Most academics don’t imagine themselves operating as publishers of their insights day by day in the ongoing give and take of society, of politics.
We academics usually don’t value the chance of speaking directly to a wide audience. We usually don’t feel the need for non-academic forms of media. We put the power of our understanding on hold or out of reach of people who need it. Most of us do and say this:
“I will teach this powerful idea to my 19-year-old students and maybe in a decade one of them will use it in the world.”
And we will not, for the most part, empower students to practice using powerful ideas in the world during the university years.
We owe a great debt to experts. They got us to the moon before our enemies; they saved my father’s life in the ICU years ago; they made this truly beautiful machine I am typing on right now; they cured the common cold. [Well, not that last one.] Our debt to experts is profound.
By contrast, bloggers cast a ridiculous figure in a society shaped so cunningly by experts. Who are these typists with their stray thoughts, their hopeless, rambling plans, and their thinning ranks? Their informal little essays almost instantly forgotten, their links rotting and, soon enough, cobwebs decorating their servers. Who do these bloggers think they are fooling?
But expertise can rob us of a little of ourselves:
- When we use only the lens provided by a profession, there are some things about our fellow human beings we will never know.
- When we are guided only by expertly-framed policy, we will from time to time stomp on the souls of other people.
- When we speak only in the words of expertise, some people will believe that we are also quietly saying, “Be quiet and listen. An expert is speaking. It’s time for you to shut up.”
At least there are certain mistakes that bloggers don’t often make:
- They usually don’t pull rank. They usually don’t insist that a problem can be solved only by a certain kind of expert or talked about only in one kind of language.
- They tend to think that people’s experience has something to offer. They assume that tradition or dogma should be challenged by people reflecting on their experiences.
- They get riled up, but down deep they like to hear more voices, not fewer. They want their turn to speak, not the only turn. They get really impatient, but down deep they want democracy.
So: we bloggers aren’t entirely serious. That is our weakness and our strength. We aren’t systematic. That helps free us from the ethical failings of expertise. We have no authority and we can’t make people listen. That means that the people who turn our way are free people, making their own choices. Those are very cool people to have as friends. No money changes hands, just ideas and experiences. Nobody pulls rank. And on a good day, interesting things get said and sometimes they ripple out into the world. In an expert society, bloggers give me hope.
For a while now I’ve had an odd feeling that semaphore still has something to tell us. You know, before there were telegraph lines, and a coup was underway in the capital city and this bit of menacing news really needed to get out to good people in the provinces in a hurry. No problem, just use some version or another of semaphore. Lights flashed from hilltop to hilltop would do the trick nicely.
If the code has been prepared. If the hilltop stations were created in advance of the emergency. If they were staffed by loyalists. If the staff had good technical training. If the people in the provinces understood the importance of the message. If they saw ways to respond. And so forth.
Here is the post-Berners-Lee, post-Snowden takeaway:
Messages are easy, easier than ever, but they go nowhere, they are useless, if the network has not been prepared. That network is a piece of open technology and a web of people already aligned with each other and inside each one of them the knowledge, attitude, and skills needed to pitch in. That’s the message I’m getting from semaphore today.
A little theory of the weakness of democracy:
Silence is the basic mode of a citizen, largely unallied with others, having no regular civic audience, skilled in no form of public address, possessing no reliable stream of information or one so contested and poisoned and vexed as to be more problem than aid, susceptible to cynicism or despair or indifference or fear every moment that is not spent laboring or consuming entertainment or tending the beautiful or bare walled garden of the private life.
from KS’s 1999.io and http://ift.tt/2EfGxri