David Boyle

Real Relationships

Extract from Chapter 8 of Authenticity

The most recent vision of the future written by Microsoft's enigmatic founder Bill Gates, Business@the speed of thought includes a strange piece of nostalgia about dating a woman who lived somewhere else. Gates describes how they spent time together on email, because they were too busy actually to meet. "We figured out a way we could sort of go to the movies together," he writes. "We would find a film that was playing about the same time in both our cities. We would drive to our respective theatres, chatting on our cellular phones. We would watch the movies and on the way home we would use our cellular phones again to discuss the show."

He goes onto promise that this kind of 'virtual dating' will be better when it's combined with video-conferencing. This is an odd story because Gates shows no signs that he understands that this virtual dating is a pretty miserable business compared to the real thing. As Howard Rheingold of the WELL network says, "you can't kiss anybody" in virtual communities - however wonderful the virtual kiss.

This is a blindness shared by many of the cheerleaders of the virtual revolution, with the notable exception of Jaron Lanier who believes the new technologies must help people engage more closely, rather than to escape from each other - and to prove the point, he doesn't 'disengage' with drugs, alcohol or chocolate either. But few virtual writers accept that there's a qualitative difference, for example between real and virtual teachers.

We hear, for example, that providing more computers in schools is the most important imperative for the educational world - which is why schools are cutting back on arts and music to provide them. Especially in the USA, after the Clinton administration's determination to make computers "as much part of the classroom as blackboards". We even hear about virtual examiners. The New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service now uses 'e-raters' to mark G-MAT test essays for entry to graduate management courses. Actually the way forward for education, says the philosopher Theodore Roszak, is to "find out what Bill Gates wants schools to do and don't do it."

Of course there should be computers in schools. Children need to be proficient in computing, and computers can help them study by themselves and find out information for themselves. But they can't ever be a substitute for the kind of real education that can take place in the meeting of minds between pupil and teacher. That may not happen often enough - and it's a difficult alchemy to create in our monstrous factory schools - but that isn't the point. Computer education by itself is push-button, relationship-less education, and that is infinitely poorer because it is less human."

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title: books by David Boyle
Broke Voyages of Discovery Money Matters Blondel's Song Leaves World to Darkness The Little Money Book Funny Money The Tyranny of Numbers