Sorry Shakes…

…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.

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10 Responses to Sorry Shakes…

  1. Tony P says:

    On the role of television it is so true. In the past few years I watch less and less network television and read more and more on the web. And I’m not just reading U.S. news sites, but UK, Chinese, German and other sites.
    You get a whole different perspective that’s for damned sure. I also enjoy the more in-depth features on NPR.
    At the start of Gulf II I knew it was all smoke and mirrors. It still befuddles as to how 77% of Americans completely missed the call and then I remembered a statistic I’d read many months ago. Only 27% of U.S. adults holds a college degree. This would mean 4% of said graduates have succumbed to the deleterious effects of broadcast television.
    I don’t think enhancing liberal arts is going to save us. I think enhancing science education will. When I was in high school there were science and language requirements for all four years. In college no science or language courses were required but then I have an I.S. degree.
    Gore’s inability to produce soundbite worthy clips is what killed his chances in 2000, among many other more important things like the voting fiascoes.

  2. Markk says:

    Tony P – If you think the percent of college educated people is all that much different, I think you are wrong, it is I am sure somewhat different, plus that is a somewhat meaningless number. Many knew that Hussein wasn’t directly involved, but knew he was evil due to the first gulf war – ergo he was somehow related. I still cannot believe how many people supported the war.

  3. Robert P. says:

    Did he say he wasn’t running for President?

  4. HO says:

    Hey, Tony, do you feel you get the truth on those Chines sites.
    You don’t believe that propaganda about the Red Chinese goverment censoring stuff do you?

  5. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the regrettable fact that Gore’s not running, although I am comforted by two things: 1. He’s still trying to make this world a better place; and 2. John Edwards.
    And I’m totally jealous, but equally happy for you, that you got to see him speak in person. 🙂

  6. impatientpatient says:

    Well, in regards to using the internet properly in schools, let me put my two cents in. In 1999 I got the internet. I allowed my kids on it immediately. My oldest learned how to put together web pages, make little comic characters that moved, how to research properly and now knows by self teaching, HTML code. On her own time. My youngest learned to read on the computer. My middle uses it as a communication tool.
    Their schools do not emphasize this stuff with the computers. They teach the kids proper typing ( all the right type) and they use role playing games in social studies (american- i live in canada ) and they make pretty title pages. They also use textbooks that are twenty years old. And we live in a rich school district. The emphasis on the research capabilities of the internet is tempered by middle aged teachers fears that they will not get proper information, and that the minstream media nad books are ever so much more reliable. They are afraid of it themselves- computer use- and because it is irrelevant to their lives, they dismiss it out of hand as an expensive toy that wastes their time that is available for curriculum.
    There is no real discussion until maybe grade twelve on how to sift through reams of mainstream and internet info, in order to judge what is true or not. There is not a lot of time spent on discussing how science impacts politics, and vice versa. There is not a lot of interest in building online school communities that can contrast and compare how our lives are the same or different than someone elses. Everything is guided by curriculum and how well one can regurgitate the appropriate facts.

  7. Michael Schmidt says:

    I don’t get the point about liberal arts education. Did Gore overemphasize it, or criticize others for overemphasizing it?

  8. Michael,
    my take on what Gore said is that basic science literacy, which not only includes information, but an understanding of how science operates as well as an appreciation of reason, should be a greater part of a liberal arts education.

  9. HO says:

    When are the democrats going to end the fucking war?
    Or are they?
    Quit stalling.
    Or they are out next time too.

  10. Edward says:

    Kids need to learn how to use the internet and technology in general. However, the basics (reading, writing, math, and science) are still the same and just as essential as ever. Too frequently, teachers focus on the flashy technological gizmos and gloss over the basics. At my son’s high school, several teachers require assignments to be submitted on-line or have on-line tests. The teachers just assume that these technological gizmos will work, but my son has had test that didn’t work because the testing site only worked with the latest version of IE on MS Windows, sometimes files get truncated in transmission, and many other things can go wrong. Also, I’m generally uncomfortable with the idea that a public school essentially requires the kids to have a computer with a high-speed internet connection to do their homework.
    Computers and the internet are great tools, but they are just tools. As with math and science, those who can use them well can get much higher-paying jobs than what being a school teacher pays. So the problem of teaching kids how to use the internet is compounded by the fact that few teachers really understand it.

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