…but I saw Al Gore speak last night, and he’s not going to run for president. He did, however, have a lot of interesting things to say.
-role of television
-need to incorporate internet differently into schools
-overemphasis on liberal arts education (tension)
-slammed Bush and global warming critics
-decried scientific censorship
Gore was a keynote speaker at the “Science and Society: Closing the Gap” meeting held here in Boston. In his talk and the Q&A, Gore made some interesting observations:
1) The last forty years we have moved from a society built around the written and spoken word to a television society built around thirty second images. Since the types of thought (as well as the possible underlying neurological responses) differ between reading and watching TV, this has essentially ‘dumbed down’ our democracy to the point where he referred to democracy as “in crisis.” As he put it (I’m paraphrasing), how, at the time of the start of the Iraqi War, could 77% of Americans think that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with Sept. 11th, even though there was no evidence (or logic) to suggest that? TV watching, which stimulates our memory center and also the flight response, is to blame according to Gore.
2) He made a very interesting analogy about the internet and education. When the electric dynamo was first invented, it didn’t really improve factory efficiency when compared to older technologies such as steam and water wheels. It turned out that just placing a new, improved power source into the same old factory didn’t make much difference since the infrastructure (e.g., building layout) was not optimized for a dynamo, but the older systems. It wasn’t until new factories designed around dynamos were built that were that efficiency increased. He made an analogous argument about the internet and education: we really haven’t figured out how to use it properly for education (another keynote speaker, Shirley Lee Jackson chimed in and said that in the early grades, the internet isn’t needed at all, which received a lot of applause). I see what Gore is saying, but I’m just not clever enough to figure out how to do what he is talking about.
3) He also slammed global warming critics (as you might expect) with the point of decrying the politicization of science.
On a personal note, Gore was a great speaker–very witty and relaxed, but there’s no way his speaking style (or frankly, any good ‘in situ’ speaking style) can translate into television soundbites of thirty seconds. Like Gore, that worries me.