Education, Technology, Passivity

June 6th, 2013

Partly in response to my piece on the philosophy of Google Glass, Alan Jacobs wrote this:

But if awakening students from those slumbers has always been the task of the true educator, that task is all the more difficult in a time of technologies of knowledge, or “knowledge,” that asymptotically approach omnipresence. Google Glass, along with a whole range of similar technologies, enforces the very passivity which truly liberal education is concerned to defeat.

That’s absolutely right. Just as “the truth is in the cloud” for web services that sync data, I think we’re setting the stage for the web turning into some sort of ostensibly-neutral source of true knowledge. When we have immediate, unfettered access to the web’s information, it begins to take on a feeling of absolute truth, even for things that are inherently opinion or taste.

In 2010, I argued that this idea of “openness” that Facebook (and to some extent, Google) have pushed so much for—that we will all be better off if we share more of our lives and identity with the public—undermines public and private as separate spheres, and therefore also the space for people to form their own beliefs and identity. As the public sphere encroaches and overruns the private sphere, it is necessarily harder to experiment with new tastes, opinions and beliefs, and to settle on certain ones, because the entire process is more transparent for observation and judgment.

These things—devices like Google Glass, which give us immediate access to the web, and social networks, which push us to share more and more of ourselves with the public—are intertwined. The result could be, or already is, a greater emphasis on “Well, everyone else thinks…” and less on “Well, I believe this to be true because…”. And that should be profoundly worrying.