• Mixed Emotions & Job Security

    Posted on October 12th, 2011 Rebecca No comments

    This post revolves around ideas presented by Ted Nelson in Computer Lib/Dream Machines–relevant pieces of this text from the New Media Reader is available here http://www.newmediareader.com/book_samples/nmr-21-nelson.pdf.

    There is a lot in these few pages.  Like Jill, I had pretty extreme emotional responses to several of Nelson’s opinions.  Nelson writes that the “emotional aspect” is “a legitimate part of our fantic design,” so I’ll start there–with my emotions–as I digest and try to make sense of these ideas.

    First of all, was I the only one who was distracted, and at times, confused by the layout of the work?  It felt like I was reading a (popular) magazine, and I struggled to try to make everything fit into the “unifying vision” that Nelson must have had for this piece.  Initially, I blamed the New Media Reader editors for my problems, but as I continued to read, it started to dawn on me that Nelson seemed kind of crazy, and that his original work may have looked just like this.  So, of course, I checked out Newman Library’s copy (which I’ll bring to class tonight), and  sure enough, the NMR copy is true to the original!  Perhaps I’ll just blame my inability to follow this nonlinear form of thought on the educational system that has turned off my mind and cut short my human potential.  Which brings me to my first real emotional reaction to Nelson’s ideas…

    I felt downright defensive (and angry) when I read through “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.”  I think I was sort of with him, up until the point where he started bashing learning theory (as he understood it).  I felt attacked for spending as much time as I have with my efforts to become a better teacher; have my educational psychology and instructional design classes and research done nothing for me, other than influence me to teach as an automaton? Certainly not.  I think Nelson wants people–particularly educators AND students–to have a strong emotional reaction to this piece, and really grapple with these ideas.  While I disagree with him that learning theory has no real relevance to actual education, I can’t help but agree with him as he talks about breaking down false structures, e.g. subjects) within curricula.  I can imagine that many students, when reading this piece, would get pretty excited.  Furthermore, I like the statement that Nelson expresses (below), but am not sure I agree with it:

    The enhancement of motivation that will follow from letting kids learn anything they want to learn will far outweigh any specialization that may result.

    However, I can completely agree with Nelson’s ideas about usability.  In fact, I think it should be required reading for librarians who deal with technology!  I often joke with students that, because many of our databases are so difficult to search, librarians have job security (I don’t really find this funny).  Right now, librarians are having a very similar discussion surrounding what we call “web scale searching.”  You may have seen it implemented this summer when we rolled out Summon, our “library search engine.” Many librarians are like the computer scientists described in Nelson’s piece:  they want people to learn to do advanced searching (similar to learning programming languages), so that they can do more.  But library users don’t need to do that if we can provide the tools for them to do it more easily!  Again, I’ll go back to Nelsons ideas:

    it is absolutely necessary that computer systems for complicated purposes be simple to use…the last thing you will tolerate is for your computer screen to introduce complications of its own.  

    Will these ideas convince anyone?  Probably not, but, like my interpretation Nelson’s view of education, perhaps it will cause them to think a little more deeply about it!