Monday, June 25, 2007

It's postulated on pg. 136 of The Social Life of Information that "people learn in response to need." Thus if need is not understood or non-existent learning to fulfill an invisible need doesn't happen. Conversely, Brown and Duguid make the point that those people who need/want to learn directly add importance to the level of need that they understand which is necessary to retrieve and capture information to make the necessary skills/knowledge available to them.
Walter Benjamin, a 19th German critic-philosopher, in his monumental essay "The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction" suggests that the original work or works of art possess a particular aura defined as where "the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced." (pg 221, Illuminations) Benjamin goes on to say that the multiple reproductions of a work of art ultimately diminishes the aura of a work by saturating the visual market, so to speak, changing what would have been a reactionary attitude in the viewer to a progressive reaction. (pg 234) While Benjamin's discussion is particularly directed toward printing and photography, I think that there are certain facets that can be directly applied to the need to learn mentioned above. Brown/Duguit make a fantastic point that "learning to be requires more than just information. It requires the ability to engage in the practice in question." (pg. 128; The Social Life of Information)

With the enormous amount of information available, with the multiple digitization projects occuring and the ability to capture information available through bookmarking, blogging, feeds and wikis learning seems to be available like no other time before. However, I would suggest that perhaps the aura of learning has been slightly skewed by the saturation of information that is available. Learning also involves practice and while such programs as GoogleReader allows the user to quickly sum up and read their favorite blogs this does not mean that learning is occuring. To draw again on Benjamin's definition, the aura of a work of art is dependent on "...the historywhich it has experienced." The aura of learning and ultimately knowledge is dependent on the same history. Traditionally it seems that the amount of time a work or concept can survive validates its existence as well as making it worthwhile to learn about. While history is not a perfect filter, it is a very effective one. The Internet is proving though to exist in an 'a-historical' existence as links are deleted or updated based on their effectiveness rather then their place in a tradition.
The main point is that physical objects have a distinct "specialness" for a lack of a better term. To be able to stand before Picasso's original Three Musicians in the Philadelphia Art Museum or to listen in person to Beethoven's 9th are events that unsurpassable in terms of their transmission to the viewer/listener. The ability to search and capture a reproduction of an image thus lessens the aura of the work. The ability to search and capture the knowledge/learning of a concept in your favorites or bookmarking service lessens the aura of the importance of that knowledge. The implementation fo that knowledge is still tremendously important and vital but the aura of the act of learning has been dimmed. Even with the digitization as a tremendous tool for preservation/conservation of historically important materials, the impact of the original work is unsurpassed.
To quote Hindemith
"And when to live and learn, they ranged the countryside and not just the closely printed paged...The old is good not just because it is past nor
is the new supreme because we live with it.
And ever yet a man felt greater joy than he could bear or truly comprehend.
Your task it is amid confusion, rush and noise
to grasp the lasting calm and meaningful
And finding it anew
to hold and treasure it."

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