1967 Seems Sort of Like 2019

Austin Kleon pointed me towards the excellent Teaching as a Subversive Activity when I asked for his perspective on teaching students to stop following directions. Despite being written in 1967, I found it eye-opening. I wasn’t even asking the right question. Which is something for another post.

Anyways, it was also fascinating to see how similar the worries and perceived problems of 1967 are to those of 2019:

We cannot afford to ignore Norbert Wiener’s observation of a paradox that results from our increasing technological capability in electronic communication: as the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.

One can begin almost anywhere in compiling a list of problems that, taken together and left unresolved, mean disaster for us and our children. For example, the number one health problem in the United States is mental illness: there are more Americans suffering from mental illness than from all other forms of illness combined. Of almost equal magnitude is the crime problem. It is advancing rapidly on many fronts, from delinquency among affluent adolescents to frauds perpetrated by some of our richest corporations. Another is the suicide problem. Are you aware that suicide is the second most common cause of death among adolescents? Or how about the problem of “damaged” children? The most common cause of infant mortality in the United States is parental beating. Still another problem concerns misinformation—commonly referred to as “the credibility gap” or “news management.” The misinformation problem takes a variety of forms, such as lies, clichés, and rumors, and implicates almost everybody, including the President of the United States.

It is the thesis of this book that change—constant, accelerating, ubiquitous—is the most striking characteristic of the world we live in and that our educational system has not yet recognized this fact.

There’s a lot of exploration in the book about how having things that “plug in” is radically shifting who we are as people and society. It’s fun to peer into a time when having electric devices was still new and novel enough that intellectuals were reading and writing about it.

Did we ever resolve those questions?

It’s almost like we present ourselves with problems, recognize that we’ve got some problems to reckon with, then invent fresh new problems before we’ve figured out how to handle the originals.