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Chapter 48 ~ “Anonymity versus Commitment: The Dangers of Education on the Internet” by Hubert L. Dreyfus September 23, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR, Technology.
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Chapter 48 ~ “Anonymity versus Commitment: The Dangers of Education on the Internet” by Hubert L. Dreyfus (1999)

I have to keep reminding myself that this was published in 1999. Even if the Internet were as Dreyfus imagined (or as he imagined Kierkegaard might imagined), things have changed in leaps and bounds within the last decade.

Essentially, Dreyfus takes Kierkegaard’s thoughts on “The Press” and holds them against the internet to show that the gluttony of information available can lead one away from commitment (involvement) and from connection and from growth.

According to Dreyfus, Kierkegaard saw three stages a learner must pass through if he or she is to have a meaningful life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious; the aesthetic and ethical, Dreyfus makes notes, could be integrated with information technology; however, the religious sphere could not. And of course, it is only this sphere that makes meaningful learning possible.

Overall, people take interest in everything but are not committed to anything. Through this, there is also no responsibility – for the lackluster information that grows or for the people who waste their time muddling through the lackluster information. With no responsibility and with anyone being able to disseminate information, relevance and significance disappear.

And there’s even a notion that we all can become godlike because we can now, like God, have an omnipresent view of the world. This thought has never dawned on me, and it still doesn’t. All I have to do is take a peek inward to know I know nothing. Information online will not make me God or be godlike.

I get the feeling that Dreyfus (and Kierkegaard through Dreyfus) sees people as awfully gullible. People don’t care if information is reliable (579) as if they just accept is as face value, and though there are some, not everyone is like this. No one assumes responsibility for consequences of information. Again, some may not – others do. And when you get situations like Wikipedia getting in trouble for “publishing” erroneous info on their site or a woman being threatened to leave her apartment for tweeting something derogatory about the complex, we can see consequences of misinformation.

Dreyfus even takes aims at interests groups as the height of irresponsibility because they are not rooted in particular problems, which results in endless gossip. I think of some of the tech discussion groups/forums I visit where the sole purpose is to discuss problems and relay information to fix those problems. I think of internet radio shows, podcasts, and specific blogs catering to a specific problem and using the media to discuss solutions, and I see Dreyfus – again – as overstating the issue.

Dreyfus states that for Kierkegaard, the only alternative “to this anonymity and lack of commitment was to plunge into some kind of activity – any activity – as long as one threw oneself into it with passionate involvement” (579). Hard for me to see the Internet of 1999 as a wasteland lacking in passionate involvement. Granted, in any society, you will see dispassionate people, but even in the Internet “society” of 1999 important things were going on and people were using the Internet to connect with others.

In discussing the three spheres, we learn that the aesthetic sphere is where we just have sheer joy in information, and we can’t live only in this sphere. Gluttony of information is not a way in which to live.

In the ethical sphere, however, we are committed to involved action; it’s where we turn information into knowledge, and it’s where we finally get to talking about education. Reading this section, I get the sense that Dreyfus thinks students are just plopped into a vast, dark space with no guidance, no connection to others, and because of this will be swept into information overload. In the end, the idea of making a choice of information to consider “reliable,” “sufficient” leads us to falter in this sphere, too.

What is needed, ultimately, is the religious sphere, for here is where we make one unconditional commitment, a comment that represents who we are and what we stand for and that (I assume because of this) narrows our scope of what’s important, thereby narrowing the information we take in.

In the end, Dreyfus sees true learning coming from work represented “in the nearness of the classroom and laboratory; never in cyberspace” (583).

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