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links.net : vita : swat : 13 February, 1996

scholarly schizophrenia

I have problems with categories.

when I write articles for the Phoenix, are they editorials? news? features?

about all I can say is that they are mine - always first person.

I put together a web ethics class for swarthmore.

second week, we talk about politics - individuals versus institutions. third week, art - how symbolic and anthropomorphized graphical elements determine a navigational experience. fourth week, literature - how to construct and read non-linear narrative.

and the whole thing takes place on computers.

I'm tryin' to find a department to sponsor the course. Computer science will only go halfway - it certainly isn't about algorithms. english, it ain't about literature. Timothy Burke in History likes the idea, but it ain't history, yet.

I've found a small network of professors who embrace what I am doing. but at this point, I am little more than connections.

sort of like the web.

what is it? is it cable, television? magazine? newspaper?



none of these distinctions alone apply, and yet, by studying them all, we come closer to an understanding of the whole.

I visited Richard Schuldenfrei, a philosophy professor here at Swarthmore, to discuss sponsorship of my course. of my curriculum he said, it's like the web - a little bit of everything, not nailed down.

Afterwards he sez, I feel like I've been visited by a member of a tribe that I've only read about.

A tribe of the 21st century. Sure we won't all live like over-extended manic ecclectics, but there is little doubt that distinctions, departments, categories, these are breaking down due either to excruciating specificity, or useless intangibility.

Think multiculturalism. Everyone's story has validity.

Think alternative culture, music, cuisine - we don't just go out for food, we go out for sushi, burritos, chinese, italian. We don't just buy popular music, we buy rap, grunge, gamelan, gospel or blue grass.

Think cable - did you see what was on TV last night? which channel?

Now think about the Internet: there are as many channels as there are people. I can reach out to anyone and open a connection through e-mail. I can initiate connections with folks by publishing myself.

As a result of this decentralization, I can accumulate cultures, identities.

Schuldenfrei accused me of being a hippy on the wires. I'm not just a hippy, I'm a punk. I'm a geek. I like jazz, and Jane's Addiction. I write poetry, sew, talk astrology, and spend eight hours a day on a computer. and I wear a suit and tie to teach.

so what do I do when I have to describe myself? when I have to pick a major?

I'm working on a special major, Humanist Technology; How to lead a good life as a contributing member of society in the 21st century. seems that's the basic mission of any education, I'm adapting it for technology.

something about this technology, it decentralizes. I don't have to learn how to spell anymore. I don't have to go to the post office anymore. I don't have to send my articles to a magazine anymore. I don't have to buy art supplies anymore.

finding credit for a class about this, I'm having trouble figuring out which department is not involved.

so Schuldenfrei said, learn a discipline, because then I can argue with you. otherwise, how do I know you're not bullshitting me?

and I say, I've been mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, Wired, PC Magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle. I've spoken at the Rand Corporation, and last year's Lollapalooza. I average around 18,000 readers a day to my personal web page; I keep council with many of the top minds making media on the internet.

In a field without PhDs, those are my credentials; somebody thinks I'm on to something.

I'm not saying I don't respect scholarship, even on the net we need to learn how to think, how to learn.

Increased personal responsibility demands a broader range of skills. You have to be your own secretary, or at least know how to train your computer to be. You have to know how to communicate, because you speak for yourself on the Internet. A global network of folks; you have to know how to tap into it, and what to do when you get there.

Schools should brief us across the board to take part in technological society; if we look forward to sharing in genuine multi-culturalism, multi-media-multi-culturalism.

we won't study Literature anymore, we'll study spiritual voodoo-funk hyperlinear narratives of sea island retirees.

Put that in a department.

if you can't put it in a department, will you not give us a degree?

if not one department, then three?

we're talking about the last and most firm vestiges of paternalistic education - baby, all of everything you need to know can be found by focusing in on this one subject, and paying homage to all the folks who've done it before you.

what would you say if I told you that listening to miles davis teaches me more about jamaica kincaid than reading faulkner?

if we're going to have some exciting education goin' on here, then you've got to sit down and realize that what I bring to this is just as valid, and there's got to be more room for me to find MY way within this academia. Cuz I'm not here to get job training, I'm here to learn. and frankly, I'm interested in more than one subject.

I'm here to discover myself, and that ain't just one thing.

with computer tools, I can easily research increasingly any thing. With all that information at my fingertips, you expect me to restrain myself?

if I'm serious about the work, what's wrong with a little scholarly schizophrenia?

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