Tue, Dec 16, 2008, 10:42pm Promoting Depth on the Web
Education » Internet-Based
(Last updated: Wed, Dec 17, 2008, 4:42am)
A
core problem with the internet is that it facilitates a very short attention span. Even well-meaning research is easily turned into hours of tangents and segues that would have been much shorter and more productive with a limited print resource. Books seem, on the face of it, absurdly restricted compared to the resources available on the web, but one rarely is more productive at studying on the web. The web is still best at being a supplementary resource. Given the choice between the PDF and a paper version of the same, I'll choose the latter every time.

The problems are manifold:
  • Monitors have not yet created a comfortable reading experience. The problem isn't the method of presentation, it's the technology. E-ink-type technologies hold out promise here, but it still has a way to go. Sitting in front of even good monitors, however, is fatiguing. Add to this all the (beautiful and enticing) junk that typically litters most monitors while you read, and it's a recipe for not doing much real learning.
  • The reluctance of authors to supply the web with fresh content. I have held back most things I've done myself. There are many things holding people back. The web never forgets. This is often a huge problem for authors. They effectively lose control of distribution. There is also plagarism, which I've been a victim of. There is the issue of having others run with your content without giving you any credit or kudos. Then there are the issues of material becoming dated without an official revision mechanism. Potential embarrassment is also a concern. But it's a double-edged sword, which can often create a career as much as hinder one. Nevertheless, the uncertainty about the implications of the infinite memory of the web creates both pause and great reluctance.
  • A related topic to the last one involves the difference between the writing that goes on while learning / studying and what one wants to present once one feels like they have finally wrapped their mind around some topic. Do you want your beginner notes on something dangling out there forever in history? Do you want to admit that you're only just now learning or re-learning something? Again, the topic of embarrassment crops up.
  • If someone is putting something on the net at all these days, they are encouraged to make the most of the interactivity that the medium affords, but this is hard work, at least beyond a few token contributions. Putting together even basic pages on music, physics, math, art, etc, requires a lot of programming (libraries, languages, platforms, expense), content writing and overall planning time. Author(s) have often had enough before they have really gotten a lot of resources off the ground.
  • Funding to support people spending time on serious projects on the web. There are many examples of using the web to produce content without any kick-back to people, but there is perhaps (and feel free to debate me on this) an even larger amount of abandoned projects which fizzle for lack of their ability to produce a side income at least. This may be harder than ever soon, and I'm not saying this is a must-solve problem, but it at least qualifies as an inhibiting factor.
  • Users, who will allow the medium to treat them to TV-like pseudo-education. It even seems sometimes that people can no longer distinguish between hearing about the conclusion of some subject and having learned about it. As if learning was a collection of facts that you just have to remember for later. Schools are also to blame for leaving people with this impression, but the web seems to lend itself to an even greater degree toward this mentality.

  • The Wikipedia and other sites point out the great value gained by a centralized resource which attempts to have a uniform standard of presentation and fidelity of content. Hopping from site to site requires managing in one's head the heterogeneity of visual and conceptual layouts that each site provides. We have all learned to be good skimmers and to click quickly on our best guess as to where the content might be, slaloming through the ads and irrelevant images and links. Even managing how to best use our browsers is now a critical skill to the online researcher (just meaning anyone looking for in-depth information on any subject).

    I want to eventually talk about things that can be done about this road blocks, but first I want to correctly corner the problems. Perhaps the list above is off balance. I'll be happy to alter it based on comments. Thoughts?


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