Monday, June 26, 2006


Been at the office for a good chunk of today. Lesson plans. The return of a semi-normal sleep schedule.

Thanks to a link found at Malcolm Pollack's website, I've been reading an essay by Jaron Lanier titled "Digital Maoism," which is about the danger of Wikipedia-style hive-mind mentalities. At one point, however, he says this about writing versus blogging:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it's easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday's moves in a conversation.

You will doubtless have noted that I blogged the above.

I think Lanier has a point, but I disagree: many bloggers are not merely "news aggegators" in and of themselves (the so-called "link whores" of the blogosphere), but are actually engaged in articulating distinct perspectives. One of the great discoveries of the online world is just how many people have the urge to write. Of course, there's yin to go along with the yang: we, the great mass of writers, do tend to produce a lot of unreadable sludge.

Still, my point stands: blogging isn't only about slavishly following the news cycle to maintain one's numbers; it's about actually saying something. Follow a small set of decent blogs over a long period of time, and you'll come to know some different perspectives.

And now I'm off to Namsan for my grueling, two-hour, three-staircase hike. My legs really don't like this, but my inner drill sergeant, who currently speaks in my buddy Jang-woong's voice, is telling me to get the fuck off my fat ass and get out there.

Go read the rest of that essay on your own, but here's another juicy morsel from it:

What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective. Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea. They are inspired by the rise of the Wikipedia, by the wealth of Google, and by the rush of entrepreneurs to be the most Meta. Government agencies, top corporate planning departments, and major universities have all gotten the bug.

As a consultant, I used to be asked to test an idea or propose a new one to solve a problem. In the last couple of years I've often been asked to work quite differently. You might find me and the other consultants filling out survey forms or tweaking edits to a collective essay. I'm saying and doing much less than I used to, even though I'm still being paid the same amount. Maybe I shouldn't complain, but the actions of big institutions do matter, and it's time to speak out against the collectivity fad that is upon us.

It's not hard to see why the fallacy of collectivism has become so popular in big organizations: If the principle is correct, then individuals should not be required to take on risks or responsibilities. We live in times of tremendous uncertainties coupled with infinite liability phobia, and we must function within institutions that are loyal to no executive, much less to any lower level member. Every individual who is afraid to say the wrong thing within his or her organization is safer when hiding behind a wiki or some other Meta aggregation ritual.

I've participated in a number of elite, well-paid wikis and Meta-surveys lately and have had a chance to observe the results. I have even been part of a wiki about wikis. What I've seen is a loss of insight and subtlety, a disregard for the nuances of considered opinions, and an increased tendency to enshrine the official or normative beliefs of an organization. Why isn't everyone screaming about the recent epidemic of inappropriate uses of the collective? It seems to me the reason is that bad old ideas look confusingly fresh when they are packaged as technology.



Anonymous said...

Lesson plans... are you required to produce these, or are you just being thorough?

You've taught for more than a few years, no?

Kevin Kim said...

I should have been more precise. I plan out the entire semester beforehand, in the manner of a typical American college prof who doles out his syllabi to his students. This way, students have no reason to be surprised: they know what material will be covered, when the quizzes and tests will be, and what day their projects will be due.

I do write up individual lesson plans, but not in any great detail, and not if the lesson is one I've already taught several times before. If I'm trying out a new activity, I'll often write that up as a step-by-step lesson plan.

Are we required to write lesson plans and syllabi in our department? We're required to write syllabi, and everyone has a different approach to that. Many teachers simply write up a list of general expectations, maybe some remarks on attendance policy, grade distribution, and what text is going to be used; they don't plan their calendar out day by day, perhaps preferring to be more flexible. I find that I operate best with a detailed plan, otherwise I meander.