Great harm results when civilization places too many obstacles between its data hoard and its info proletariat’s compulsion to learn from and add to it. We are the poorer for it.
Nowadays, computer service providers resemble private water companies during the ancient Roman Republic, or telephone counterparts prior to World War I (sic). The rich could choose from a jumble of start-up companies for expensive and sketchy service; the poor got very little (or nothing) useful without stealing it from the rich. We are waiting for info viaducts and public fountains of limitless, clear flow.
Computer moguls peddle millions of independent computer terminals of meager potential and instant obsolescence. They draw enormous profit from the sale of “personal computers” and multifarious electronic gadgets. Every household and business requires its own machine or a network of them. Those who can afford it pay an average weekly salary every few years for a new personal computer of the next generation and its marginally improved, over-written software. Transferring old data from obsolete hard drives and networking incompatible systems are just additional headaches. Of course, for additional tidy sums, these problems can be mended more or less on a case-by-case basis.
The software industry has grown into a monoculture of over-detailed, under-documented, costly and cantankerous digital dinosaurs. It takes extravagant hardware just to store current operating systems and application programs, much less do any serious work. You could run a small country on the files that clumsy computers lose every day. Even though the capacity of computers has grown every year (which sloppy software fills immediately), their regal price tag never seems to come down.
What’s more, we waste hours every month reacting to the threat of computer viruses that our machines can hardly ward off much less track to their source and counter forcefully. Nothing superior is on offer, other than laughable palliatives as costly and laborious as they are futile, to oppose a computer plague mass-produced by smug idiot savants.
Personal computer technology is still at the “pre-Model T Ford” stage of development. Computers acquire their data through inefficient keyboards whose original layout was intended to slow manual input to the slow tempo of the first clunky typewriters. Current word processing software, based on Windows, Apple and other market-dominant companies, is hopelessly complicated, clumsy and inadequate.
In the 1980s, Wang word processing software offered outstanding macro capabilities. With minimal training, one could program it to search input text for specific combinations of alphanumeric and punctuation marks (many of which Windows won’t find), apply Boolean (and/or/not) logic and (</=/>) quantifiers in automated decision trees, and carry out complicated program sequences within a given document. Basically, Wang incorporated a programming language of elegant simplicity. All its commands matched equivalent keystrokes and their screen representations, which Wang recognized and incorporated into its programming. That eliminated the need to learn another set of complicated command keystrokes and encoding protocols.
None but the most basic of these capacities (most of them pirated from Wang) is offered by current word processing software, unless one studies abstruse, secondary programs like Java.
Electronic mail, cable television and telephone database systems are expensive, complicated and unrewarding. Spreadsheets scanned in PDF format cannot be converted into workable Excel equivalents without the additional expense and effort of specialized software. Database brokers, corporate executives and government regulators conspire to make on-line protocols as restrictive, exclusive and costly as possible.
The French Minitel system was the only one that oversaw an elegant, easy to use and reasonably secure commercial market online. Anglo-Saxon technocrats boycotted it in favor of their overcomplex, problem-plagued and les and less secure alternatives.
At enormous expense, microfilm technologies replaced bulky hard copy with illegible screen-loads of text. Those, in turn, produced lower quality second-generation copies. Micro-media files were bulky, expensive to create and difficult to access and maintain.
A hundred or so daily newspapers “serve” more or less a billion readers and reader-dependents across the globe. Each day, entire sterile forests of monoculture trees are cut down for newsprint. How can such an ecologically devastating business promote the rational debate of environmental policy? Relentlessly, newspapers centralize info flow and homogenize its content. If their columns were transcribed onto plain paper, they could not be told apart. Each article reads as if an editorial board with the same political bias had approved it.
Televised media run twenty-four hours of monologue daily. Zero return input is expected from viewers. Commercial advertisers dictate media content: their motives, dubious at best, their taste as dull as the lowest common denominator. Radio stations are only marginally more responsive. We subsist amid multiple tiers of monologue information systems that blare a constant background roar of advertising for the most part worthless. Like weeds choking out healthy growth, they are as useless and stubborn as they are omnipresent.
The so-called information superhighway is an obstacle course of competing service providers and arcane software protocols. Its search engines are so clumsy that information of value cannot be picked out from an avalanche of random noise without tremendous additional effort and expense. Personal telephone numbers that used to be issued for free in thick telephone books every year, are now only obtainable from fee-for-service databases; ditto email addresses that used to be found through a simple Google search and now require a subscription fee; ditto pay telephone booths no longer in existence. Not too long ago, a telephone call cost pennies; now it’s impossible without a contract that costs several days’ salary every year and a guaranteed obsolescent gadget that costs as much or more. What progress! What progress? A few geek enthusiasts and the staffs of corporate Information Divisions can negotiate this mess successfully, scattered among the rest of us disadvantaged computer illiterates. The poor get just about nothing useful.
A new computer priesthood intones complex incantations of computer jargon: the modern equivalent of Medieval Latin. In so doing, they earn fortunes to perform arcane hardware and software sacraments. Computer documentation and training are costly, time-consuming and “built-in” obsolescent.
This scattered and defenseless computer setup is much more vulnerable to virus and worm attacks than would be a centralized one where personal PCs would merely be input-output and memory devices and all the application software would come from central subscription services more easily defended and used by everyone, thus low-cost or free because tax-based.
Current information trends are zeroing in on these grim realities:
· Copyright protections are easier and easier to breach. Malefactors distort and redistribute other people’s data with growing ease.
· A few info brokers monopolize computer-driven profits. Their clients must pay them rent to get their personal messages across as an expensive hobby or as a commercial advertising project while their old, production/consumption jobs dry up and blow away.
· Info elites gather more and more data. They can massage that content for cheaper, more self-serving output but at the price of monopolizing its use instead of handing it out for free and waiting for greater profits downstream in time, the way a public utility would.
· Given prohibitive user fees and hardware costs, info proletarians get less and less computer service.
· Independent analysts, researchers and commentators are barred from public discourse. They are excluded even though their ideas may be better than those of corporate mercenaries, bureaucrats and academic drones consulted daily by the hot media. The most sought-after pundits suffer from special interest meddling, hierarchical thinking and blinkered profit taking.
Our main problem isn’t the quantity of information available, but its sorry quality. After all, we are drowning in torrents of useless information. More and more noise is produced of less and less significance. Trivia predominates, even on the Internet where unlimited quantities of information seem to be available.
Deliberate Learner subsidy will allow public information utilities to serve high quality information in easily digestible increments at low cost. They will come to resemble well-regulated water utilities and not extortionate service providers like today’s cable and satellite television monopolists. Like 20th Century waterworks, tax-driven Learner utilities will distribute top quality information on a non-profit basis and at minimum expense.
These public info utilities will offer user-friendly, well-documented and interactive software; e-mail and web hosting of fail-safe simplicity; enormous government, corporate and non-profit database services; editing, off-line batch printing and free translation; massive indexing and titanic memory storage; as well as gigantic collections of digital videos — the whole transmitted across optical cable or some superior medium.
Tesla’s Earth-grounded, electro-gravitic energy and communication technologies may be adopted once Learners marginalize the corporate interests that profiteered from its sabotage in favor of much more wasteful technologies.
Personal computers will interact with these public utilities in the same way personal checkbooks do with other commercial, banking and investment services. Complicated transactions will usually take place invisibly within these info centers, as simply and transparently as possible for the end user.
These central repositories and traffic control centers will provide direct service to every static and mobile receiver. Existing libraries will become nuclei for vast new reference and research complexes, and will benefit from enormous economies of scale.
What’s more, it will be easier to defend this whole system against virus sabotage and information piracy, especially when it comes to identifying, isolating and punishing wrongdoers. As it stands, they are unidentifiable and untouchable by existing personal computers and their naïve users who are helpless against such attacks. Efforts at foisting passive virus defense software on every private computer have been doomed from the get-go, however profitable they may have been for their distributors (who are also spreading the viruses?). Standing on the defensive everywhere protects nothing. It would be better to identify, isolate and punish info aggressors actively and immediately from central control hubs better equipped to do so.
Virtual reality sunglasses will provide easy access to any digitized performance, film, text or piece of music.
Advertising and political disinformation functions will be quarantined to TV, radio and print media: senior services crippled by disgraceful traditions of profit mongering, deliberate disinformation and laughable public service. Even their inferior quality will improve as curious and critical audiences replace today’s audience of brain-dead cud-chewers.
Interactive university programming will offer free lectures, in-person seminars and research projects on every topic. These presentations will be available in real-time, live and played back at speeds and on timetables controlled by the user.
MIT pioneered just such coursework, placing not yet very useful class notes and documentation online, accessible for free. Every ivy-league school will have to follow suit. As usual, Learner is ahead of the pack. The Google Company plans to index many rare books and place them online.
In essence, a gigantic electronic model of the “silent university” of researchers in alliance from each discipline will fulfill the original intent of the Internet’s first visionaries. An Intellectual Yellow Pages will emerge, listing every Learner and topic of passion. Hours of online interactivity Learners spend on recorded topics will establish academic certification without other qualifications, limitations and exorbitant fees. Referrals to specific documents will quantify author payoffs and establish social prestige. Age, origin, occupation, prior schooling and other criteria should be ignored.
No longer will paperbound journals validate research papers through peer review. The publish-or-perish, dog-eat-dog competition of prestige science will grind to a halt. Research papers will undergo simultaneous and unlimited review across the entire Learner network, regardless of apparent validity. The new system will accept any information input, to be graded thereafter by the entire community.
If someone refuses to learn algebra, yet wants to audit a Calculus class, so be it. On-line tutors could recommend pre-canned learning modules to under-qualified students. If necessary, such students would be referred to other mentors for preliminary studies.
Private users will fine-tune their personal filter programs to screen out undesired data and attract those of particular interest to them.
We will stop having to endure irrelevant advertisements broadcast willy-nilly at everyone. People will wonder how olden-days advertisers could waste so many resources and so much goodwill nagging everyone about goods and services most of them didn’t need, instead of improving the life of a chosen audience or bowing out otherwise.
The Internet has been warped in the opposite direction. As usual, when it comes to a new weapon technology, its high-priority users have fallen in line as follows:
1. military requirements first, with the most cash;
2. elite academia, second;
3. commercial exploitation, third; and
4. individual needs, last — replaced by spam, viruses and infotrash.
New teaching machines will handle repetitive training chores. Many talented idealists will claim the honor of mentoring. This job may be one of the last structured ones in a post-industrial peace economy. It will evolve from a drudgery of rote repetition, idiot clericalism, parental appeasement and disciplinary scutwork; into the one-on-one exchange of inspiration and guidance with, by and for enthusiastic Learners.
Please take note of this vital Learner transformation. Under weapon management, authoritarian professionals ‒ judges, teachers and politicians among others ‒ automatically hinder and punish their clients. They will turn into benevolent counselors and intimate guides under peace management, without the capacity to inflict harm except under the guidance of an extensive group of outside experts. Indeed, they will find the infliction of such penalties distasteful and detrimental to their dignity as professionals. As in medicine, “do no harm” will become a key of professional aptitude; its opposite, unacceptable by honest practitioners.
Anyway, each child should receive an advanced degree by puberty in at least one of their topics of passion. Nearly everyone will become an expert at some study of peace; most in several cross-disciplines.
The under-motivated and abuse-crippled will benefit from novel systems of remedial care; they won’t overburden standard learning systems until both parties profit from the exchange. As for those with severe disabilities, sophisticated biomechanical aids, amply reinforced, will help them reconnect with the standard Learning system. No-one need be left behind except if they so wish. The more challenging the Learning scenario, the more dedicated and sophisticated the peace mentors whose topic of passion will draw them to that task. Special academies will serve those who require restrictive accommodations until their cure can liberate them.
In order to pick up the pace of Learning, these Networks will make use of every Madison Avenue fraud and mass culture fantasy we’ve dreamt up. Subliminal messages will flash across “Recreation Arcade” Channels. All day long, those special channels will offer the brain-dead video entertainment of the kind we have grown accustomed to. However, they will also encourage immature viewers to pursue literacy and number crunching and thereby discover their ultimate topics of passion. These “commercials” will take a fraction of the enormous memory and processing power available. Everyone’s participation or refusal to participate will be considered equally valid.
Well brought-up children grow up in a lenient and rational society; not the coercive one we’ve grown accustomed to, which produces many soldiers dependably. Mothers will nurse their babies for years: a natural form of birth control. Extended families will cooperate to carry their infants at adult height during waking hours. These family-based and extra-familial acts of cooperation will continue for the first five or so years of each child’s life.
Well-behaved children, raised in a rational society, will enjoy many more freedoms than we allow them today. Escaping from the torrid daytime heat, Balinese children attended public entertainments until 3:00 in the morning. Shielded by special protections against child abuse, no harm befell them from this habit.
Much like a common TV room, the physical plant of schools should serve as a voluntary gathering place instead of a detention center. Learner schools will operate in shifts by day and by night and attract bored children and adults with no better destination. Few classes will demand regimented daily attendance. Instead, many facilities and instructors will sponsor ongoing sports, recreation, practical craftwork and business-related projects. Learner Networks will coordinate, schedule and advertise a staggering array of classes and entertainments.
Children at loose ends will be watched over by community members as intent on their welfare as most teachers are today. Schools will evolve from funky outpatient jails into obvious places for bored kids to seek entertainment. “Go out and play” will become “Go amuse yourself at school.” As during prior Golden Ages, avid youths will gather around the feet of brilliant mentors.
Many Learners will opt for Learning as a good in itself. For an honest day’s salary, Learners will soak up information on any topic of their choosing and at corresponding levels of expertise.
A programmed learning cycle will teach the functions of a standard computer terminal, then preliminary literacy, data entry and numeracy. Thereafter, Learning networks will provide dictionary definitions, encyclopedic essays, in-depth programmed Learning, state-of-the-art classes, real-time graduate seminars, professional journal articles and book reviews on any given topic, as well as their full-text printouts. Unlike the Internet, which offers an incoherent, unindexed and depthless smorgasbord of information, the Learner Agora will carefully shepherd young Learners along structured paths of accelerated Learning. It will also facilitate head-spinning detours down equally well-lit paths, in response to the needs of the Learner in question on their info quest.
For brevity’s sake, let me admit that my childhood instruction was a blueprint on how not to teach math to kids. I speak for those whose math skills were crushed during their first years at school. It is too late for us now, but not for generations to come.
Here is what I propose. Some country’s Department (or Ministry) of Education should issue a $1 million request for bid to SEGA, Nintendo and anyone else who cares to make a bid. The project: build the best first-person shooter arcade game ever designed (like DOOM). Once written and paid for, it would become public freeware loaded onto every computer platform (like Windows, UNIX and Mac) from now on. Any player with access to a computer should use it for free.
In this game, oncoming monsters would be tattooed with an equation. The game’s gun-sight would focus on specific elements of this equation (toggled by the player, the gun-sight reticule would adjust large or small enough to target the equation he wants to simplify). The game would have add, subtract, multiply and divide gun keys similar to current pistol, shotgun, etc. keys.
The goal would be to “shoot out” elements of the equation until the monster was “killed” (the equation simplified for X or some other variable). An equivalent game for peaceful children would involve “pruning” a wildly growing vine until it “flowered.” Faulty simplification steps would register as “misses.” Failure would result in the player being “killed;” failure to “prune” the vine would result in its “strangulation.” Advanced players could impose additional time and ammunition constraints on themselves so as to renew their interest. Get it done more quickly and with fewer shots or lose the game.
Levels of greater complexity and banks of “control” keys would permit players to solve more and more complicated algebra, up to and including trigonometry, absolute values, calculus, vector matrices, etc. Game variants would include probability, statistics, physics, engineering, chemistry and computer programming modules.
In advanced games, monsters could be tattooed with a series of equations more and more complex. All the rules of mathematics would be included as gradually revealed tutorials, hints and clues. Classic formulas and historic discoveries would be “cheats.”
Except at its own level of complexity, imaginary results would be “tilts.” “Congratulations: you have just nuked the dungeon!” Since advanced mathematics is based on equations denoted “complex,” this fate would include an escape hatch that led precocious Learners into “imaginary,” more complex and rewarding levels of mathematics.
This software would emphasize the story line, gorgeous graphics and game playing rather than didactics. Always more play and less drudgery. Children should get unlimited opportunities to learn math skills at their own pace as a fascinating game. Ensuing mass numeracy and its technological domino effect could generate staggering results.
Orthodox solutions to this educational problem are bureaucratic sops doomed to fail in the long run — however satisfying their failure may appear to current teaching bureaucracies. Math classes will serve to reinforce this primary teaching game rather than suppress electronic games and their potential to develop math skills. Math classes will become well-supervised game arcades.
After generations of computer learning game development, no such game exists, much less one distributed universally and for free. Current math games are clunky, overly didactic and restricted to elementary skills.
I ask you: what bureaucracy has been served by this plague of innumeracy? Who gets more and more funding to wind up failing to teach math as a neatly packaged drudgery stripped of pleasure and spontaneity for all but a select handful of the exceptionally gifted?
This new math game is my revenge on all those insufferable bores. As is war for generals, teaching mathematics is too serious a task to leave in their hands.
If I had had access to this kind of game during my childhood, I might have been better qualified to address the pressing needs of today. Lacking this type of game, I was denied timely mentoring in math, my childhood proclivity suppressed. I sank into passive indifference to the slow crawl of later classes. Here I am, unschooled in advanced mathematics — my window of opportunity froze shut. I am the frustrated spokesperson for gifted Learners of the future.
I’ve turned away too easily from most difficulties and shut them out too promptly. I tired too soon of obstacles and made tracks from them too swiftly. Nothing works better in the face of human stupidity but geographic distance, except for the death I await impatiently. God, let me out of this world of Olympic level killer primates! Less often those incurred in my quest for Learner, however.
It will be up Learners to choose the level of play/study they wish to pursue. In addition, this network will provide names, addresses and direct video links to Learners who share the same topic of passion. These listings will include amateurs and authorities both distant and local and will constitute the computer Yellow Pages of the future.
In the future, the poor should gain access to these services for free, for the same reason they are sent to school for free today. They should receive tax subsidies for their computer purchases and Network usage. Learners will distribute remote computer terminals across the planet for free. At first, every Third World marketplace and classroom should get one.
In regions where life support services are insufficient for local youngsters, newly established Learner Academies should provide survival needs, human warmth and follow-up Learning.
The pooled genius of these Third World children’s starving minds, properly nurtured and tutored, will provide us with every technological breakthrough, theoretical insight and societal novelty we require.
Finally, and of closing importance, the convention of mathematical equations should be transformed. Equations, no matter how complicated, should never be written horizontally, then poorly defined as to terms and operators, as we do today. Instead, they should be written vertically, with the definition of each term and operator microscopically described and this description placed horizontally alongside every item. Thusly:
A – The sum of apples
+ – added to
B – The sum of pears
= – equals
C – The sum of fruit counted in this case
A – The sum of people counted
/ - divided by
B – The sum of political parties
= – equals
C – The average of political party counts
(Always including specific units of measurement).
Most mathematical formulations impose poorly documented terms that then need to be interpreted, guessed at or recalled on the run. This leads to such common but shameful errors as transposition of formulaic negatives and confusion in units of measurement
We should make our maps as easy to follow as possible, with every element exhaustively defined, instead of turning them into ever more difficult puzzles fit only for geniuses and subject to simple errors even they have a hard time avoiding.
Above all, simplicity, specificity and clarity!