Books, computers, and pancake people


David Brooks has a thoughtful column on the different mental skills that are constructed by online learning and by book learning. I appreciate the column because it avoids the typical frame of this discussion: which is better? Is Google making us stupid? What he points out (quite reasonably, I think) is that books and online browsing are different, and we should be quite clear about how. I highly recommend everyone give it a peek.

At the end of the article, he refers to a quote by the playwright Richard Foreman. He doesn't, however, actually give the quote. It's one of my favorites (I've committed it to memory).

I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense, and cathedral-like structure of the highly educated and articulate human personality — a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally-constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.

But today I see within us all the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self — evolving under the pressures of information overload and the technology of the "instantly available". A self that needs to contain less and less of a repertory of dense cultural inheritance — as we all become "pancake people", spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

Though I'd expand "the entire West" into "the entire world", I think this quote really gets at part of what I'm trying to accomplish with our schools — Lee, feel free to demur!

(The photo above is of Foreman, who is not a pancake person.)