One of my favourite institutions to visit is the Bodleian’s Weston Library in Oxford. I have written before about their rotating exhibition in the Treasury of unique books and manuscripts from their collection [see my post entitled ‘Pope and Austen‘ on September 9th, 2015]. A recent visit did not disappoint and included one of John Le Carré’s manuscripts showing his extensive editing as well as early texts written on birch bark. However, it was in the shop that something really caught my eye. The fusion of art and engineering in a postcard depicting a painting called ‘The red crane’, by artist in residence, Dr Weimen He, capturing the moments in time during the refurbishment of the library. This level of fusion is rare in my experience and perhaps the ethos that created it is one of the reasons the Weston Library is such a pleasure to visit.
The Roman architect, Vitruvius identified the three principles of good structural design to be ‘firmitas, utilitas, venustas’ or durability, utility and beauty. Too often utility, including value for money, trumps beauty and shortens horizons for durability; so that little is contributed to our culture and nothing worthwhile will be left for future generations.
BTW there is a very large bookshop next door to the Weston Library and I couldn’t resist buying ‘The Story of a Brief Marriage‘ by Anuk Arudpragasam. It’s a beautiful novel of consciousness about love and war.
I am on vacation so I am re-posting something I wrote around this time last year which I still think is relevant.
It’s official – half of us are addicted to our internet-connected devices and a third of us have attempted to kick the addiction. A recent study by the UK’s communication regulator, OFCOM found that 59% of internet users considered themselves ‘hooked’ and spending the equivalent of more than a day a week on-line. They also reported that one in three internet users have attempted a ‘digital detox’ with a third saying they felt more productive afterwards, while slightly more that a quarter found it liberating and another quarter said they enjoyed life more. So, switch off all of your devices, take a deep vacation, do some off-line reading (see my post entitled ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014), slow down and breathe your own air (see my post entitled ‘Slow down, breathe your own air‘ on December 23rd, 2015). Now, you won’t find many blogs advising you to stop reading them!
Health warning: OFCOM also found that 16% of ‘digital detoxers’ experienced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out’ (‘FOMO’), 15% felt lost and 14% ‘cut-off’.
Technology enables us to do more in a period of time. A classic example is the washing-machine that requires you to do little more than load your dirty clothes and switch it on rather than laboriously wash, scrub and rinse each item repeatedly. It costs less time to do the same thing and so we experience time-deflation. It’s the same as with money: if you can buy two hamburgers today for the price of one yesterday then there has been some deflation. In these circumstances, it becomes less important to have a large income because the necessities of life have reduced in price, and so you could work less hard, start saving more (but for what?) or buy some of life’s luxuries. However, the analogy between time and money breaks down at this point, because you can’t reduce your supply of time or save it, you have to spend it. But advancing technology means nearly everything costs less time and so it gets harder and harder to spend your alloted time. Many of us react by trying to do more and more diverse activities, and often simultaneously, with the result that we over-compensate for time-deflation and become bankrupt, or burnt out wrecks.
We can cheat technology’s deflating effect by pursuing activities that involve no time-saving technology such as walking, reading, thinking and spending time with our loved ones. In the last case, the clue is in the phraseology!
BTW – I will be on deep vacation by the time you read this post. Amongst other things, I will be curing my tsundoko by reading the books I bought in Camden Lock Books earlier in the summer [see my post entitled ‘Tsundoko‘ on May 24th 2017].
A few weeks ago, I listened to a brilliant talk by Professor Rick Miller, President of Olin College. He was talking at a conference on ‘New Approaches to Higher Education’. He tolds us that the most common job description for recent Olin graduates was ‘user experience designer’ rather than a particular branch of engineering. Aren’t all engineers, user experience designers? We design, manufacture and maintain structures, machines, goods and services for society. Whatever an engineer’s role in supplying society with the engineered environment around us, the ultimate deliverable is a user experience in the modern vernacular.
Rick Miller’s point was that society is changing faster than our education system. He highlighted that the relevance of the knowledge economy had been destroyed by internet search engines. There is no longer much advantage to be gained by having an enormous store of knowledge in your head, because much more is available on-demand via search engines, whose recall is faster than mine. What matters is not what you know but what you can do with the knowledge. And in the future, it will be all about what you can conceive or create with knowledge. So, knowledge-intensive education should become a thing of the past and instead we need to focus on creative thinking and produce problem-solvers capable of dealing with complexity and uncertainty.