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.