We live in an age of perpetual scholastics. A world where attending college is a foregone conclusion, and where most gainful employment requires multiple degrees. We spend decades of our life in constant tutelage to avoid burger-flipping damnation, and even then there is a slight chance that our jobs after college will have something to do with a deep fryer. In our modern world, an unschooled person is hopeless.
Or are they?
Strangely, I have a hard time seeing all this education in action. All those years in school focus young people’s attention on getting passing grades, not on nurturing the habit of lifetime learning, which I believe is the true secret to success. In my opinion, this obsession with school has produced the opposite of the desired result. We have a hoard of people entering the workforce who know how to pass requirements, but not how to think and learn outside the box.
I think the root of this problem is the idea that school is the focal point of learning. People think that good jobs come to those with degrees, and dedicate their creative energy towards graduation, and not on personal cultivation. In the modern world, everyone has some certificate of completion from some university, and the things that set people apart are the skills they teach themselves. The ones who constantly augment their knowledge to meet the demands of a changing world are the ones who succeed.
With the current state of the world, to remain competitive and successful we need to be constantly growing. Technology presents a continuous parade of challenges and opportunities, and those who quickly adapt are the ones who rise above the crowd.
So the question is: how can we become the people most skilled in quick adaption, the ones most eager and capable of learning on the fly? I believe the solution is technology. Technology, especially the internet, gives us tools to turbocharge our mental evolution to a level never before possible in the entire history of the human race.
It’s a bold statement, I know, but it’s absolutely true. With modern technology, the entire sum of human knowledge is available anytime, almost anywhere, and to almost anyone. We dismiss such an opportunity at our peril. The greatest minds of history have always taken advantage of the resources around them. Can you even imagine what they could do today with all the power of what we have? If Galileo could deduce the structure of the solar system at a time where people thought plague was spread by witches, what could we (and what should we) be doing with the vast sums of knowledge available to us? Anything short of perpetual intellectual Renaissance is a titanic failure on all our parts.
The question is: who should lead the charge into our bold and bright future? From my limited experience, I don’t believe it will be from academia. There is a certain arrogance and aversion to change that pervades the entire scholastic system.
I recall one composition lesson in my undergraduate where I asked my teacher what music he thought Mozart would have written were he alive today. He answered: “he would have written the same music.” I was literally astounded by the lack of vision coming from someone I was supposed to intellectually venerate. I’ve hit up against this “reductionist” attitude time and time again dealing with the keepers of the ivory tower, so often that I’ve come to this conclusion: Academia will not be the source of the digital Renaissance. Institutions can only dissect that which has done before; they have no knowledge or wisdom of the future, and have no stake in what lies beyond the horizon.
We, the people, must be the ones who are the masters of our fate. Our thoughts, our opinions, our art, our arguments, will be the fuel for the engines of creation. It will take a massive amount of work, and the learning curve is steep. So boot up your computer, find people who know what you need to learn, and teach each other everything you know. With all the information in the world a Google search or a Wikipedia article away, it’s our fault if we don’t know everything.
Time to get to work.
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.