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22 April 1997
First Aired: May 27, 1997 Palo Alto, CA
Nyc Labrets Host
Brett Bourbon Guest (Harvard Humanities Professor)
Chris Espinosa Guest (Started Working for Steve Jobs @ Apple when he was 14 yrs old)
Marjorie Perloff Guest (MacArthur Board, Author, Stanford English Professor)
Nyc Labrets: And now we'd like to introduce our guests:
Brett Bourbon who is Mellon Fellow visiting Professor from Harvard University He's now at
Chris Espinosa of Apple Computer.
Chris Espinosa : Hi Nick
Nyc Labrets: And Marjorie Perloff, Professor of English Comparative Literature, is that right?
Marjorie Perloff: Right
Nyc Labrets: at Stanford University. Thank you all for coming tonight.
Chris Espinosa Thank you, Nick.
Nyc Labrets: And now that my speechifying is over, we were talking before about, like, what
we were going to talk about and I was thinking, How do we recognize something that is
earth breaking or earth shattering, mean that the question that my parents would raise is
that the books that are out today aren't going to be read fifty years from now How do we
recognize something that's got that kind of value?
MARJORIE PERLOFF: Why are they not going to be read fifty years from now?
Nyc Labrets Because, umm
MARJORIE PERLOFF I don't agree with you.
Professor Bourbon: Hopefully our books will be read fifty years from now
Nyc Labrets the discussion then centered around stuff that was really you know common
detective stories, popular culture the opinion was it didn't have a lot of lasting value I mean
we know if something's got lasting value?
Chris Espinosa Well I think that it's very hard to tell that at the time and it's really hard to
separate what is you know coming up at the grass roots and has lasting value from what is
up at the grass roots and is just common and ephemeral. I remember when I was working in
the garage of Apple Computer which was then just a small company, half a dozen of us in
1976, though we had you know the great grand dreams that everybody has we had no idea
that personal computing and electronics and networking was going to become such central
cultural force, we
wanted it to, but you know I'm sure Ham radio operators wanted that to be there were a lot
calling us the next craze like citizen's band radio which was contemporaneous around 1976.
radio was really shaping American culture around 1976 but it just vanished so it is really
hard to tell
that at the time.
Professor Bourbon: : I think that's what is dynamic about this area, is that everyone is
this next vision, even, in the Academy, not as well, but we are trying.
MARJORIE PERLOFF: You have very different, you wanted to talk about paradigm shifts, one
happened is let's say in the reception of books when you said who is going to know about
the whole modes of reviewing, I've written on that recently. That it used to be that you had
to wait for
something to be reviewed in the Times Book Review, and if it wasn't in then you were
And then you wait for the scholarly reviews which took two years to come out.
Now, there are various Web Sites, there are various sites, there's for instance the Electronic
Book Review, which I don't know if you've seen, which is done at the University of Illinois,
not in this
area I'm afraid, by a man Nick named Joe Tabby. And it means that when you do review a
book, your review comes out immediately and this person may answer, and then you
again and that's a very different dym mic and that all kinds of people see it that you don't
expect will see it and all kinds of people read these things, so it's just one group anymore. I
that's a really big change in the way things are received.
Professor Bourbon: the critical question for literature too is the audience where is the
coming what how is it constructed Art itself today is one of it's primary jobs you can say, is
constructing its own audience. That's it , one of its fundamental projects. And that is both
thing in the way it creates a dynamic requirement for art but at the same time it's
fragmenting art and makes it difficult to have these kinds of icons of culture that have any
probably reflected in the survey that we saw today in Stanford right that few people don't
Gutenburg invented printed
Nyc Labrets which is real embarrassing
MARJORIE PERLOFF we have to explain what that is. We had a survey at Stanford the
Stanford review which is
our conservative newspaper in all fairness the main newspaper is the Stanford Daily, and
is something that comes out only I think only every few two weeks or so, called the SR
billed as the conservative newspaper, but they are very funny, and they really expose some
things that are going on and they did a survey of the most basic information like who is the
England right now and 70% I think didn't know. What day was Pearl harbor that's the one
amazed me as somebody who loved through it, What day, what 's the date of Pearl Harbor
well it was 72%
did not know.
Chris Espinosa: Oh my
MARJORIE PERLOFF which seems rather amazing and then who wrote wealth of Nick
Nations, Adam smith
Copernicus, that one they did not you know the knowledge base, which is people like E. D.
pointed out is really pretty appalling but it's partly that you just can't count on people
same things any more.
Professor Bourbon: OK that's the problem that's also true of the sciences, the last year, I
this back in Cambridge that people knew like 5 % of the people understood what DNA
and what 50% knew the earth went around the sun instead of the other way around. 50%
Nyc Labrets: So how do we even address that and where do we start?
Professor Bourbon: : You move to another country...
Nyc Labrets Yeauh..
Chris Espinosa: I'm not sure that what has been going on with tech & education in the last
know, 10 or 15 years is really working because what what we seem to be doing is especially[
the technology side, what we see the problem is as Oh it's a simple fact delivery problem,
are creating much much more effective ways to deliver facts to people especially kids in
and I' m just watching the amount of knowledge one has to absorb just to stay current in
ones job in
the computer industry and it's an incredible amount of just keeping up with facts that one
has to do
and I'm wondering you know what is happening to my you know my knowledge of the
learned in school and even my memory of you know birthdates and anniversaries of
members of my
family is I keep cramming these facts into my head I can only remember a limited amount of
and you know part of me wants to say that the logarithmic acceleration of knowledge that's
necessary just to remain in school must be taking a toll on some of these what we think are
basic building blocks of culture, understanding where western learning came from
what our world is like today you know kids today know how to get to every level in the
SuperNintendo game and maybe it's that knowledge displacing what we consider to be more
Professor Bourbon: Well I think that one of the prime sites for novelistic experience for
kids is computer games that they experience those those that the game itself interactively,
often structured like that too anyway as a story and as the fictional world they are closest
too but even their fictional interactions they're not passive or contemplative in the way they
were before and I think the contemplative aspect is a good thing it's bad to lose but they are
able to you know alter their worlds
MARJORIE PERLOFF: But what does that ability do for them, do you think, in the long run?
the ability to play
these games and alter their world?
Professor Bourbon: They get jobs at Apple
Chris Espinosa yeah but does it does it set it a model does modeling their interaction in that
world set a model for them to have a to interact in the real world and I don't think so. but I
think that our upbringing or the upbringing the generations before us were any different I
the kind of children's literature that was current when I was growing up and my parents
growing up it was you know buccaneers and swordfighters and it was just as fantasy based
Professor Bourbon: : So far a question for America, continually, how much education do you
give your kids, there's an anti-educationalist strand in American culture that's very strong
and yet to be a citizen is also to be educated within everything within your country and
responsibility to be educated in that way too.
MARJORIE PERLOFF: I also think that the frightening is that, and this is kind of frightening
that things happen
imperceptibly, for instance if you watch the morning news shows the Today show, ABC the
channels which for years if I'm having breakfast or something I might turn on in the last and
only happened I'd say in the last year there's no more news there's No news. The only news
might be on even on the hour where first you know there's supposed to be 3 min. of news
comes the weather and then come little special features but in those first 3 min. of news
would say: "In Israel yesterday PM Netanyahu said.." Now all you get is that some boy fell
well maybe or something like that locally and other little tidbits like that and then you realize
the news isn't still coming it's over and then you think Why? and that's because the audience
changed so rapidly because first of all people that get a lot new s that really want it can get
computer now and they call up exactly what they want and whether they want the financial
news or which news they want to, they have that choice. But it means that everybody
else there's just a great hole and you can see that now that our TV has changed and that
happened very suddenly and very quickly without anybody I think talking about it very
haven't read anything about that but it has totally changed.
Chris Espinosa: this is one of the things that will happen in the great paradigm shifts as
media which has been broadcast orientated starts finding ways to get and I think some
using the term Nick NarrowCasted or personalized, as individuals are able to find
their markets for information more effectively and the information is more tightly tailored to
what that's doing is that's removing a lot of broad general content out of the mass media
quality of the mass media declines when its most educated, and most astute and most
needy customers go somewhere else.
Professor Bourbon: Yes, that's very true.
Nyc Labrets: I mean I'm having a problem communicating with my peers, on stuff I take for
granted. I was talking about a song today with a friend of mine and I made a reference to
cultural icon and he couldn't connect the two. And had he been five years older that
happened. It throws me.
MARJORIE PERLOFF: But there are other skills that obviously people have now that we
didn't have, I mean that
they know how to fill out forms, of the most complicated types of forms, (background
not joking about this, I really, I had to judge a contest recently which was, it was very
shows how ones own consciousness changes, I got the very same day two requests: One
judge the Christiann Gauss Award which is the Award the Phi Beta Kappa gives to the best
scholarly book. but it means that you have got to read about 70 of these books and that
to write a report on each one I really didn't want to have to do that. At my stage I've gotten
with reading these school, you know, you have to go through, if I wouldn't have to write
them, but you read them But the other one was to judge the technical, the ISEA, let's see, I
huge festival, and so I said , like a fool,, oh I'll be happy to judge this, I though it would be
more fun than the Christian Gauss Award at least and what I didn't know is you'd have to do
on-line, you had to it all on the screen, in other words the proposals only came in, it never
screen and I found that very hard to write my comments, and look at these things, that
good I'm not,
I don't have that kind of training to do the whole thing that way and that's the only way you
see what the things were, that are going to be in this festival. But on other hand I was very
impressed, they come from all over the world, they come from Argentina they come from
meit and some of them are musical's some of them are literary, some of them deal with the
arts, very clever, all new kinds of artistic creations. And that's very impressive. I mean those
impressive. But I found it hard to do but I'm still glad that I did that not the other. Which
you do get tired of a certain kind reading, at least I felt that I did and I did not have to read
Chris Espinosa: There is a certain ironic tradeoff that's coming along. I was in school in the
very early days of computers being in universities and I was one of the first students to be
compose my undergraduate papers on a word processor and I had several English
me where I had purchased my essays from and threaten to fail me because they were
turned in with
left right flush margins
MARJORIE PERLOFF: Oh yes.
Chris Espinosa: and no typographical errors and no signs of erasure or backspacing or
whiteout. All of these things that were...WhiteOut! Carbon Paper! These things have almost
evaporated in the last 20 years. But I was one of the few who had access to a computer and
students coming out of the University more or less know typesetting I don't know that it is
improving their ability to write but they know how to typeset.
MARJORIE PERLOFF: Well they do some beautiful things. I'm teaching a course right now
It's sort of New Arts
and we were doing John Cage last week and Cage's lectures which are all arranged you
typography is very innovative and there is this student in fact who is an undergraduate, who
may have talked to, whose name is Ryan Whitehead. Who did the most marvelous thing that
could have figured how to typeset with different fonts and different faces all on the word
cryptography. And he just analyzed that one word and did sort of puns on it and various
things things. But it was marvelously done. I mean, I couldn't have done that. And he said
easy to do." and he just said "the margins" you know, whichever way I can't do it, but so it
are things that are very impressive that they do just like that but I think one problem is that
maybe it isn't such a problem but the point is talking about whiteout makes me think of this
the days of Xerox when well before Xerox I mean I remember the days before Xerox when
actually went to the library and you took notes (laughter)
Nyc Labrets Ouch!
MARJORIE PERLOFF: Now when you did that it was very valuable reading the book and so
you had those notes
and you took them on index cards and it made you really learn what you were reading.
came along and then you could just have these Xerox's and it wasn't so thrilling anymore.
don't read anything at all that isn't absolutely required that's not part of the course. In other
you make it readily available, it's in the library, it's in a reserve book in Myer Library they can
out just like that and they don't go at all. Because somehow the challenge isn't there.
Whereas if it
was hard to get the book and you had to make notes and you were the only one who'd
Professor Bourbon: : that's the too effect of television. We see it teaching as well the
demand entertainment and education isn't always entertainment and especially the quick
and so more and more performance is encouraged I think amongst us Professors to the
of education for the students.
Nyc Labrets one of the most telling things, my family lives in Europe, a lot of them and I was
about 17 and it was summer and the kids were in school there which was a real surprise
we get two three months in New York and I said "let me see your book" and this 17 year old
who looked like he would have walked outré of my Shop Class, he was doing analytical
MARJORIE PERLOFF Oh yeah.
Nyc Labrets and it was just I was absolutely blown because..
Professor Bourbon: : But their colleges are no good so they all come here to
Nyc Labrets So that's the tradeoff?
MARJORIE PERLOFF Well it's not only that it's always also a question whether that really
does you that much
good later on. So I have sort of mixed minds. I get very shocked that people don't know
these things like the ones we were talking about or in the ED Hirsch Cultural Literacy book
admire and I go along with it up to point but then there is another part of me that feels: Are
though finally are often more inventive...then you know, other words those who have
learned things by the time they are certain age and then what? Then what do you do with
Nyc Labrets That was..
Chris Espinosa Are you...
Nyc Labrets No go ahead
Chris Espinosa Are you saying research skills decline or vanish or are they...
MARJORIE PERLOFF Yes
Chris Espinosa ...just be moving into something else? Because my life has changed
tremendously in the last two years with the advent of the Internet I don't have to remember
any more. All I need to know is where to look. And... that is... I used to you know... I got my
in the corporation of being the vast storehouse of trivial knowledge and now I don't have to
be a vast
storehouse of trivial knowledge anymore because I can look things up very very quickly...
MARJORIE PERLOFF but how do know those things are accurate? One of the big problems..
Chris Espinosa that's a good question
Nyc Labrets hmm yeah
MARJORIE PERLOFF I have heard lots of interesting discussions about these things on the
Net. Now I have found
things myself that I know are innaccurate Adamsccurate. In other words, your taking it on
faith that just
because it's on there see and this is a question that I have for you....the input after all, there
anything on the Web or on another computer, in general, that hasn't been put in by
groups of somebody, whatever. So you only have, it can only be as good as the input and
most of the time is not very good so what is so special about it in that sense?
Chris Espinosa there used be something in the economics of producing information that
committing it to paper or to video or to another medium of broad distribution was so
you had to hire layers and layers and layers of fact checkers and editors and people to
quality of the information and you could generally draw a co-relation between the quality of
information and the cost or the perceived cost of it.
If it was typeset it was generally more reliable than if it were typewritten which was
more reliable than if it were handwritten. And one of the things that the electronic
done is that it's basically lowered the cost of production of information to a uniformly low
that anybody can be a publisher and that that... but people still have this in their mind that
production values equal quality and accuracy and I've seen some stuff that where the
values are superb and the content is absurd and that's really scary...
MARJORIE PERLOFF It is
Nyc Labrets: Uh yeah absolutely yea it's a major issue and it frightens because how do we
MARJORIE PERLOFF: and nobody checks it you see there are all kinds of ezines and they
were talking about
what the editorial policy is Now the standard thing is if let's say you write a 5 page article
send it to Business Journal it's going to be checked it's going to be copy edited and so on
but if it is electronic usually they just take it exactly the way it is and put it on there and you
at it and it's got all kinds of notorious errors
Nyc Labrets Glaring
MARJORIE PERLOFF Glaring errors, and you can also though feel that it's not permanent
and so you sort of get
away with doing that and nobody seems to really care on the other hand you don't get that
credit for doing it either you see there are somethings...
Professor Bourbon: so we can lie right here right
Nyc Labrets we can lie right here we're on TV
Professor Bourbon: who knows
MARJORIE PERLOFF we're on TV... well even TV doesn't work quite that way. But it does
make people say all
kinds of things and not think they'll ever be checked for
Chris Espinosa Was there another, I keep wondering whether there was another time in
History when there was a technology explosion around communication.. . like the penny
Great Britain where you know pulp magazines were something and novels were something
picked up for a couple of pence on the way home from work and there were racks and racks
there a similar time of a tremendous increase in the quantity and a tremendous decrease in
quality of information.
Nyc Labrets: The story you told about not having to remember all this stuff because of the
Internet, umm there's an old story about the guy that invented the alphabet and he took it
to a king
and the king said this is no good and he was why and he said look now that we have this
obviously not going to go away people are not going to have to rely on their memories
anymore and I
would presume that that's the first instance of it and we've probably losing ground ever
MARJORIE PERLOFF I don't know that there is a parallel to that
Professor Bourbon: Well certainly there were explosions 18th century, as you say the
newspapers and often it's tied to the audience being created at the same time, there are
relationships, the novel itself is such a beast. It took a while for that to mature intellectually
became what it is today
Chris Espinosa I think we are some what spoiled by what a wild frontier modern information
access is by having you know such strict control and actually really respectably high levels of
quality in our broadcast information in our print information newspapers from the 50's
70's here in America were they were tremendously higher quality. How long did you live in
Britain? Because I've looked at the..
Professor Bourbon: Great Britain?
Chris Espinosa Yes.
Professor Bourbon: I just visited.
CE Oh you just visited, sorry
Professor Bourbon: It was Cambridge MA I was referring to
CE OK, Wrong Cambridge
MARJORIE PERLOFF But I actually lived in Britain for years
CE I've noticed that when I read overseas newspapers on the one hand their coverage of
affairs and their coverage of the United States is much much different, on the other hand
political coverage and their general coverage of society is even more I don't want to say
MARJORIE PERLOFF It is
CE OK I will say trashy...
MARJORIE PERLOFF That's a recent development I mean they used to be terribly snobbish
Newspapers and gossip and so forth and be quite superior but again in the last 20 years or
have now.. The Manchester Guardian even will now have exposes and so forth on the front
yeah they're even more trashy The point there is when they do copy our things then they
trashier in that kind of way and that will happen with some kind of computer talk too... How
all feel about the you know, have you tried to buy any books on the net,
NA Not as of yet
MARJORIE PERLOFF NO.. You know you can go through Vagabond or there are these huge
something I find very disturbing is while you're doing that and I've only done it a few times I
to order something from Germany, and I did manage to find a German bookstore, and these
keep flashing on for Vagabond, or whatever other books, it's very distracting, and I think
going to be a lot more ads aren't there?
CE Oh yes unfortunately
MARJORIE PERLOFF going on all the time while you're...well you see and that of course is
BB You got to pay for it somehow
MARJORIE PERLOFF I know, that's right
CE And I think that's one of the things that disappoints me because when you look at some
the ideas that formed this technology and some of the thinkers like Ted Nelson and what
planning and what they wanted to do or planning on doing is that this was supposed to be
information economy where the principal good was information and you could create a
your information and the better information would have higher value and generate more
return to its
creators and that was the way it was supposed to work. and Instead it turns out, that, and I
know whether if it's a function of markets or a function of people or a function of just the
way it grew
it up but that people don't really have a high value for information.
BB Well the value is not the information, it's in the use of the information, right, so if there is
use for it or if one can't find it, then it's noise.
CE So, that....
MARJORIE PERLOFF: I think it's even more than that, it's inverse. If you know you can
get...Suppose you really
can't get information in a time where it was much harder to get or let's say if you knew
one book that had an essay in it you wanted You could only get it from inter-library loan it
come from the library of Congress to say Berkeley or something like that then you were so
that then when that essay came you memorized it practically, Now that you always know "oh
that information is available" nobody wants it.
BB But it does suggest that if you make information ubiquitous or easy to come by and what
really matters is what you do with it and therefore how you think and therefore what at least
certainly we try to do in school I think is teach our students how to think, not what to think
to do it, but at the same time you have this fragmentation, that you were talking about
all that you need to know, there is an inability to synthesize that because there is an inability
think you can't be passive about most of this information you've got to attack and organize it
that takes a lot of responsibility, responsibility not intellectually, buy you have to in some
be ambitious in trying to put all these things together the more information that's there the
your ambition to integrate that has to be.
NA I'm reminded of the Jobs article in Wired where he says look I've put more computers in
more classrooms than anyone else, single handedly, practically and I don't really think that
the answer and it seems to me that starting earlier and getting with the basics and the
I feel real blessed I went to public schools in New York City and it was all rote drills and
memorization and I talk to kids today and they are doing something very different umm I
ran into a
high school student not too long ago and they were studying Russia and they were using
second third rate novel instead of of a Russian history they were reading something bought
rack at the airport and this was a sign
MARJORIE PERLOFF Of where the teachers are
NA a sign.. I was just totally amazed Bright kid you know, it just struck that at this age
schools might be putting higher content into their heads
BB Well schools have always been fragmented in their goals, since they have the goal of
making good citizens, making people, preparing people to get jobs and then something
to make them feel better about themselves. And I think the last one is what's become the
dominant goal of all public schools.
CE Also you've got to recognize that the kind of jobs that we are preparing people for have
changed radically in the past 50 years and that the amount of just pure manufacturing jobs
example doing something by rote repetitively every day is your major job function you know
assembly jobs mechanical jobs agricultural jobs have almost vanished and we're left with the
service economy and we're left information economy and what I find odd about the
economy is that because, for the reasons you talked about , information is such a low value
commodity and it's hard to differentiate, that people aren't willing to pay for it the major
the Internet is doing is marketing hard goods and advertising.
MARJORIE PERLOFF Yes
CE And it's terribly self-referential. I saw a comment where you know two of the major
advertisers on two of the larger sites, the Wired site and the Excite site, their largest
were \ each other
NA Oh really
MARJORIE PERLOFF Isn't that amazing, but see that leads to another interesting question
getting back to the
Academy too, a University like Stanford, is that I think with all the talk about the "Canon
Wars" and Radicalism and even in this Stanford Review they seem to feel that the blame has
to do something with being too radical. It's exactly the other way, it's really very
conservative in a bad way It's exactly the other way, it's really
very conservative, in a bad way. I think, that namely, that they don't understand that all
these things are changing. So, they are then forever discussing..
NA So, it's closemindedness?
MP: Well, they are forever discussing should we substitute this novel for that novel, we
have to have more books by women, we have to study more books by minorities, so in
the exact same slot, you take out Joyce, and you put in Virgina Wolfe, then you take out
Virgina Wolfe and put in Zornia Horlsten, so then you have a black woman. But you
really are still doing exactly the same thing, basically, and except probably not doing it as
well or doing it as interestingly. So it absolutely doesn't take into account that maybe
some of the fields do have to change. We still have exactly the same fields that we had
pretty much 50 years ago. We have Social Sciences, and they all have the same names,
pretty much... I mean Sociology has changed somewhat but Economics is basically the
same kind of department.
Psychology is and so on... Then you have the Humanities which are all still in, you know,
in that sense the same, even if the foreign languages are smaller, not called foreign
languages, Modern languages lets say are smaller, much smaller departments, fewer
people are studying them, and then Biological and Physical Sciences and everything is
always still divided that way. Then you have the Business School, but that goes way
back by now too and you have Computer Studies so that's somewhat new but can be
accommodated so that there's really no basic strange in structure, or very little. Wouldn't
you agree with that? That...
BB: I think that's true...
MP: That the way Universities do things, and the sad part is, so there is very little of the
content you're talking about, but the structure has remained frozen, so they're always sort
of figuring out what to do with this frozen structure, and partly that's because 0� the
whole tenure system and that people don't want change. If you ask most academics the
one thing they fear more than anything else is change. Despite all that talk about radicals
on campus, that's a lot of talk, mostly, It isn't happening, really.
NA: So you think the University is going.. Well, I'm hearing you say the University isn't
going to change all that much. Do you see any forces that might tip their hand?
MP I'm going to let Brett answer that one.
BB Yeah, I think there is an increasing demand for the humanities to justify themselves
in relationship to the other departments that are dominating the society: engineering, the
sciences, business, etcetera... and in order to justify themselves they are going to have to
change so the pmcess will have to take place. Ii's a question of when and how and how
painful it will be.
MP It will be painful.
NA It sounds it,From what I'm hearing, sounds hike it will be real painful..
BB Because in the meantime there is a replacement of content with happens to be
fashionable. When you lose your discipline, when you lose your, what you were happy to
be doing, then you keep jumping on the next bandwagon... and that's undermined a lot of
whats happened the humanities and made it irrelevant in relationship to the greater
MP: And see the justification that Brett is talking about works this way that people have
pointed this out that even a generation ago there was a value of being cultured, so that
let's say that if you were a political candidate, if you were George Bush, if you were
whoever, it was sort of valuable to be cultured enough to know who Mozart is, and to be
able to recite a few lines of poetry from something, say know a little Shakespeare, a little
Yeats, Blake, whatever it would be, and that was considered a good thing ipso facto. So
that you could talk people into doing the Humanities to some extent. But that isn't true
anymore. Now it has been shown that you can through life very successfuly, certainly lots
of people do, and make lots of money who don't know any of those things Donald Trump
or whatever. For that matter Bill Clinton is an interesting example. Because although he
lookd so well educated Georgetown University, A Rhodes Scholar, and the Yale Law
School this man you can tell from little comments he makes, and the same is true of
Hillary Clinton who went to Wellesley, they don't know one thing about music, art or
literature that's clear from little things they say, they just don't have a clue. I mean it isn't
that their taste is not quite my taste you know whatever, but they just don't know, I mean
they really don't know anything about it.
NA And I had a personal experience with that. I dated a Wellesly girl whQ went to USC
Film School and we were watching some film and I said "Wow that looks like it's from
'Citizen Kane..." and she went to USC Film School, I had a real hard time with this, she
asked me "what was Citizen Kane?" (groans)
MP Oh no, I find that hard to believe....
NA True story...
MP Yeah, Yeah...
NA Lovely girl...
MP But you see there is no premium put on it and so then you do have to justify the
humanities because then how do you.... it used to be well that's good for you because you
need to be cultured and you're going to be a business man or a doctor or whatever a
physician but it's good to have a little culture and the smattering of History. Now that's
what people like Roger Kimball still believe, you know people who write in the New
Criterion or for that matter Bennett, William Bennett, whose book you have here on the
shelf but the fact is it's harder and harder to convince people of that, because if you break
down the class system and it's not a matter of getting perhaps into the right club, or being
part of the right social circle, you know, all it is today is money. I mean if you have
enough money you can buy your way into any of those circles. There's no particular
premium put on it then why should anybody learn, how do you justify why people need
to learn these things?
CE Because business is certainly not demanding the Humanities.
MP Certainly not
CE as a job requirement for being in any role in business. Either, you have your choice,
you either study a specialty which you have to be a constant study at because the
specialties keep changing they keep getting more complex, the engineering specialties,
the manufacturing specialties, or you're expected to get a Master of Business
Administration and be not very focused on anything, because all of your efforts should go
into competing very heavily to come out the top of your class. And I'm very disappointed
that the interlock of who businesses hire and what colleges produce are producing very
very narrow individuals who seem to be bred for maximum competitiveness and not bred
for any kind of breadth.
MP Well now
BB That will come back to haunt them, I think because not all thinking is problem
solving I mean it's a very important skill, but there are kinds of thinking, kinds of
analytical thinking that the humanities is good at teaching, not just the analysis of texts
but the analysis of oneas own language ones own concepts conceptual kind of thinking
CE and also the basics of human relationships which MBA school tends not to be so good
at either. I pursued a humanities degree at Berkeley and I was plucked out of that and
went straight into middle management at Fortune 500 multi-billion dollar corporation and
while I had been studying a little computer science what helped me most in my job
managing a group a technology group in a corporation was the humanities education on
what people were like and how they behaved in certain situations and how to watch a
story develop and how to understand the little dramas that got played out among people
rather than knowing the technical content of the books that they happened to be writing.
So i know the value of the humanities education in business. 1 just don't know that the
hiring managers and the the resumex system that looks for the keywords on your resume
really understand that anymore and so I think what the Humanities are left for as an
audience is if business isn't taking them and citizenship doesn't have any requirements
any longer the only thing you can do if you have a Humanities degree from the
University is feed the machine and go into the humanities Dept of the University and I
think by feeding on itself a little much and not having any other outlet it's gotten a little
BB That's true
MP That's a very good point. Because let's say if you're a physicist then you can either
become an academic but you can do something else But many of these people then feel
that you know they've got to do it come hell or high water and you read these terrible
article about how they are living in a log cabin somewhere and they don't have enough to
eat waiting for some job to come along you know.
CE No, no, in Silicon Valley the classic couple is the husband is a programmer and he
has the Double E\CS and the wife has the humanities degree, and she's a technical writer.
And that's the classical Silicon Valley couple.
MP Wait what's an ECS, excuse me?
CE Double E CS, Electrical Engineering/Computer Science
MP that's the classic profile?
CE It's the classic profile.
BB Do you think that the humanities have a place in solving the content problems of the
CE Oh absol;utely
BB It strikes me as the obvious place and I would encourage and there's probably a lot of
resistance to it, but that we can one of the ways we can redefme the humanities is to think
that ther is a place there is a direction from whree they are what they are studying in
school to those kinds of jobs where at this point there's not
CE I think theres almost a social mandate because uncorrected by people who understand
how cul;tures and societiues are formed the business peopl;e and technologists are going
to take these vast new empires and vast new technologies they're developing and they're
simply going to replay old patterns Like I was talking before about how this incredible
revolutionary new communications medium called the WWW is rapidly turning into an
advertising, promotion, and hard goods manufacturing medium that's because people who
are approaching this as the solution to business problem don't understand that people
sharing ideas is not a business problem or they do understand that people sharing ideas is
not a business problem and so we're going to not, if we can't make money on people
interchanging ideas or forming communities, then we are going to make money by selling
books which we know how to do, or advertising which we know how to do.
recreating the Greek Agora in both the cultural and political senses as well as the
marketplace senses is really one of the vast potentials of the Net, but unfortunately like in
most of the interesting communication medium before it, pornography dominated, OK
just like video casettes and cable television, you know pornography dominated, then it
got the multi-level marketers and get rich quick opportunists, we were talking earlier
about junk faxes and then it will settle down into just being another television which
would terribly sad considering the possibilities of the medium.
MP But is has on the other hand one thing, the book is now in some ways much more
valued again, see and that's the good side of it in some sense. Artists books you know
there is an enormous influence now in the so called artist book Theer's a journal of Artist
books there are artist books just burgeoning and articles written about them and what are
they really? But because they are objects they are not just made to be read through but
they are objects to be contemplated they use visualo and verbal things they use different
quality paper and they are the handmade things in the age of computers so that people
quite thrilled to go to exhibitions to see them and to buy them they have a good market,
so I don't believe that books you know to come back to your earlier question, Nick, about
on, you know, who reads the books, or whatever it is, I don't actually, you know, when
television first came in, everybody said nobody will go the movies anymore, when
movies first came in, nobody's going to read anymore. That doesn't really seem to happen
and then we say yes but how many people read valuable books but on the other hand
when you think how people there are there's still there's been studies done of this theres
still more people than there ever where before, who were all the mulions who read these
things before, you see so, one thing sort of produces another. But what I do worry about
and you were talking about this before is the enormous glut there's just too much to keep
up with. I find now that I always feel completely snowed and everybody I know feels that
way. Everybody feels,
talk of the "Golden Age," but everbody feels completely stressed and never has a minute
and that didn't used to be true.
NA And it wasn't what we were....
MP And it's very hard to know why that's true. There's just too much that comes across
your desk and then the email and then the phone and then the fax machine goes off and
then you could look up this and as a result you're never sort of sitting quietly
contemplating, you know, anything.
NA This isn't what we were promised. I remember 20-30 years ago we were promised a
lot of labor saving and it's not happpening...
MP Oh it is it is labor saving, but it creates some other labor, it always creates something
BB Oh yeah, got have a growing economy, or it all falls apart.
NA I was really moved recently, somebody who knows what I'm doing said to read this
Mark Helprin article called "The Acceleration of Tranquility" and he compares and
contrasts the life of a diplomat at the turn of the century to somebody that's living twenty
odd years from now and the guy at the turn of the century if he wanted to write a letter he
had to go through a whole process and procedure and it would take two or three weeks to
get a response, twenty yhears in the future he's got agents baffling like setting up a
labyrinth before any message can get to him it's gotten to that point and I think the trick
for us is to figure
this is as far as I got transcribing the damn thing, there's about another 15 minutes, as well
as 8 other hour long episodes that never got transcribed. Labrets
Sunday, May 27, 2001
What follows is a rough, unfinished verbatim transcript of the first 45 minute segment of SiliconSalon. Please excuse its appearance, we plan to smooth it out later. If you have any suggestions to improve its readability, or any other comments please send them to: