Struck by Engelbart again

Back in the office today after the ELI 2008 Annual Meeting, I met my first class at 9:30 this morning: Introduction to New Media Studies. Today was our first day on Doug Engelbart. In one moment, two-thirds of the way through the class, the synchronicities became unexpectedly piercing.

A student in the front row marvelled with disbelief at the intensity and complexity of mind Engelbart appears to imagine we should cultivate. The student insisted, with growing energy, that ordinary people couldn’t meet that standard, that it would be unbearably difficult to live in the integrated domain Engelbart eloquently describes. Could Engelbart really be serious in thinking we could and should be that alert, responsive, and focused? I replied that I’d never been in contact with anyone as serious about his vision as Engelbart was and is. I went on to say that Engelbart believed everyone should be striving toward just the capability and collective intelligence he outlined in his “Augmenting Human Intellect,” and he also believed that if we didn’t, we were surely doomed as a civilization. Completely possessed by Engelbart’s vision, I went on for another minute or so to evoke what I could of the depth and urgency of Engelbart and his mission. By now completely wound up, I stopped for breath. I was probably shaking a little.

At which point the young man paused for his own breath. His eyes widened. “But,” he burst out, “but if we’re supposed to live and think that way, our schools are set up all wrong!”

I was speechless.

When I recovered, I pointed him to Illich’s Deschooling Society, which he immediately Googled on his open laptop. The link’s appeared on the class del.icio.us aggregation sidebar, so either he or someone else in the class has bookmarked and tagged it.

I hope Doug Engelbart would be pleased.

4 thoughts on “Struck by Engelbart again

  1. That is just downright exciting, I just get giddy reading it.
    Should I be expecting a revolution to form in the midst of your class and storm the halls of GW demanding change?
    Keep the riled up!

  2. That was the ripple in the space-time continuum I felt! (or maybe it was just the wind blowing the door open).

    This is so remarkable, and re-assuring to find students clue-ing to Engelbart’s vibrant ideas.

    Keep the flames alive

  3. Wow, I was actually there. I feel like I witnessed a piece of history based on just that blog post. I mean, not everyone gets to experience an event that is worthy of being retold in such an eloquent fashion. I love the imagery too (“I was probably shaking a little”). My goal is now to get in one of Dr. Campbell’s blogs. The earlier the blog is written, the less chance I’ll have to resort to Paris Hilton-esque measures to gain attention. Just a little forewarning.

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