Past week I delivered a lecture on “public presentation”. We were discussing what makes a good presentation: communication skills, body language, power point design etc. In a given moment I raised the question “which are the difference between academics talks and TED talks”. I did it on purpose because, as I reflected once in this blog, TED talks are gaining a lot of acknowledgment among students and I am not sure whether this is good. The question led to a lasting and interesting debate. My point was that academics talks have more to do with knowledge. Nex time, I will reference this talks, they really express the idea I tried to transmit in class. I first paste the most highlightable part of the talk. I like the concept of “politic placebo” and “placebo techno radicalism”. TED talks make us feel that things can work out after all, without facing the complexity of the systems we are embedded in, while impeding a real transformation.
Ted is perhaps a proposition, one that says if we talk about world-changing ideas enough, then the world will change, well this is not true either, and that’s the second problem…TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. To me, TED stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment. The key rhetorical device at any TED talk is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony. The speaker shares some personal story of insights and revelation, its trials and tribulations. What does the TEK audience hope to get from this? What does the TED audience hope to get from this? A vicarious insight? A fleeting moment of wonder? A sense that maybe it´s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz? Well, I´m sorry, but this is not up to the challenge of the problems that we are ostensibly here to face. They are complex and difficult and not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don´t care about anyone´s experience of optimism… if we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff’-the history, economics, philosophy, art, the ambiguities, and contradictions. Because focusing just on technology, or just on innovation (he calls it placebo technoradicalism) actually prevents transformation. We need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. And this is not about “personal stories of inspiration” It´s about the hard difficult work of demystification and reconceptualization. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins. At a societal level, the bottom line is that if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don´t work, and don´t invest in things which don´t make us feel good, but which may solve problems, then our fate is that in the long run it will just get harder and harder to feel good about not solving problems. And in this case, the placebo is not just ineffective- it´s harmful. Because it takes your interest, and energy and outrage, and diverts into this black hole of affectation. “Keep calm and carry on innovating” –is that the real message of TED? To me it´s not inspirational, it´s cynical.
This both are worth watching, more informal, but greatly reflecting how many talks nowadays, in reality, say nothing but just make us feel they do it by body language and visual aids.
In the so called Internet society, access to all kind of information is available to all or almost all, at least in western economies. A simple search on the web allows us to enjoy eyes-cutting materials on a specific field of knowledge. Should you be interested on marketing, for instance, out there you will find the best speakers and gurus able to illuminate your path via YouTube, twitter, blogs, etc. TED talks are perhaps a very good example of how to enjoy the latest and most innovative findings on different fields from all over the world.
Innovative and astonishing talks, they are. The strong communication skills often exhibited by the invited speakers leave one with the impression of having attended his/her long life conference. I have recently noticed an increasing attention on this from my students. Many of them comment to me directly. I also bet that many of those who sit in the bottom with computers are sometimes watching this kind of materials. I try to be comprehensive in that point. It is not easy for a regular professor tops such speakers. Needless to say that they are far more striking than reading and digesting the large volumes from one´s university library. So why should one go to college? This question has lately been swirling around in my head and I wanted to pose in class, with excellent results, by the way.
The truth is that one could stay at home watching online talks on the Internet, reading the best blogs and following the most influents thinkers of one´s specific discipline. Imagine you do that for as many years as a regular university degree lasts. Five hours a day from Monday to Friday. Would the results be the same? Would your personal development be the same? It seems difficult to answer such question positively. This is it because attending class is more than the above arguments. Here are the top eight reasons why you should attend class:
To have a “paper”. Without beat around the bush, attending class is likely to be one of the requirements to obtain the desirable title of graduate. It is actually an essential for many professors. In other words, it will conduct you to obtain a paper that proof that you have indeed attended university. There is somehow a materialistic reason, after all.
To acquire social skills. But it is not a materialist reason what makes attending class important. Taking part of discussions, the fact of stating your opinion, disagree or agree with your classmates, working in teams or paired off and listening other´s opinions are an essential part of any class session. Although it is true that this point strongly depend on how the classes are conducted by the professor.
To acquire social capital. Gaining a paper proving that you are economist or sociologist or whatever may be important to getting a job after graduating. However, it is no longer a guarantee of that. What might be, on the other hand, is the so called social capital, i.e. the amount of people you know that may in the future be part of you network or even your future employer, as well as the quality of such social relations. Do not discard to cooperate with many of your class mates in the future. The fact of having experienced together the same period of live in the university it is sometimes the top reason to start up new projects. This is something unachievable when watching YouTube videos. Not even the more and more common online university programs can equalize the power of physical university in that sense.
To acquire cultural capital. Strictly connected with social capital it is the so called cultural capital. The term was first introduced by the well know French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and refers to non-financial social assets. Examples can include education, the “university spirit”, intellect and style of speech, dress, body language or physical appearance. Attending university is more than acquiring new knowledge. It is a crucial period of life that shapes our identity as persons. Something that will distinguish you from other people and even from other faculties. It is well know the cultural difference between those who attend humanistic and technical degrees. All this things, in a long term, may make the difference in; for instance, promote yourself beyond economic means. In other words, your future employers may hire you not just thanks to your paper, but due to the fact that your way of behavior proof that indeed, you have attended university. This is especially true if we assume the increasing facility to obtain a “paper” nowadays. More and more non-conventional university degrees are proliferating all over the world. In two words, in occasions is just your bank account what separates you from having the “paper”. But this is not a guarantee of learning.
To have a routine. The globalization has brought us major flexibility to our everyday life. At contrary to our parents’ generation, working hours are no longer shared by the majority of the people in the same city. Night shifts, half time contracts, weekend university programs, etc. make it possible. Having an everyday routine may be something truly difficult. You may be excited about that idea. Should you like living differently every week, this life style may be your ideal. However, it is not clear that the lack of routine is always desirable. What is more, it can make you less productive since you sometimes cannot even predict your working hours the next week. Hence you cannot do things in advance. You cannot have your own plan. Attending class every day allows you to better organize your own life. Not only your class hours but also your sport time, social life, commuting, etc. This point brings up another important affair that I hope to address in the future: the convenience of attending university during the weekend. Such advantages as having a half time jobs appears. But to what extend one is not missing many of the advantages of everyday interaction, as mention above, social capital, social skills, etc.?
To be closely evaluated. New and moderns university formats, as online programs, have frankly improve in the way professors and students interact. Thouthough evaluations of students are also possible thanks to online platforms and chatting software. Skype is probably the best example. However, the distance between students and professors as well as among students makes the difference. It is especially true if we assume that the word evaluation is more than just grading students, but also remarking and commenting arguments and taking part of activities in class. As one of the students said in class, we all are mirrors of one another. Observing others is the best way to assess you.
Because “the medium is the message”. This phrase, coined by Marshall McLuhan (1987), expresses very well the importance of class attendance. It means that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbolic relationship which the medium influences how the message is perceived. In that context, the universe around university is still a dominant medium in comparison to others. Even if the messages are apparently less revealing than, for instance, TED Talks, they will likely have more effect on you as person and professional.
Because “too much information is nowadays worse than ignorance”. This idea, suggested by the well-known polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman tells us that nowadays accessing information is not a guarantee of wisdom. It was in the past, when knowledge was reserved to elites. But now, in the so called internet society, it does not make the difference anymore. At most you will be a “jack of all trades”. So what does now make the difference? Accessing the right knowledge. University programs are, somehow, a selection of the most relevant knowledge in a specific field. Everything cover in classes are somehow part of a whole designed by specialist in a given matter.
Are you perhaps thinking of more reasons? Let us know your opinion.