Regular readers of this blog are likely to be aware of my stance on the expert-versus-amateur debate. Suffice it to say that I believe in formally acquired expertise and in wisdom-of-crowds, that I am prepared to learn from so-called experts and from amateurs alike, that I do not insist on looking at the future through the eyes of history alone. My children teach me things. I learn from the behaviour of “fresh” graduates. In fact I learn quite a bit from observing what babies do. All this does not stop me from learning in other, more traditional, ways.
Ever since I was a teenager, I have watched the traditional command-and-control structures come under increasing pressure, and a newer, more democratised structure emerge. This has happened at home, in educational establishments and at work, and has been covered extensively by many who are more qualified than me to comment.
More recently, I have begun to understand something else about this switch from hierarchical to networked, particularly in the context of expertise. Experts need power. Experts knew how to acquire power in the hierarchical world, in terms of the trappings needed. Trappings at home, in academia and at work. Trappings in the form of titles, letters before and after your name, size of room, number of windows. Trappings worn as necklaces and garlands and ties and medals. Trappings.
Some experts have found this loss of power disconcerting, and it can be amusing to watch the consequences as a result. A classic example is that of the “expert” speaker and his audience. The expert expects the audience to respect him and what he says, to listen diligently, perhaps even to take notes. To ask questions at the end, when invited to do so.
We don’t have audiences like that any more. Maybe they still exist, but not at the kind of conferences I attend.
An aside. One way to understand the difference between the audience of yesterday and the audience of tomorrow is by looking at how Blackberries and Macs get used in the enterprise, at meetings and conferences. Yesterday’s generation look surreptitiously at their BlackBerries, pretending to pay attention to what is being said. For some strange reason, they think that no one will notice. Tomorrow’s generation, on the other hand, put their Macs on the table and use them to take notes, to look up references, to stay connected. And they pay attention to what is being said. While everyone else thinks they aren’t listening. So one generation pretends to listen, actually does something else, and goes around in the benighted belief that no one will notice. And the other generation pretends not to listen, knows how to multitask, and does all this in the open. Hmmmm.
Which brings me to the point of this post. It must have been over four years ago I first came across Joi Ito’s Hecklebot, and I just loved it. I have this real conviction that the evolution of the Hecklebot has real value in education, and intend to do something about it.
So I found this anecdote in New Scientist quite amusing.
It’s a new world out there. We can’t go around saying “But Miss, they’re not listening to me”. We have to earn the respect of our peers. But remember, in a networked society, everyone is a peer.Â Your professors. Your children. Your subordinates. Your bosses.
Everyone’s a peer.
Live with it.