schools are clearly superior in achieving good students. We can see a momentum associated with such success that may be hard to change, but the students that are successful come from homes or neighborhoods where learning as much as possible is viewed positively. I have met students that clearly communicate attitudes of mistrust and hostility towards education. If students do not grow up believing that they can become effective and successful only if they learn as much as possible from those who bear the learning of our culture then they will not only do poorly, they will consider it a positive thing that they do poorly.


So what does this mean, if I am right, for the future of education?


The nature of knowing is changing. Those who have a positive attitude toward learning will have a future, those that do not will not. Even so, the nature of knowing is changing what those who will be successful will need to learn in order to have the success they seek. Using the Internet is an experiment in offering more than just books. I suspect electronic media will eventually do away with paper books. Just what kind of reading will this leave us?


We read for pleasure as well as for learning to solve problems. Many of the problems reading prepares us to solve we must depend on those who have dealt with them ahead of us for guidance. So what kind of reading prepares us for our future?


The Dewey – Hutchens debates centered on the nature of knowing. Dewey was a proponent of a teaching program that was primarily concerned with teaching students to think. Hutchens believed that the classic education was best. He felt students needed to read the classics in order to become educated, civilized adults. While Dewey was the clear winner on his influence on the school systems, even he knew the value of Hutchens point. As Hegel said, “what experience and history teach is this, - that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” He was certainly half in jest, at least. Still, it is clear that we seem doomed to repeat our mistakes because we neglect to take advantage of our accumulated wisdom by learning what we can from that wisdom.


The issue today is even more interesting. Why memorize, or even read, so much, when new technologies make finding out what you need at the time we need it so easy? Why learn to do math in our heads when we have Pentium IV’s? Why should we think the problems we will face have any solutions in the materials from our past?


It seems the skill to learn is how to find out what you need when you need it instead of trying to know as much as you can. Why not relax and let the tools do the work?


One point to be made here is certainly that the mind is like a muscle. The more pathways in the brain created the healthier the brain. The more exercised the brain the stronger the ratiocinations.


We also do not know that the mind is limited in its capacity to know things.


Socrates said, “the life which is unexamined is not worth living.” The kind of examination he meant was the philosophical quest for knowledge. Exercise the mind by learning as much as you possibly can and you will find life far more rewarding.


So here is our dilemma. We know that our information technology is changing the nature of knowing. How do we do the best we can to take advantage of it?


We will need to be familiar with the classics. But we have more “classics” today than ever. You may think there is more on the Internet than anyone could ever read in a lifetime. (A challenge.) Can we use technology to zero in on the more important materials? I think we can. How do we know what materials will be important to the examined life?


Something that I have always loved is the atmosphere in a library. I remember thinking that the library was like our modern church. Knowledge had become our way to know God. The more a person knew, the closer they were to knowing the mind of God.


I do not know what materials may be important and what may be useless. I can make guesses, but then it is amazing how often the obscure thing turns out to have some significance. When I am on the Internet and I find something interesting I add it to my collection of links.

It used to be that you had to footnote your sources and that meant the reader could go to the library and look up the book or journal and check your reference. With all the sources on the Internet you can link directly to the source saving readers from having to go look for things. Not to mention how much easier it is to find it and note it in the first place.

But most of all, the reason I keep adding to this collection of pages is because I thought, "Why not?"

Please enjoy it and I hope you are doing something of the same sort yourself.


Bill Jamison

This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated July 11, 2016. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.