27 October 2010

Common Sense

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." --Albert Einstein

Modernism has a lot of ties to our world today.  From the definition, modernism includes a "sense of cultural crisis which [is] both exciting and disquieting."  Important general features are the loss of a sense of tradition and the increasing dominance of technology (which is both condemned vehemently and embraced as the flagship of progress).

A key element of modernism is the break with the past.  Albert Einstein's general and special theories of relativity are a beautiful example of this.  Here's an explanation of relativity from Jake's blog.

You've heard of E=mc^2.  Did you ever understand it?  Probably not, but you memorized the equation.  I took physical science 100 last year and learned for the first time what it means that E=mc^2.  It rocked my world--in the simple way that I understand it, Energy = mass x the speed of light squared means that enough energy can actually turn into mass.  That's right!  It creates mass!  Doesn't that fly in the face of that rule that matter can neither be created nor destroyed?  Well, yes!  That's why science people now have a rule that energy and mass are conserved together.

(P.S. I highly recommend physical science 100)

Einstein's theories took some time to become mainstream in the world of science.  Why?  Well, because they didn't jive with common sense!  (Remember those prejudices?)  Einstein is a figure in modernism because he broke from the past; his work didn't follow the work of every scientist who'd gone before him.

We're living in a time that challenges common sense traditions just like Einstein challenged the law of mass conservation.  My digital civilization class is a case study of this--we don't have a single assigned textbook but we are required to read blogs like mad.  Really?  Is reading my classmate's thoughts superior to reading a textbook?  How could someone listen to music on YouTube without being willing to buy it on iTunes?  How could I Skype someone in India without paying some sort of fee?  It is good to leave the past (which included typewriters and excluded word processors) behind, but we still feel the effect of breaking with tradition.

This is ironic that I'm writing this way since one of my arguments in my ORCA application is that digital literacy preserves culture.  I think the Tibetans in India believe in this, too, or they wouldn't raise their children as they are.  So, which is it?  Is our digital literacy preserving our traditions or breaking from them? 

Photo credit д§mд


  1. Enjoyed your post. I found it interesting that what you defined as common sense traditions all seem to be quite modern. Maybe I don't quite understand what you are getting at. Examples:

    -It is still quite a modern thing to even be able to make a phone call to someone in India (regardless of price)
    -Paying money for music on iTunes (a relatively new program -2001). People used to tape record the radio and not pay for music.

    To answer your last question, I think that digital literacy is both preserving AND breaking our traditions.

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  3. I enjoyed your use of the verb "jive" and your recommendation of PHSC 100.

    @Andrew -- I perceived Kristen's questions as being examples of things common sense demands that you have to pay for which are now available free of charge. People used to tape record the radio, but it was not as common as simply buying the album/CD. Just ask the record companies.

    Two mysteries emerge from this trend toward free information and services: how the quality of free content and services compares to those paid for, and how the creators are eventually going to make money.

    I like to think that I am learning as much from reading blogs for free than I would be learning from an outdated and expensive textbook. And I would like to throw out the empirical observation that I bought a couple of books this semester that I never would have purchased if my curiosity wasn't piqued by this class.

    And finally, digital literacy preserves and breaks our traditions depending on who uses it and how it is used.

  4. Thanks for all the great links to other blogs. It brings so much more depth and connection to each word. It took me 30 minutes to finish reading this post because I got side tracked through three other blog posts and a few other side sites before making it back to fully understand yours.