Monday, October 29, 2007

Knowledge is Dead

My buddy Andrew, one of the many bright young minds attending Claremont McKenna College, poses a fantastic question in his comment to my previous post. Among other things, he writes that,

"Most blogs talk about current events or future events. I haven't seen many blogs on the history of French republics or blogs on the Fed. Papers. It seems history might be hard to chase down in the blogging world."

So the question is, can and will you learn the relevant history of a particular subject just from reading a blog on it? Or, must you take a class in order to read a wide range of information on the subject and have a teacher evaluate your knowledge?

My response would be that blogs once again will trump traditional methods of learning here. While traditional learning tells you to read up so that you can have general knowledge that may or may not be helpful in the future (and so you can get a good grade, ugh), reading up on current happenings demands that you be literate in past events so that you can understand what is going on now.

The difference is one of incentives. Classroom learning posits a long-range reward of understanding French history with the rationale that eventually it will be useful. The current events that you read about in blogs, on the other hand, give you immediate incentive to search for an article about the Marshall Plan on Wikipedia to understand how our foreign intervention policies have morphed into what is going on in Iraq. There's no grading system that rewards cramming online, just your desire to understand the world around you.

In a world where information is so liquid with Google Scholar and Wikipedia at each of our fingertips, and Amazon able to drop any book on your doorstep within two days, I would expect that mass stores of prior knowledge would be even less helpful.

Nevertheless, I'm not about to drop out of Vassar next semester and I intend to finish my stay here, for two main reasons:

a) The social scene, including but not limited to being around a bunch of smart and funny guys on the basketball team, is incredible and probably couldn't be replicated anywhere else.

b) There's little economic incentive to blog and read blogs, because our mainstream society is nowhere near to accepting this form of knowledge. If I want recognition for my studies, which isn't necessary but undoubtedly provides a sense of security, I must grind out the process and receive a formal degree.