Thursday, July 19, 2007

Beware the Barbarians!

If you haven't read it yet, you really must check out this great exchange between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger on the Wall Street Journal. Fascinating reading, and Weinberger make a compelling argument for the barbarians; nevertheless, I'd like to add a few points of my own.
" digital abundance will lead to intellectual poverty. The more we know, the less we will know."
While Keen is right in theory here, he assumes no intervening medium (i.e. technology and information-literate librarians and teachers). The more volumnious the Web becomes, the stronger our imperative to nurture students towards information fluency, to teach them the tools and techniques to manage the glut. Keen argues as an overwhelmed digital immigrant, rather than a confident digital native, (or, at least, a naturalized digital citizen).

His most laughable complaint, of course, was the democratizing of media--everyone and anyone can publish. The web heralds the death of the Expert as we all succumb to a "flattened media without...the essential epistemological anchor of truth." Here we go again! Anyone with a knowledge of history knows we've been swinging back and forth between the Classic and Romantic philosophies for eons. The Read/Write web is just the newest manifestation of it. Is there garbage on the web? Absolutely! Heaps and heaps of it. Just as there is in traditional print media--look at the tabloids or the shelves of Barbara Cartland books out there.

More importantly, these are the same arguments we hear in the education world against the student-centered uses of technology: the teacher is the expert. They have to get the content across. Students don't have the intellectual and analytical capacity to know what they need to learn without teachers their to fill their eager little brains. Hogwash.

This is keeping power centered in the few and ensuring one's job security. The most exciting aspect of the read/write web is that, at last, students have a tool that allows them to take their learning into their own hands (with guidance!) and engage themselves. They transform from passive observers and listeners to active participants. They learn both process AND content, if teachers are willing to step aside and let them.

Keene declares editors (read: teachers) the "arbiters of good taste and critical judgment" (Has he READ some of the stuff being printed lately??) and that flattening the web "unstitches the ecosystem." Like that's a bad thing! In a system that inherently disadvantages the non-conformist, it's long past time we ripped a few seams and let the edges unravel a bit. Better yet, (if I can really push this metaphor!) Web 2.0 is like a big quilting bee. While there's no Coco Chanel to create an overall vision, each member brings her own bits of cloth and her own skills which, combined, create a work of art greater than the sum of its parts.

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