Monday, August 15, 2011


Cover A few months ago I was disappointed to find that I'd never read The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Why? Well it cropped up on not one but two "Best SciFi Of All Time" lists. Add to this the fact that a certain W. Gibson refers to this book as "my personal favourite", and it was here that I turned to attempt to recoup my recent losses.

I was in a dystopian mood before the "riots" started, and The Stars My Destination fitted in nicely, quite the opposite of the sort of sunlit uplands Asimov and Clarke stuff I favoured in my teenage scifi phase. The hero/antihero is unlikable in a nicely Satanic Paradise Lost sort of way, the book has a good prose narrative drive, and I can see why Gibson likes it. Bester starts by grinding it out rather, although there are some nice turns of phrase, such as "this war (like all wars) was the shooting phase of a commercial struggle", and some quirky fixations on vintage agricultural machinery as the playthings of the super rich. In the second half of the book there is quite a change and the book turns much more philosophical, explaining how it finds its way onto the Best Of lists.

I read this shortly after my discussion about reading with @nosnilwar, and it turned out to be oddly relevant, as scifi should be. In his summation, Neil Gaiman says:
When I read this book - or one very similar - you can no more read the same book again than you can step into the same river...

A man is a member of society first, and an individual second. You must go along with society, whether it chooses destruction or not.
So why am I writing about this here? As SciReadr v1.0 slides down the toilet, I've been thinking a lot about the Cult of the Individual. Some people still read books, but they don't feel the need to aggregate into social groups to share their feelings. Instead, the literate express themselves as individuals. Facebook is the new de facto social but it breaks larger units. The losers are clubs and societies, and institutions. Disintermediation breaks the social rationale for these groupings. Students study as individuals, socialize with their Facebook friends. They have no need for societies. Some have no need for Society. Social networks are not the cause, merely a reflection of change. Is this a Bad Place?

Where are we going with these technologies? Is it futile to work against them, should cultivate the zeitgeist? What does this mean for education? How do we influence student behaviour, give them the reading habit if they don't arrive in H.E. with it? Is assessment now the only way?

I'll be pondering this in my presentation at ALT-C 2011. And probably for a long time after that.

No comments:

Post a Comment