Excerpt from my forthcoming book:
Pascal had much to say about diversions in his classic book, Pensées. Pascal wrote how diversions can be greatly multiplied if you are wealthy. More money equals more things to get distracted by. This is still true today, but there are plenty of things all of us Americans, irrespective of income, can get diverted by. For example, most of us have computers which can transport us to all kinds of worlds which then can keep us from thinking about the most important matters of life. We may not feel very rich, but from a global or historical vantage point we are fabulously well off. Most of us take things like air conditioning, quality water, and consistent electricity for granted. As Bill Ball told a Sunday school class I was teaching, “Kings of the past would have been thrilled by owning a used Vega car and having unlimited access to petrochemicals.”
Along with all the triviality (hey, “look at my pizza” posts) and stupidity (everyone is an expert), Alan Jacobs adds further reasons:
“I have come to believe that it is impossible for anyone who is regularly on social media to have a balanced and accurate understanding of what is happening in the world. To follow a minute-by-minute cycle of news is to be constantly threatened by illusion. So I’m not just staying off Twitter, I’m cutting back on the news sites in my RSS feed, and deleting browser bookmarks to newspapers. Instead, I am turning more of my attention to monthly magazines, quarterly journals, and books. I’m trying to get a somewhat longer view of things — trying to start thinking about issues one when some of the basic facts about them have been sorted out. Taking the short view has burned me far too many times; I’m going to try to prevent that from happening ever again (even if I will sometimes fail). And if once in a while I end up fighting a battle in a war that has already ended … I can live with that.”
From Alan Lightman, the first professor at MIT with a joint appointment in the humanities and science (italics added):
I was on the Harvard faculty for 10 years before I went to MIT, so I have a good sense of the differences in the student bodies. The students at MIT are brighter and they are quicker and more original, but they are not nearly as well read as the Harvard students.
What I don’t like about MIT and I don’t mind saying this is that it’s too high pressure, it’s a workaholic place and I don’t think this is good for the students and I don’t think it’s good for the faculty. The students are madly rushing to learn as much as they can. They take as many courses as they can. They just assume that more is better. It is their mantra. The more you can cram in, the better. They assume that all technology is progress. If you design a car that goes at twice the speed as the current cars, you should design it. If you can build a machine that goes twice as fast, you should build it. If you can build a computer that stores twice the information, you should build it. They just assume without questioning that more is better. They don’t take the time or they don’t have the time to slow down and really think about what is important, what is the value of their lives, what is the value of this technology, to question the technology. Some technology can be used well and some cannot be used well, how should we be using the technology? What is important? They don’t the time to go back to square zero and ask the question, why are we doing this? What do I really believe in? What’s really important? They don’t have the time for that. The students and faculty are similar. They are all rushing too rapidly.
The rest is here: http://www.concordlibrary.org/scollect/fin_aids/OH_Texts/Lightman.html
Above is a picture out of my copy of Augustine’s Confessions.
I am listening in parts to a long interview with Maria Popova, curator of Brain Pickings (recommended yesterday). During the interview, Popova and Tim Ferris, the interviewer, bemoan the fact that publishers limit how many quotes you can easily access on Kindle. The number is high, but there is a limit and the only way around it is time-consuming.
So I will continue to read books the old fashioned way!
Daniel Bonevac teaches philosophy at the University of Texas. Our youngest son, Chris, who has majors in classics and philosophy, is currently taking a class with him.
Bonevac taught a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to 35,000 people! He mentioned in the interview below that a Stanford class on artificial intelligence had nearly 170,000 folks enrolled!
I am not sure yet what to think about MOOCs, but it does seem to be the, or a least a wave of the future.
I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West…
But today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become “pancake people”—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.
In our family, The Carol Burnett Show, was always “must see.”
Yesterday, I read a wonderful piece on Burnett’s fondness for writing (and receiving) real letters:
Important and insightful piece by Nicholas Carr: