Saturday, May 5, 2012

Friday Grab Bag: Everything has its bandwagon; Reading is Fun

Ok, it's a Friday Grab Bag on a Saturday, but there should be nothing surprising about that.

Item 1.  A brief email exchange.  I had just come for a public urban planning effort looking at Kendall Square.  It was sponsored by the Venture Cafe at the Cambridge Innovation Center, a place for which I have a lot of respect.  A friend then sent me a Harvard Business Review blog post entitled If You're Not Pissing Someone Off, You're Probably Not Innovating.

At the afternoon of breakout sessions I had just attended, I observed this famed eco-system of innovators in action.  Now, to come clean, I have trumpeted the notion that there exists a special combination of "place + people" that is the catalytic yeast of this innovation world.  I do this from my vantage point of some distance. Cambridge has its special "magic", or so I claim in my blog posts.  I also report others who make the same assertions.  But trumpets should be paired with pins, pins to prick the pretensions and any blind credulity that we are capable of adopting at any given moment. Of course, eco-systems, if they exist, are just that -- eco-systems. They have pecking orders.  They are places where whole forests of life can exist, with all the differentiation and variation contained therein. What followed was this brief email exchange with my friend:

And, this whole "innovation" world is very weird.  There are some truly creative people in the bunch, including a very cool woman CEO (yay women CEOs) who started a Cambridge company called pixability.  But I tell you, for some of these folks, it's just group think.  35 years ago, these same people all would have been lying on couches smoking dope with hair down to their waistbands.  The true innovators are very few, I hate to say.  But that is true in everything, n'est pas?

My Friend:
Yes- I think you are right about the ‘innovators’ – everything ‘cool’ has its bandwagon.
*    *    *

Item 2. A brief observation on the world.  A recent radio program was addressing the question of online  learning.  The guest was noting that web-based learning works better in some situations than others.  Math exercises can be graded by computers since typically there is an answer to a math problem.  But, the commentator continued, computers are not yet as capable as humans in grading essays on topics in the humanities. 

Something about this statement struck me as completely backwards. 

It is as if we are now trying to adjust ourselves and our behaviors to make the lives of computers easier.  It seemed Orwellian, man becoming the servant of machine.  Wrong end forward. The point of writing an essay is not to determine if the algorithm for grading is sophisticated enough to come up with an accurate grade for it.  The point of writing an essay is to explore ideas and develop understandings of things. This is not about keeping the computers happy. This is about developing human capacities.