My grandmother had a saying when someone was simply failing to get it. “I’ve seen them blind,” she said. “But never before have I seen them without a place for the eyes.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about this as the industries under attack by tech (not that tech is doing it on purpose, mind) just fail to GET it and think if they just paddle a little harder, they won’t go down with the Titanic and rescuers will be here soon, and then everything will go back to the way it was.
First, let’s establish something – what is happening to these industries is not simply a matter of technology rendering processes or ways of doing things obsolete. Yes, that’s happening. But the reason it’s taking such effect is that those industries – through business practices, through the fact that they were de facto oligopolies and gave immense power to a very few people, through series of unfortunate events and through sheer bullheadedness and refusal to listen to business facts – were running themselves into blind alleys. Or had already run themselves there.
I’ve pointed out before how strange publishing had got, with a sort of circular reasoning where someone in an office decided what the numbers should be, then pushed the book to get EXACTLY those numbers, then took those numbers as confirmation they’d picked the right book and were publishing exactly what the public wanted.
The insanity was added by the fudge factor in the numbers – for instance, the reported print run was usually double the real printrun, it was almost impossible to find out exactly how many books were printed (reprints of less than 1k don’t have to be reported to the author and don’t count as reprints. Whether they’re reported faithfully and to whom is a bit nebulous) and ebook numbers were largely pull from… er… air. Sales reports could also be iffy in general – we’ve all heard of “bestsellers” who, it turned out, hadn’t sold.
So, basically, someone made up numbers, the same made up numbers came back to them and they said “Yes, we’re giving people what they want.”
Anything that went against this was swept under the rug. The inconvenient facts, such as that print runs have shrunk 90% since the seventies, were “explained away” by telling us that people simply didn’t read as much (not quite true) and that movies and games were eating publishing’s lunch (true that, but only because games give boys something books no longer do: male heroes and action-packed story lines.) If you pointed out that they weren’t publishing any books for boys, they’d tell you boys were sexist for not wanting to read girl books. If you told them that they weren’t doing space opera, they told you no one wanted space opera. If you told them Baen was doing quite well at that, they sneered “Oh, they’re right wing, and right wing people don’t read.” (This despite the fact that baen has authors of every possible political persuasion and that to be blunt, I have yet to see different reading habits among my friends of different political stripes. They will read DIFFERENT things [sometimes] but they all read about the same. Stuff like time and career and education have more to do with it than political persuasion. AND if you think that there is a great difference in education, you’ve been reading the wrong “analysis” – i.e. slanted ones.)
So, their denial of reality now shouldn’t surprise us. They’ve had practice. It’s just that they’re not getting how it has changed. They no longer have control of printrun of distribution or, pretty much, anything. They can’t make up numbers and have them echoed dutifully back at them. But that doesn’t mater against the muscle memory of the years they could put their fingers in their ears and yell “lalalalalala” and reality didn’t intrude in their beautiful, ordered world.
I’ve said before here the next industry to be turned upside down and shaken by tech – like a rat in a terrier’s mouth – is education. It’s probably a good five/six years from where publishing is now, but it is coming.
Yesterday, when reading this article, I knew it was true. If you don’t wish to click through, don’t. The claim of the article is simple: long distance learning via the net makes no difference. People want/need to learn with other people. Yoga videos didn’t end Yoga classes, therefore, there, colleges are safe.
Yes, that sound you hear is me giggling hysterically. This reminded me so much of the articles as little as a year ago saying “Oh, ebooks have a ceiling. No one wants to read books on a computer screen” and completely ignoring the Kindle and the nook and…
My long-distance-learning experience is now 5 years old. And what they’re talking about is older than that. HOWEVER what they talk about is older than my experience.
I took a correspondence course, once. I never finished it. I don’t know what the rate of finishing is. In my case, I took it in lieu of going to Clarion, because I had two kids under five and couldn’t afford the time. So I took a writer’s digest course in writing. I was actually pretty faithful with it, but I got published halfway through. Also, mostly, my teacher said “You’re good. Keep going” which I didn’t feel improved my writing (though perhaps my mood.)
THAT was about twenty years ago. Then my younger son had to be home schooled for a year and I discovered Great Courses. This is what they’re talking about I that article – about that level – they’re recorded lectures by great professors. They’re good to learn, if it’s something you’re not on a schedule to learn and don’t need to push yourself. In other words, if it’s not something you particularly need to know. I have used them to get background on an historical era or to understand the current thinking on something.
It works pretty well for homeschoolers, if the parent can get involved and do continuous homework/testing/further explanation, as well as make sure the kid is engaged with the video. As good as classroom? Not a chance. Part of the reason the younger kid went back to school is that Dan didn’t have the time and I didn’t have the knowledge to extend his math lessons to where they needed to be.
BUT that’s old tech. Those video lectures have existed since the mid eighties, I think. Certainly since the early nineties.
In the middle of that same year, I discovered Lukeion Project. It’s an academy online that teaches the classics, history and ancient language on line.
Marshall had become madly interested in the Greek classics, and they looked good. And then under “they tempted me with knowledge” I realized they had Greek and Latin courses. So I signed up for both. (I keep meaning to go back, but not till the kids graduate.)
These are CLASSES. They’re not teleconferences. They’re more like instant messaging plus voice, but in a virtual classroom with fifteen or so students. You get the teacher, speaking, and you can type questions. If it’s a question that’s not relevant, they answer in typing. If it is relevant to the rest of the class, they say “so and so has asked.” You can ask and answer questions in voice too.
Let’s be honest. I have a degree in languages. I’ve found I can keep improving languages I know on my own, but not learn them on my own. However, as far as my experience (or my kid’s) went there was no difference between this method and being in a classroom. I stayed with it and worked my tail off, to the detriment of my health, since I was also writing six books that year. I even made friends and developed a sense of fellowship.
The difference was as great between that and video lectures as between reading on computer and on kindle. It’s simply not the same thing at all.
I’m not discounting that there might be groups of learners in small towns, who get together to study. Humans are social animals. BUT trust me, take it from someone whose writers group is virtual (and if I could figure out how, I’d mimic that classroom thing for that) and whose professional connections are all on line: distance learning is a contender and will only become more so. It has a different “texture” from in person learning (you’re not as likely to check out the cute chick/guy across the classroom, for one.) This is just like Kindle has a different “feel” from paper books, but it’s not inferior. Just different. HOWEVER it’s immeasurably more efficient and cheaper than a system that while not as sclerotic as publishing is becoming unaffordable and more dedicated to internal approbation by professors’ peer group than to actual results.
Will it work for exercise? I don’t know. That’s more a matter of forcing people to do things most of them frankly are resistant to. I think the tech is NOT quite there yet. You need camera connection to be reliable, and my experience with the things is that it sucks. And the teacher would need a bank of monitors to see every student. Give it ten years. And it might never work for Yoga, because well… most people who do yoga want to be seen doing yoga. It’s a culture as well as an exercise regime.
Will it work for art? Probably. With better video. Will it work for mechanics/hands on assembly? Um… That is more difficult. I’m not ruling it out, but I think it’s a long way off. Like comics and art books, they’re still better by the old methods. But it’s changing.
HOWEVER, most learning subjects do not require you to assemble stuff or for the instructor to read/see more than your words. And those subjects and the way they’re taught will change and fast over the next four/five years no matter how much the establishment screams “Inconceivable!”
What can’t go on, won’t go on. And creatures without eyes are limited to very restricted environments. Dark ones, too.