Now that Megan Garber is in place with Alexis Madrigal and Rebecca Rosen over at The Atlantic Tech, it feels a little bit like a major magazine — I don’t know, say The New Yorker — decided to adopt Snarkmarket as its tech, media, and tech/media culture blog.
Since I’m technically a rival, like, it’s one thing to admire them, in a “man, those creeps can roll” sense, or to feel like the posts were written just for me, but yet another to have that uncanny shock of recognition when you see someone doing something that’s somehow more you than you.
Take this Garber story on Thursday’s iBooks announcement, “A Brief History of Textbooks, or, Why Apple’s ‘New Textbook Experience’ Is Actually Revolutionary.” Take the title and the first blockquote — James Bowen’s A History of Western Education, which in turn namechecks Donatus’ grammar, from the 4th century — and it totally seems like Garber is going for the full Carmody. Like, more Carmody than Carmody.
But! Keep reading, because Garber’s going to fool you. She’s actually coming with the full Sloan:
But! That bit of ordinariness is exactly what makes Apple’s education play so transformative. The defining element of textbooks, up to now, has been their commodity status: Being standardized, they’re also impersonal. They’re transient. They’re given to you at the beginning of the school year; you give them back at the end. (Or, worse: You buy them at the beginning of the school year; you sell them back at the end.) Textbooks are not, in any meaningful sense, yours.
In all that, they enforce the notion of the student as a cog and of learning as a machine, and effectively frame education as, first and foremost, an act of consumption rather than exploration. Memorize something — check. Take the test to prove you’ve learned that something — check. Check and check and check.
Inspiring, no? But it’s an approach that’s been as necessary as it’s been frustrating: In an analog environment, wisdom is contingent on memorized information. You have to know things before you can understand things. (Or, as Jay Rosen might put it, “You’ve gotta grok it before you can rock it.”)
Wait, was that Matt Thompson’s kung fu style sneaking in at the end there?… Turn it off, turn it off! It’s all just TOO REAL.