[UTKSIS-L] [Air-l] How is the Internet bad for us?

Heidelberg, Chris Chris.Heidelberg at ssa.gov
Fri Jun 24 15:39:53 PDT 2005


You make some compelling arguments, but I am certain that you took my
thoughts a lot further than I would have taken them. Indeed, it would seem
that we agree on much more than we disagree. If one examines the history of
the Internet, college students have long had access to it since the early
1980's when I was an undergraduate so the technology really is not that new
for the specific group that we are discussing. In historical terms, if you
are one who takes the long view I can accept your definition of a new

I can also agree with you on the problems with the food supply as well. I
try to eat organic as much as possible; however, the problem in the U.S. is
that ordinary citizens cannot mount consistent efforts against the corporate
interests that have access to the lawmakers,policy makers and legal counsel
to get things like questionable food in the food supply. All one has to do
is look at the current situation in America where there is no national
health care  to see that the corporate interests are the real interests.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of economic Darwinism going on in this country
and it is going to take a cataclysmic event to get people to wake up in
America. I recently saw a chart that Americans are divided along the same
lines today as they were during the Civil War. This is tragic; however, it
is very predictable since we never have fully dealt with the aftermath of
slavery and economic justice for the working class and middle class in this
nation. Getting back to the food supply argument, the agribusiness lobby has
Washington lawmakers and the media under control. One can look at
Opensecrets.org and see where the money is going every day and see the
sponsors during the billboards of the talking head programs on CNN, Fox,
MSNBC and the networks. The water situation was actually the subject of a
special report by the Center for Public Integrity. It appears that worldwide
the softdrink and water companies are assuming control of the market.
Actually, the City of Baltimore, where I live, is actually selling its tap
to the public because it has consistently been cited as tasting good and
being clean. 

I am actually doing my dissertation on edutainment and convergence, and I
disagree with getting rid of brick and mortar institutions for several
First, the sociological dynamic is incalculable for the young people and the
older ones too attending institutions of higher learning. Second, the
exchange of ideas and cultures is critical to continuing the discourse that
Plato began when he began the Academy in ancient Greece. Third, there are
certain times when a student needs tactile intervention from the professor
or fellow classmates to assist the student in learning a particular skill.
Fourth, it would appear that a mix of traditional and technology based
courses tend to compliment one another. This appears to be especially true
in field based courses in certain majors. For example, I am writer,
filmmaker and producer by trade. An electronic field production class does
not really lend itself well to graduate students who work in the field as a
purely classroom or electronic course. A student needs minimal classroom
time for this course which I have taught while focusing on the production in
the field setting. He or she should maintain electronic contact with the
professor to keep the professor abreast of issues or problems, but there is
no need to meet every week during the middle of a production.

Finally, I am certain from what I am seeing in classroom and library design,
both are happening at my university and others like Hopkins and Maryland,
That libraries are becoming more like edutainment centers that will be open
24 hours with card access and digital access to books. The rationale is that
there are a finite number of a given book that a school can have and this
number may not be enough to serve the students of the college and the
Maryland area since all colleges and universities share resources. While I
may not on principle agree with the economic determinism that is in use in
this nation and globally, I possess enough common sense to understand that
historically people in this nation have short memories, are living from pay
check to pay check and simply have not demonstrated the consistent political
will to stand up to government tyranny, unfairness and pro-business
policies. I would have benefited economically from a Bush or Kerry victory;
however, I am always amazed at the individuals who continually vote against
their own economic best interests. I am beginning to see the long term
wisdom of Lou Dobbs on the subject of globalism. Globalism has many tempting
factors to businesses, but at the end of the day American businesses will
find that the rest of the world will extract its pound of flesh for years of
economic and political dominance by the U.S. and that concerns me. Wages for
working people have been decreasing for nearly two decades while net worth
of the richest 1% keeps rising a  higher rate. This cannot last forever with
negative consequences for the country and the world. Have a good weekend. 

-----Original Message-----
From: air-l-aoir.org-bounces at listserv.aoir.org
[mailto:air-l-aoir.org-bounces at listserv.aoir.org] On Behalf Of Charles Ess
Sent: Friday, June 24, 2005 5:10 PM
To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org
Subject: Re: [UTKSIS-L] [Air-l] How is the Internet bad for us?

Chris Heidelberg wrote:
> However, the future of research will be just that electronic based 
> research with electronic citations because of the economics of 
> maintaining libraries and the costs of books, especially textbooks and 
> research based books.
Um, you may well be correct. But at the risk of sounding excessively
critical, this also sounds very much like much of the rhetoric that
characteristically accompanies new technologies, especially in the United
States - in my experience, the culture most likely to embrace new
technologies uncritically.
As an example, U.S. folk largely accepted genetically modified foods without
much of a question mark, while several European countries (Denmark, Norway,
Austria) organized consensus conferences to determine whether or not these
should be introduced into the food stream and market (with a resounding 'no'
as a result).
The latter do _not_ automatically assume newer is necessarily better or
inevitable - but open to critical evaluation, especially as a function of
democratic governance.
The point is not to say that one is better than another - I prefer the more
critical/democratic approach, but my European friends often look with envy
at the U.S. where, in Hofstede's terms, our low uncertainty avoidance (=
willingness to take risks) means precisely that we innovate and diffuse new
technologies at a rather brisk clip.  Both are good.

But beyond the potential fallacy of self-fulfilling prophecy - underneath
this I also hear at least an economic determinism, again, characteristically
North American.
Lots of countries and cultures make choices - for anything ranging from food
and wine to quality of books - that are not fully constrained by economic
efficiencies, but include other values that frame economic considerations.
You're certainly correct that print-based media will continue to be
expensive - but this is by itself not a drop-dead argument for the
inevitability of electronic media.  It is conceivable - whatever one may
make of the values matrix that results in such choices - that both
individuals and cultures will continue to prefer certain media, despite less
expensive alternatives, simply because they are valued for any number of
A simple example is water - bottled water in the U.S. was considered a
namby-pamby European luxury some 30 years ago, and now is a mainstay of U.S.
culture, even though it's far more expensive (and usually better) than what
comes out of the tap.
More recently, people my age will remember that in the 1990s, arguments
similar to yours were made to declare that distance learning and the virtual
university would eliminate "bricks-and-mortar" colleges and universities
within ten years.  For one thing, the proponents got their economics wrong -
the costs of the former turned out to be much higher than most anticipated.
But it also turned out that, for better and/or for worse, people -
especially traditional-age students - _like_ the educational (and
extra-curricular) experience provided in real-world, embodied settings - and
are indeed quite willing to pay a premium for it.

> This current discourse reminds me of the concerns by teachers during 
> the 1970's when I was in grade school and parents and teachers 
> complained about the use of calculators, and now nearly every math and 
> science class requires excessive calculator usage because of the 
> element of time. My point is that students should have the 
> fundamentals of great research and practice it; however, we all need 
> to recognize that when Google finishes its work it will simply be too 
> easy and practical not to fully utilize electronic services. The more 
> important key may be that students properly give credit to sources and 
> that the sources be "approved" by the professor. Davis is an excellent
person to teach the basics.

I'm not sure I have a quarrel here - but I would add a caveat.  Yes,
calculators, etc. came in - and I believe it's clear that basic math skills,
including the ability to do simple math in one's head, or even with a piece
of paper, went out, as many of the teachers and parents worried it would.
Albert Borgmann writes perceptively on this, I think: a feature of modern
technology is to make things easier for us on the surface of use - by
relying on increasingly complicated technological systems underneath -
resulting in a "de-skilling" in many ways.  Kids who can velcro their shoes
may no longer learn to tie a simple knot - and the cashier who grew up with
calculators apparently cannot figure out (this happened the other day) that
four grapefruit at $.50 each total to $2.00. (I'm not making this up.)

Of course I want my students - not to mention, little ol' me - to have
access to the latest and greatest databases and search technologies for
their research; but my observation (as someone who has taught freshman
almost every year since 1980) is that even with rising standardized test
scores, every year my students are less and less capable of doing very much
_without_ electronic aids.
So I worry about confident predictions about what _will_ happen in the
indefinite and as-yet-to-be-chosen future - especially when these seem
(perhaps I misread you here) to _not_ worry about the consequences, not of
_complementing_ the use of traditional print-based scholarship with
electronic counterparts, but of replacing the former with the latter

thoughts and comments welcome - I'm sure I'm wrong here in important ways -
and happy weekend,

charles ess

Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.              Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA       FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html Co-chair, CATaC:

Professor II, Globalization and Applied Ethics Programmes Norwegian
University of Science and Technology
NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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