Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mass Culture 2.0

An entertaining, critical essay about Michael Gorman's diatribes about digital culture can be had in Scott McLemee's "Mass Culture 2.0" in Inside Higher Education June 20, 2007. Here are the last few paragraphs, just to give you the flavor of the essay:

The tone of Gorman’s remedial lecture implies that educators now devote the better part of their day to teaching students to shove pencils up their nose while Googling for pornography. I do not believe this to be the case. (It would be bad, of course, if it were.)

But the idea that new forms of media require training in new kinds of literacy hardly counts as an evasion of the obligation to cultivate critical intelligence. Today the work of acquiring knowledge on a given subject often includes the burden of evaluating digital material. Gorman may pine for the good old days — back when literacy and critical intelligence were capacities to be exercised only upon artifacts made of paper and ink. So be it. But let’s not pretend that such nostalgia is anything but escapism at best.

What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority,” as Edward Shils once put it, “the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

But it’s not that all cultural authority or critical intelligence, as such, are vanishing. Rather, new kinds are taking shape. The resulting situation is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But it is not exactly new. Such wrenching moments have come repeatedly over the past 500 years, and muddling through the turmoil does not seem to be getting any easier.

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