College Council meetings are rarely the source for inspiration but it’s always a good idea to keep alert because suddenly there are glimmers of light even in administration. Yesterday in came in the form of this quote from W. E. B. Dubois:
The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.
We are not here to be the centre of polite society…. Let that sink in.
The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all cooperate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.
If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.
Nor do I want to be a language police. Every time I get too serious about this I remind myself of this…
In his talk he quoted Charles Babbage who demonstrates a wonderful techno-optimism (well he would, wouldn´t he?): “One great advantage which we may derive from machinery is from the check which it affords against the inattention, the idleness, or the dishonesty of human agents.” in The Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832).
Nice try Charles – people will still find a way to hack technology!
In December 2009 I wrote a positive text in my Swedish blog about the Norska Forbrukerrådet (Norwegian Consumer Council) and their decision to write a report and demand answers from the Norwegian Data Protection Authority on the role of social networking sites in relation to personal integrity. I ended the post with the words:
Detta är ett härligt exempel på socialt patos från en nationell aktör i en globaliserad nätbaserad värld.
No one has the right to live without being shocked; no one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book, nobody has to pick it up, nobody has to open it, and if they open it and read it they don’t have to like it. And if you read it and dislike it you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. Nobody has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published or sold or bought or read. And that’s all I have to say on that subject.
While reading a bit of retro work I came across this:
A little known law of life is that of irreversibility. No human or physical act or process can be reversed so that objects and states end up as they were. During the original act and in the time just after it, both object and state undergo change that is irreversible. An early known poem, Humpty-dumpty, recognises this. Once the egg is broken, that is that.
It is the same with systems. They can never be reversed. They can be changed, certainly, and sidetracked, and they can be very easily destroyed, the moment a human-machine information system comes into being, it takes on a life of its own independent of its creators. The operators just run it, while programmers merely maintain it. The process called entropy begins, a confusion that can be measured by the growing gulf between what people first knew about the system and now know about it.
Brian Rothery (1971), The Myth of the Computer, Business Books, p 43.
The new term has begun with new lectures and repeats of some old ones. Last week I gave a repeat performance (well for me at least) of my essay writing lecture. The main point is to get students thinking about their essays in time as well as getting them to understand how to write an essay. Then today I came across this wonderful quote from Antoine de Saint Exupéry the author of, among other books, The Little Prince
The way to get people to build a ship is not to teach them carpentry, assign them tasks, and give them schedules to meet; but to inspire them to long for the infinite immensity of the sea.
The problem with poetic and romantic quotes such as these is that they presents a misleading view of much of the world. All too many essay writers attempt (and many succeed) in writing an essay with no clear idea of what an essay is. You would never think of asking someone who has never seen a house to build you one?