A modem in the hand

September 8, 2000

Paul Taylor's indictment of technology ("Beware geeks bearing modems", Talking Shop, THES, September 1) misses the mark. Unlike Luddite,"geek" says nothing about the technological proclivities of an individual, but it does say something about a society that lumps together those who understand technology with the socially inept.

Taylor's cart precedes the horse in his attack on lifelong learning. The phrase represents a global shift in our understanding of the knowledge and skills required for future citizens. Technological change drives the social changes mandating this shift, but education technology is not the villain; society needs lifelong learning. It is disingenuous to pretend it means "what we were once taught by the age of 18" - for most of history, formal education stopped long before that point.

Similarly, surely the British Computer Society did not mean that students' minds need to be reconfigured to suit technology, rather that learning is no longer constrained by the physical, social and temporal structures of establishments.

Perhaps in centuries past academics decried printing presses, which allowed for the spread of knowledge beyond their control. Yes, the internet raises serious issues about the value of information and we need to adapt, but books and journals are not immune. Paper-based data also need filtering and examination.

The gloss of technology may beguile some into imagining that we can do without education, but it is not the fault of the technology. Taylor would do better to harangue politicians about the true difference between training and education, irrespective of technology.

Finally, does Taylor truly object to education being stimulating? If so, I can only extend my sympathy to his students.

James Gotaas Lecturer in physics University of Central Lancashire

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