Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Internet as the Garden of Earthly Delights

Just out is a collection of essays based on lectures in Harvard General Education courses. It's called The Harvard Sampler: Liberal Education in the Twenty-First Century. As originally conceived, it was a collection of last lectures in these courses, but that turned out to be rather tasteless given that there was a best-selling book about a professor's actual last lecture in life.
So instead I and a number of other far more luminous Harvard professors were invited to write up whatever we wanted based on the themes of our Gen Ed courses. I wrote up what was, in fact, my last lecture in Bits, a course that has since gone to its just rewards. The essay is called: "The Internet and Hieronymus Bosch: Fear, Protection, and Liberty in Cyberspace." It is based on the metaphor that the Internet as we know it today is not the hell that we sometimes are told that it is, particularly when we are trying to protect our children, a place where nothing is trustworthy and demons lurk around every corner. But it has also freed us from the Garden of Eden innocence of a world of controlled and restricted knowledge. It is more like the middle panel in the famous Bosch triptych. It is naughty and not everyone's cup of tea and is so alarming that it is probably unsustainable in its present form. And yet it is within our power to decide in what direction it is going to evolve.
Hope you like it! If you don't, the book is still worth buying -- you can read the essays by big guns such as Steve Pinker and Charlie Maier instead!

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