Treasure Island dot com: In Praise of Online Swashbuckling

We have the world at our fingertips. We are the first generation to be able to make that claim; the first generation to have constant access to virtually all of humanities acquired wisdom. As such I will quote Spiderman: ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Unfortunately, it seems, when given the responsibility most people will panic and google ‘how to pass the buck’. If we take it for what it is, the internet could be (should be!) the greatest leap forward in public education since the invention of the printing press. So why are some so reluctant?

The internet is the high seas, and we are buccaneers in search of the greatest treasure of all: knowledge. As with real treasure, it is not easy to get your hands on. We must sail across oceans of nonsense in our quest; dangerous waters indeed. What’s more, we should be extremely weary of the stories and claims of other adventurers; one must remember that fisherman’s tales can be some of the tallest. Instead of sirens hoping to steer us off course, we are instead faced with news articles of Nazis on the moon, Tom Cruise’s new eyebrows, and cats playing pianos. Only those steadfast, exhibiting the utmost restraint, ignoring all distractions on their journey, emerge from the internet unscathed and enriched.

Some have argued that the perils that face internet travellers are not worth the risk, especially in a formal educational setting. Whether Luddite or simply overly-cautious, I strongly disagree with these people. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of guy. Social media platforms provide an excellent opportunity (particularly in the current climate) to teach students how to critically evaluate sources. I can think of no better demonstration of the value of references, the disconnect between primary and secondary literature, and the role of scepticism in the scientific method.  Indeed, it seems redundant to argue over the pros and cons of using new technologies in higher education, rather ‘academic’ you might say. Young people have forced our hand.

The ubiquitous presence of social media and portable computers in our day to day lives is not a remote possibility, it is an actuality. The digital age is upon us, so one could argue that any protests as to its merit are somewhat belated.  Instead we should embrace the technology, expose children to the wonders and dangers of the internet, so that all can enjoy its bountiful treasures. Yo ho ho, a pirate’s life for me.

One Reply to “Treasure Island dot com: In Praise of Online Swashbuckling”

  1. Thanks for the great post. Very well written.

    Contrary to your experience, I didn’t grow up with cell-phones, internet, email and social media. And the more those “high seas” of the internet world become increasingly dangerous to sail through, the more I am happy to have known a time when, to find information, you searched for the printed encyclopedia on your parent’s shelf. Don’t take me wrong: I agree with you in the many educational possibilities the internet era provides. At the same time, however, I feel that it is also turning newer generations too focused on facts and “too impatient” to learn. Furthermore, I don’t think we have the tools (will we ever?) to steer our students adequately across those “oceans of nonsense” one can find on the net. Society has moved from the mouth-to-ear (“someone told me”), to “I heard it on the radio or read on the paper”, then to the “I saw it on the TV” of my generation, and now to the “I found it on the internet”. The problem here is that this is an exponential curve of the potential of each of those mass media to spread out nonsense. A lot more information funnels out a lot faster when climbing a step in that evolution of transmission of knowledge, but so does the speed of disseminating garbage. Plenty icebergs ahead, at port and at starboard.

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