Although the traditional archive used to be a rather static memory, the notion of the archive in internet communication tends to move the archive toward an economy of circulation: permanent transfer and updating. -Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 99.
It’s bad form to re-sift through another blog post, but since information literacy is dubious yet still helpful, then some associated skills are of interest. In this case, the skill of reading “above one’s level.” Even one of my favorite writing textbooks, which has a fantastic page (p. 477) on different sources and when to use them lists scholarly books and journals as “Highly useful if not too high-level or technical.” I make it a point that this is inadvertently insulting to one’s intelligence, and stands in the way of the educational project of owning the hell out of as much as you can.
So when I came across Ryan Holiday’s piece in Thought Catalog, Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your “Level”, I was glad to see a non-educator’s perspective to supplement my own. And he is the director of marketing at the notorious hipster-staple American Apparel, which is good or bad depending on how much fun you’re not having. Still what Ryan presents goes beyond information literacy’s operational suggestion to incorporate new information into one’s knowledge base, but to connect, apply and use whatever it is you get. It’s a message easily lost in the technical apparatus of IL.
Back to the main point: the first rule is to get out of the “School Mindset.” Holiday points out that we are quizzed on details to see if we did the work, not if we understood it’s greater points (lessons). The broader issue is that school strictly enforces sequential forms of learning along the lines of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, which is okay for school, but limiting in the rest of life. Armed with that confidence, the steps read fairly clearly:
- Ruin the Ending
- Read the Reviews
- Read the Intro/Notes/Prologue
- Look it Up
- Mark Passages
After you finish:
- Go Back Through
- Read One Book from the Bibliography
- Apply and Use
Also, by reading from the bibliography, and not relying on search engines to define what is relevant, students better enter the stream of communication, scholarly or otherwise. This is a conversation, not a database. I’ll leave you with Ryan’s words:
So try it: Do your research, read diligently without getting bogged down in details, and then work to connect, apply and use. -Ryan Holiday, Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your “Level”
Reading is thus situated at the point where social stratification and poetic operations intersect: a social hierarchization seeks to make the reader conform to the “information” distributed” by an elite (or semi-elite); reading operations manipulate the reader by insinuating their inventiveness into the cracks of a cultural orthodoxy.
-Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.172
Let’s talk about the innovation culture. Let’s talk about how to make something simple and beautiful into something ugly. The problem with many innovations is that they conflate innovation for specialization. There’s a great new skateboard that can easily ride down stairs, but you can do that and many other things with any deck. The tools of academic publishing have run into the same problem: we have specialized journals for everything, but few places that allow for broader participation, with Aaron Swartz’s death, a lot of discussions about this came up:
To put it bluntly, the current state of academic publishing is the result of a series of strong-arm tactics enabling publishers to pry copyrights from authors, and then charge exorbitant fees to university libraries for access to that work. The publishers have inverted their role as disseminators of knowledge and become bottlers of knowledge, releasing it exclusively to the highest bidders. Swartz simply decided it was time to take action. -Peter Ludlow, Aaron Swartz Was Right.
But Ludlow misses another important point: for good or bad, these costs have a hidden benefit for academics themselves:
With the majority of academic literature hidden behind a paywall, there is no way for the public to determine whether claims of irrelevance are valid. Instead, they rely on slanted media coverage – “Feds pay $227,000 to study magazine photographs,” crowed the Washington Times – and politicians’ charges of elitism, which paywalls help validate. The paywall sends a signal to the public that their interest in scholarship is unwelcome, even though their money may have helped pay for it. -Sarah Kendzior, Academic Funding and The Public Interest: The Death of Political Science.
Libraries and publishers have been in this system of exclusion for a long time, there’s no one side to blame. But Kendizor takes it one step further: even our language is to blame:
Furthermore, writing in a style decipherable to the public opens one up to public scrutiny. “Bad writing,” argues political scientist Stephen Walt, is “a form of academic camouflage designed to shield the author from criticism.” -Sarah Kendzior, Academic Funding and The Public Interest: The Death of Political Science.
We are living in a time where the ability to access knowledge is at an all-time high. But the structure of publishing, of tenure and promotion and our language itself have given rise to new levels of defensiveness for academics. It’s time to get to the Harlem Shake of academia, something so obvious that anyone can do it. Many academics are trying things out, from open access journals to blogs to non-academic but thoughtful sites like thestate.ae. It’s time to really put everything out there because now more than ever, we’re hiding when we shouldn’t. Open access journals are the Stair Rover to HTMLgiant‘s firecracker and it’s clear that by creating something so functional, we’ve created something ugly.
Even though the cost of producing information is falling, information as a whole is becoming more expensive. Identifying the cause of the rising cost of information is simple: Information is becoming less, not more, of a public good in our economy. – Michael Perelman (1998), Class Warfare in the Information Age, p. 91.
A handsome design fitted to the specifications of a high-end airport cafe and shopping arcade, but my sensibility is at least 50 years behind both the times and the curve. In a library I like to feel that I’m in the company of books. -Lewis Lapham
I have never been to a real library. I once read a book in the summer of 1986. This library looks like it has way too many books. It looks like they are trying to confuse people with all the books. -Harmony Korine
There is nothing about the mixing of peer culture, personal interests, and education that require the following:
“Digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.”
“Social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning and connection to unfold and thrive around common goals and interests.”
“Online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings.”
- Mizuko Ito, et al. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, p.74
They are certainly integral to the case studies that were presented: Massive Multi-Player Online Games, Screenwriting, Webcomics, Hip-Hop Production, programs at magnet schools in New York City, Minecraft, The Harry Potter Alliance, and afterschool programs backed by major research universities. Which is to say this: they are thoughtful and well-meaning, but still interventions which rely on the cultures and models of the dominant and elite in the United States, and with the exception of hip-hop, they tend to valorize silicon valley’s geek culture, and integrate it into a continually worsening economic system.
But “information” was never enough. Information is only intelligible given the proper knowledge, context, and opportunity. Likewise, knowledge is produced and shared within a complex infrastructure supported by a web of different agencies and organizations. Even if made cheap or free for consumers, that knowledge still requires other, more foundational knowledge, community affiliation, and economic freedom to convert into meaningful use.
Education, particularly the education of populations that most need it to improve their lot, is tied up with a political and economic situation that is not sufficiently addressed by merely connecting some of its output to the Internet, or by abdicating public responsibility to do otherwise to the first salesman who offers a sort-of viable alternative, no more than better night travel by car in Atlanta would be sufficiently supported by allowing private companies to connect to the electrical grid, or by providing government subsidies to flashlight manufacturers.
Although the examples provided by the Connected Learning group do provide plenty of knowledge, context, and opportunity, they largely reproduce their own subculture’s knowledge, context, and opportunities, and even the name “connected leaning” leans heavily enough on a computer network analogy that you can hear the cooling fans humming. Jocks and other non-geeks need not apply.
But as computers become ubiquitous, we find ourselves surrounded with these things based on precision. So more and more of the things we need to accomplish are tasks defined by computers more rigidly than we as humans would define them for ourselves. We are forced to become more precise in our actions to satisfy the needs of our own systems, which we built initially as helpers and which eventually gain a kind of power over us. -Ellen Ullman, Close to the Machine: An Interview with Ellen Ullman
For when the claims of reason replaced those of tradition, they appeared to offer a sense of certitude greater than that provided by preexisting dogma. But this idea only appears persuasive so long as we do not see that the reflexivity of modernity actually subverts reason, at any rate where reason is understood as the gaining of certain knowledge.
Modernity is constituted in and through reflexively applied knowledge, but the equation of knowledge with certitude has turned out to be misconceived. We are abroad in a world which is thoroughly constituted through reflexively applied knowledge, but where at the same time we can never be sure that any given element of that knowledge will not be revised. -Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, p.39.