2010 Northern Voice - Elitist MushroomsSaturday, May 08, 2010
The first day of 2010 Northern Voice was a day of unexpected adjacencies, or to put it in another way it was a day of randomness. There was good and there was some bad. The trade off is that I went home enlightened.
Saturday, the second day of 2010 Northern Voice was a day with longer sessions with the result that I found more substance. It all began with an on the button (he said everything he wanted to say in the allotted time with precision) by Chris Messina. He is another of those startling American young men (where are you women?) who somehow amass a lot of money through an “aw shucks” kind of intellectual power. What Messina said we will read, perhaps, in the New York Times a year’s hence. In particular he predicted that unless we champion the usage of URL searching we will lose it to a TV-turned computer in which we will eventually “channel” surf to locations that will be pre-determined. Choice will be limited.
Our little, but not so little, Northern Voice always manages to reveal stuff that the average person on the street has no idea of or how it will affect their life in a radical way. No matter how much the folks at the 2010 Northern Voice argued about getting together, the idea of the open network and the sharing of ideas, I still think (and I approve as I am a snob) that this yearly gathering is one of the elite.
If anything 2010 this year was a showing off of the talent of the those who work as UBC professors (women where are you? Was CBC's and UBC School of Journalism, Kathryn Grestinger the sole exception?) I was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of David Ng and his Phylogame Project. In this project he attempts to disseminate a better understanding of science.
Not so impressive to most in the room was Professor Jon Beasley-Murray’s attempt to defend the elitist stance of universities as a repository of knowledge. His concise and ordered treatise on the subject had been preceded by a more human and warmer presentation by David Cormier (whose eyes reflect enthusiasm and brilliance - a potato diet perhaps? ) His side of “If Machiavelli and Montaigne Grew Mushrooms” attempted to defend (seen successful my most present) the heretical view that the world no longer needs accredited repositories of knowledge (with the ancillary accredited imparters of that knowledge). The world needs a sort of bee-like social network of people who will share knowledge while being wired and with the eventual discard of the unchanging and static book. The book and the university are obsolete.
I felt sorry for Professor Jon Beasley-Murray because I too, like him, feel that a good school education is important and that the accredited professor is part of that milieu. There was no time for a two-sided look at the radical ideas that were discussed in what was the last session of the day.
I have no idea if Professor Jon Beasley-Murray has read two recent and most important books. One is called In Defense of Elitism by William A. Henry III and the other The Cult of the Amateur – How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen.
I got into a pleasant argument with the Russian Cook (AKA Boris) about the subject. He is pro elimination of the concept of accreditation and suggested if he had the choice of either doing away with newspapers or universities he would opt for the latter. When I confronted him with the idea of going to see an unaccredited brain surgeon (a non PHD brain surgeon) he replied that if a young student of medicine were trained by robot with expertise in dissection knowledge would still be transferred efficiently.
In our world of the amateur I would suspect that we would still need accredited engineers to build our bridges, accredited pilots to fly our airplanes, etc. There is no way that facing a computer will ever be the same than getting the human contact of the teacher.
Paradoxically Cormier’s defense of the social network and his declaration that the book is dead had all to do with Socrates never having written down anything. I can now see a modern-day Socrates communicating with his followers with a purely visual and aural Skype as Socrates would look at a computer keyboard with disdain.
If there is anything that makes Northern Voice a delight is the fact that communication is (as Chris Messina so aptly put it) IRL (in real location). Like the expert in computer language that Messina is he speaks in a digital forked tongue. What he means is that in Northern Voice we meet, face to face. A social network of the kinds championed for two days at Northern Voice will never replace that. Professor Jon Beasley-Murray, take heart, you and the book will still be around IRL.