There are days like today when I believe that I should belong to a secret society. Last evening as I worked with my son to study for his AP US History class we talked about the Anti-Masonics, the Whigs, Andrew Jackson and a bunch of other stuff I never learned in high school. In fact, I did not have an American History class at all in high school. That was the 70s for you.
My buddy Lee was out here on the weekend, and he's the one guy I know who retains something ineffable despite his academic achievement. Regularness? He's been recognized as one of America's top young scientists (young <= 46) and as such was regaled with a presentation of the state of the art of what we know at the National Academy of the Sciences. They've got a nice conference center down in Irvine. I perused the presentations out in the lobby as the last session was breaking up but decided not to take any photos. His was about machine learning. I remember very little about the others, but here's something he explained to me of one of the subjects discussed.
You have taste buds in your stomach and intestines. They are the same kinds of taste buds that are on your tongue, and their function is to serve as an early warning system. Imagine that you're drinking a diet soda. It tastes sweet and so you like it. When exactly should your body start producing insulin to deal with all that sugar you are tasting? Insulin stops the use of fat in the body as an energy source, so when insulin is present the body will depend on the sugars and carbs you eat. The taste buds in the mouth would signal too soon, but the taste buds in the gut would signal right on time. Except what you're drinking in that Fresca is not sugar, so you've got all this insulin ready and no sugar to process. For the sake of the pleasure in your mouth, you're freaking out your body. Diet sodas are worse than water. That should be obvious, but now you have another reason.
When I developed the ideas around XRepublic, and now for the Lorite Interrogator, I had some very specific things in mind concerning the melioration of knowledge via computer mediated communications. The term "CMC" penned by Howard Rheingold is so influential and central to my thought process that I named my son so that his initials would be CMC Bowen. It worked out that we had ancestors other than Cobb for the second C. One of the biggest problems is the level of patience the learned have for the unlearned, because while there are thousands who know what the millions do not, only hundreds are willing and able to teach. One of my solutions is to maintain separate 'houses' for debate, and that may or may not work - we'll have to see in practice. Despite the existence of such houses, there would be transparency. For example, I have just declared Nulan personna-non-grata in this house, but in the act of doing so I also asked for him to trackback to our common subjects, and I presume that I would remain on his blogroll. Obviously I can't stop anyone from going over to his own house, and I would encourage that. MIT has some of this kind of transparency in its OCW, but I imagine Yale does not. It is the transparency of CMC that has allowed more to learn indirectly from various universities and learned individuals than would ordinarily be admitted through physical gates. This is, indeed how you have come to know that the stomach has taste buds - Lee as a top scientist invited to the private gated affair shared with me and I shared with you. But the many were not and will never be invited to The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Science and Engineering.
In the prior post 'Vox Populi', the ancient aphorism rings true, that is if you know the whole thing: And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness. It exactly what I say about the Denizens of Sherwood Forest. It should be what people say about the Tea Party. It is the proper warning against populism. Then again on occasion, it is wise to trust the revulsion of the masses against the corruption of the few. But looking in the other direction there are often things the millions feel that the thousands do and only hudreds can communicate. These are the edge conditions of mass communication and they have not been solved to my satisfaction.
When I am pessimistic about this problem, as I generally am when I consider American politics in its current state, I seek to take shelter from a public and public debate I find debased. I would much rather listen to and hang out with my friend Lee. We talked exactly zero about politics. Lee shares a certain epistemological modesty. If there is something true to be said about geeks, it is that they accept the isolation their interests and arcane knowledge bring. Geeks seek the company of other geeks, happy to find a confidant or someone else who gets it. This is reward enough for the dissonances from the millions. Nerds, on the other hand, seek revenge. In a social apocalypse, what happens to destroyed nerds and geeks? Their presentations are photographed but who has the patience to teach Morlocks? I search for the signs of the mood towards cloistered knowledge, the arrogance of nerds, the desperation of geeks and the madness of crowds.
Computer literacy is something very different in CMC. It is the ability to sniff out the good content from the zettabytes of spew. It is in its own way the New Latin, a way of recognizing the style of a website of value, of tracking one's way towards the company of the hundreds from both directions. It is a facility with the many tools of the internet.