Suicide is not only about proximate causes.
The reasons someone commits suicide at a particular moment aren’t all the reasons they commit suicide. Often those aren’t even the most important reasons. No one likes this part of the explanation. It makes an event that’s already as awful as it can be more awful, because it renders it inexplicable. Most of us, even with our occasional desires for the ground to swallow us up, can sympathize but never really empathize.
Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt. It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.
The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.
Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible.
In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.
If you read one thing this week, make it the always-brilliant Clay Shirky on what the collapse of the music industry teaches us about the future of higher education.
T.S. Eliot once said, ‘One of the most momentous things that can happen to a culture is that they acquire a new form of prose.’ … A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetimes, in the last decade, in fact. It’s large, it’s distributed, it’s low-cost, and it’s compatible with the ideals of democracy. The question for us now is, are we going to let the programmers keep it to themselves? Or are we going to try and take it and press it into service for society at large?
Clay Shirky on what governments can learn from the internet – important, must-see TED talk.
“The six rules about creativity come down to the one rule about creativity, which is that there are no rules about creativity. The problem with the conversation around creativity, as it is often put forward in this country, is that if you can find someone who’s creative, and if you can get them to describe what they do…and then you emulate it, then you too will be creative…
The conversation about creativity goes off the rails when we assume it’s a thing. What creativity is is valuable novelty; it’s the ability to produce valuable novelty. And the question of what’s valuable and the question of what’s novel are always up for grabs. They’re always up for renegotiation.”
Clay Shirky shares six insights on creativity derived from his years of watching and teaching creatives.