Musings on Learning and Blogging

Many of you know that I am a bibliophile. I don’t just read books, I collect them. And, once I’ve built my school, I intend to add book-restorer and bookbinder to my hobby list. I find them fascinating.

One of the genres I collect is Science and Technology. And, wherever and whenever possible, I try and get first editions, signed to me, by the author, usually when I am standing in front of them. Where this is not possible, I look for autographed signed first editions, preferably association copies.

So you can imagine my delight when I came across a pristine copy of Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman, with an inlaid autograph of the great man. And what an autograph.

The card said:

I don’t understand why people collect autographs. Could you please write and explain it to me?

Yours, Richard P Feynman.

No wonder the sequel to that book was called What Do You Care What Other People Think?

This unending curiosity, this single-minded passion to question things that they don’t understand, this is what sets apart great teachers from all others. Maybe it sets apart real teachers from all others. I have had the privilege of knowing many such people, and for this I am extremely grateful.

In Business As Unusual, Hugh De Pree says of EinsteinWe may take heart in knowing that a part of the genius of Albert Einstein was his inability to understand the obvious”.

And I think this is where blogs are fantastic. They demolish the barriers to entry that are often present in society, barriers that affect curious people. Barriers that are primarily social in nature. Barriers like “I don’t want to appear stupid, but….”.

You see, people like Feynman and Einstein had the single-minded focus and energy to get over the social barriers and keep asking the stupid question. But most of us aren’t Feynmans or Einsteins. With social software and particularly with blogs and wikis, we can all ask stupid questions without feeling stupid about doing the asking. Many times, when I check something out via Google or via Wikipedia, I’m asking a stupid question. I couldn’t do that very easily at school. Actually that’s not quite true, but that’s a different matter.

Blogs are often written by people who are passionate about something, something specific. What Christopher Locke used to call Organic Gardening. Whatever gets your fancy.

Blogs are often written by people who want others to read what they say in order to receive criticism. Constructive criticism.

Blogs, like real learning, represent a two-way process. The teacher learns and the learner teaches.

I’ve said it before. Wisdom of crowds is not a mode thing. It’s a mean thing. Every person is different. And it is in that difference that we learn.

This is not an A-List blog. It never will be. Yet it’s all I want; I get maybe 300 regular readers, all with similar interests, but with different points of view. All prepared to spend time reading stuff, writing stuff, talking about stuff. Which reminds me. Last week I was at the Internet Identity Workshop, wonderfully put together by Phil Windley and Kaliya Hamlin. And sometime during the first evening, a number of us found ourselves in a Starbucks across from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Chris and Tara were there, as was Doc, and Kevin. All bloggers. All readers of each other’s blogs. All commenters on each other’s blogs. Mutual admiration society? Not really. Common interests, not always common views. And an openness and honesty that is the antithesis of the mutual whatchamacallit. And later that night we were joined by John Hagel, who was his usual enlightening and entertaining self.

Blogs are conversations. Two-way. Which is why they are great ways for us to learn.

13 thoughts on “Musings on Learning and Blogging”

  1. There are plenty like me who lurk but never comment, too.

    Totally agree about teachers being learners. I taught myself calculus by tutoring other kids in it. After that, I realized that if you can’t teach something to someone else, you probably don’t understand that wel..

  2. Blogging is definitely like learning, or in my case blogging has been a way of learning. Nothing better than that to keep up with the ever-changing and ever-widening world of software. It is one of the cases where learning becomes natural because this way of learning is so natural. I always used to feel that reading books and attending courses was incomplete. Blogging completes it by providing conversations.

  3. Another lurker here. I greatly enjoy your blog. I’m close to Mountain View (there’s an ICBM tag at my site), and had no idea that you were in the area. Sorry to have missed you!

  4. JP,
    The bibliophile comes through in your writing. You write with the the fluid style of someone widely and well read. I came to your blog because of your IT reputation, I return regularly because of the aesthetic. Reading should, after all, be fun.

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the need for an IT Canon,
    and then prompty forgot about the list we kicked off at:
    As a Bibliophile, you may find worth a browse.

    Perhaps I could tempt you to add some of those first editions to the list?

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    I will start using something like plazes so that people know where I am and where I intend to be.

    I used to use librarything, then lost it when I lost my blog way back in May.

    Now, as I prepare for a facelift come Christmas, I plan to bring librarything back.

    Any other suggestions? I am still working on a glossary, and slowly tagging all my old posts. Ahnd planning a sidebar area for popular posts.

    No one, not even lifeklüdger, has come back with any accessibility suggestions.

  6. Rama on Cuckooscall quoted from this post so I had to come and see you. I just went to check my copy of Surely you must be joking Mr Feynman! to see if it too had his autograph. It doesn’t and I too wonder what is so special about autographs. I would have thought differently if he had signed it though!

    So you love technology, eh? Despite having been in software since ’65, I really don’t like any science or technology that was developed after I attained the age of 25, and regret the passing of the steam traction engine too. It’s an age thing.

    Best to you.

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