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Conversations on Technology, Literacy and Culture

Michael Benedikt
Architecture Professor, Director of the Center for American Architecture and Design, Editor of Cyberspace: First Steps
June 29, 2000

M: ...so what we're doing is designing the 5-year strategic plan for it, and kind of gathering peoples' opinions and views on things like - what you spoke about in the article on "Gresham's Law." But also, a lot of the issues that you covered in your introduction in _Cyberspace: First Steps_. That seemed to me like a really - actually, a Liberal Arts view on - historical aspects, at least - of the trends -

MB: Have you read the book called _Cybercultures Reader_? (M: no) (goes to get a copy from his bookshelf) I have a reprint that's pretty fresh, so you'd have to get your own copy, but it's like, a total Liberal Arts view. (M: great) It's like a textbook for Liberal Arts. Take a look at the contents - (we look through the book)

M: Have you found that the "threads" that you wrote about, are still - (MB: Yeah, all the time) - still a useful way of thinking about it?

MB: People write to me and write about it all the time. (M: I'm sure I'll probably share that article with others) Yeah, but there's a critique of me in there - (gesturing to book) (M: by...) a few; well, if you look up my name, Benedikt, at the back, there are about five or six pages by other people - in the index, I mean, at the back. You don't have to do it now, but - Yeah, people say the "thread" thing is, I kind of "made up," or it's not really history, or something. I think it's history, so - it's not a historian's history, but it's a cultural history, and I would stand by it. But you need to know that, people didn't just go lie down and say, "Oh, Benedikt is right!" (M: sure) There were a few - a few writers even accused me of being - a polly-anna, of being sort of - overly optimistic. And it's true, when I wrote _Cyberspace_, I was sort of like - (M: it was quite a while ago) yeah, ten years, and just remember, this was before the World Wide Web. You will not find the words "World Wide Web" in that whole book. And the last sentence in that introduction is, that there would be billions of dollars to be made by those people who get this right. Like I could just see it, man - it was clear! That this was going to be a massive economic phenomenon.

M: And what we have now is just kind of a - it's really not what you were speaking about -

MB: No, we don't have cyberspace. What we have is a gigantic drug-store magazine rack.

M: Can you kind of expand on those "threads"? (MB: I can't remember what they were! (laughs) I can't expand them! I said all I can say about those threads. What do you mean by 'expand on them'? Tell the story again?) Well, because this is - strangely enough, you're not just speaking to me, I'm going to transcribe them, and people will read them, so - (MB: I need to be careful what I say?) No - this is going to be - we're finding common threads, on how people are viewing what's going on, and actually, I spoke with someone two days ago that really kind of summed it up for me at least, that, at UT there's not a coordinated effort to really look at what we're doing with technology. It's kind of a given - "if it works, it's good," and, so I think that your view is a really good tie-in of so much from the past - (MB: yeah) what myths play in, what stories -

MB: So actually, if you actually read my other chapter in there, there are lots of places where I'm skeptical - where I sort of say, "watch out." Everybody's going to spend more time looking at the screen than anything else. Watch out - there's gonna be privacy problems. I'd love - but that's not in the introduction. It's in the second half of the chapter. And I had a kind of "constitution." Like, what I thought the "laws" should be - like the "Laws of Indifference," "Personal Visibility," and - well, "Personal Visibility" hasn't happened. It's a shame - it'd be much better - if everywhere you went - (M: when you see there's so-and-so number of users at this site and - ) Yeah, but what we ought to see is a actually a little "mark" for every single one of them. I'm told it's a computational difficulty - it would increase the load on the network tremendously. Cos right now, when you ask for a page, you get the page, and it's "sayonara." You have to keep pinging - "are you still there? are you still there? are you still there?" Well, when we get broadband, that might not be such a hard thing to do - seeing as it's a very simple question - "are you there?" (M: what's the benefit of that?) Oh! Cos it means like, when you go to a 'site, you can see how many people are at the 'site. Not just the number - "there are 3 people at this site" - or 3,000, or there're 300 at this 'site. But if you click on any one of those dots, you will get a little bit of information about who they are. And that's just like in the world, right? You go into the world, and there's someone talking, or someone selling something - there's a little crowd. It's like being on campus, right? You go to a store - there are people in the store. If you drive past a store, you can count the cars in the lot - right? The idea that there are people out there! Kind of - really essential to democracy - it's not - it's like being in a park; I mean, cyberspace is a public place. This (pointing to his computer) is an extremely private experience. This is like people in a porn shop, in overcoats, just like leafing through things with themselves, and getting little counters about how many people have been there - that helps, a little bit - but the idea of social co-presence! Once that happens, I think a lot of things will develop. That hasn't started - or happened, yet. People think it's a kind of a luxury. Putting on my prophet hat - p-r-o - spelled both ways! (facetious) -p-h-e-t and -f-i-t! Real-time social co-presence - which is the sort of thing you now get with online chat - but actually, less than that, but more that just looking at webpages. I think it will have a trememdousy, just liberating effect. But, it'll take time. We need the bandwidth.

M: In the article you sent me about "Gresham's Law" - tell me a little about your concerns about instructional technologies.

MB: Yeah, I just think that distance education is a crock. And it's a niche that's going to be occupied by really second-rate institutions. Fortunately, Gresham's Law says if the world accepts the degrees offered by what are essentially correspondence schools - you know, correspondence schools are not that new. We've had correspondence school since the 19th century. It helps people who are stuck at home, it helps people who can't get feet, there'll be some that are OK. And I'm not sure whether it'll be better to get a degree from a good correspondence school, or a degree from a really lousy community college. Maybe - at some point, one's to say, one's better than the other. But in general, this online learning, distance learning, it's just correspondence school education. And I think there's tremendous pressure to go for it, because it saves money. If X is the same - if you think X is the same as Y, and X is cheaper than Y, X wins. And so in order to prevent that from happening, we have to keep asking ourselves, how is X different to Y? Why is it cheaper? Usually - my Mom used to say, "What's cheap is expensive." If you do the accounting correctly.

M: What would we be losing if that were to be a potential -

MB: Oh, there's an enormous amount of information that people transmit to eachother face-to-face. Conversations - I mean, this tape is going to contain our words, but it's not going to contain our attitudes - and if it's typed it's going to be even worse, even this. I mean, how many times have you found that you said the wrong thing in e-mail? (M: plenty!) People write things in e-mail, and they're full of emotion - positive, let's say - and then, wonder why they get taken wrong, and then you have to do three more e-mails about - saying, "Oh! That's not what I meant - I was trying to be funny! I wasn't trying to be critical, you should - That wasn't the way I said it!" It has even less information in it than handwritten correspondence, because in handwritten correspondence you can tell by people's handwriting. But in e-mail, you've gotta do those smiles - smiley-faces, just to sort of try to increase the emotional content. Or the emotional specificity. Like - "Oh I'm being ironic - I'm being funny - This is a quote - This is me doing a voice!" People who do MUDs have learned how to do that, throw that in, but it's quite a lot of overhead. So, and there are things about - which gets back to the social presence, I guess - serendipity, on campus. We go to a real library, and you browse it at 400 times the rate you could browse it at Amazon. And, what's more, the actual thing is there. You open it, you read it, you're not getting any advertising! (laugh) But - the people you meet on campus, the things that you see, the things that you hear that you didn't intend to hear - it all adds a tremendous thickness to the experience. I mean, the online experience is not going to be like that for quite awhile. (M: A lot of serendipity, informal interaction - ) Right. So, I think the first courses that could probably go online, and not suffer too much, would be like those certifications that you've got to - every three years, you're supposed to prove that you remember something, and about your license. And that - where there's really not a great deal of intellectual content. It's kind of a test, a check, "refresher" sort of deal. And then there'll be sort of community college stuff, as well, so. Where basically, you just read a book. You just read a book and do the test. And you can do that online. (laugh)

M: I took a composition class, but I don't remember it at all. (MB: college?) Yeah, I got the credit for it, but there was no experience that I - (MB: You did it online?) Yeah, it was a community college writing class. I just don't remember it! (MB: Because no one - couldn't - ) Making sure that I can write.

MB: Well, you couldn't see anyone's faces as they read it. You couldn't hear how their voice wraped around your words. That's one of the most thrilling things in the world. If you give somebody something you wrote, and they read it - you can't get a bigger thrill than that! Imagine being a playwrite, it must be really thrilling.

M: Yeah, I'm sure - I'm really interested in (garbled) dichotomy - buildings, physical locality, physical interactions that people have - and how, you said somewhere that in working virtually, we clarify the aspects of the physical - the benefits of -

MB: Yeah, well, I was being hopeful! (laugh) I think it's possible to lose touch with reality, too. But, I take some comfort in - what was it - a concept called "High-tech, high-touch." John Nesbitt wrote a book, a futurist book, oh, about five, six years ago. And the idea was, as the world became more and more just, typing, talking, that people become more interested in how things feel to their bodies, they become body-centric. To some extent, I think he was right. If you just take the popularity of sports, working out in gyms, REI, camping - you know, the whole sort of camping things - I mean - fashions - SUVs - I mean, some of it is just a yearning expressed through fashion consumption. (M: Compens-) Compensatory - Compensatory is the word you're looking for. Yeah! It's like, I might sit in an office all day, but I wear hiking boots under the desk. Or, this weekend, I'm gonna climb a rockface. Or, you know, I'm actually a surfer. So, some bunch of people - especially, sort of, the "wired" generation likes to think of themselves - like, I think the latest issue of _Wired_ had a huge section on outdoor sports. So, you know, these are people who fancy that they're just as physical as they are mental, and that the one sort of creates the need for another. I mean, it's hard to imagine a carpenter, or a plumber, or an exterminatin' guy, or a tree-surgeon, who on the weekend, you know, hikes, or whatever. (pause) They're want to watch TV, or go to the Web! (M: The other way around!) Yeah, so, you know, there's a certain amount of wisdom in the body, which says, "I haven't done this, I need to do that." Now, whether you can build a whole cultural system on that dichotomy, between the physical and the virtual, and just admit that a lot of work is kept virtual, and therefore, we have to go to the gym, or we get fat, and all that stuff. I don't think we can build a whole culture that way, because I think a lot of - the number of people that take care of both ends equally and well, I think are a very tiny minority. A huge number of people just get fat, basically, like me, just cos they can't stop looking at the screen - movie screens, TV screens, computer screen, magazine, page screens -

M: Is that sort of an aspect of isolation - is isolation an aspect of these - (MB: social isolation?) yes (MB: well, what do you think? you're the generation that's supposed to have grown up in bedrooms, and bought guitars and computers -) I'll tell you that, I first used - I got a modem to use the _Habitat_ beta, and I can tell you that was I was pretty isolated for a long time, and it just gradually dawned on me that it was really important to meet the people I was talking to, on the other side of the screen, and so, now, it's just a given that it's extremely social, and I meet most of the people I meet online. (MB: you meet them online?) in person! (MB: which you had met for the first time - ) Actually, it's almost definite when we're with a specific social network - I might meet somebody first in person, and - (MB: which do you prefer, do you have any preferences?) no - (MB: It's less of a surprise when you meet them online, whom you've met face-to face) It's much less of a (gesturing to head) there's less of an imagined persona then - (MB: you're just as surprised, one way or the other? I would just imagine, with people you meet online, and then meet face-to-face, it's much more of a shock, as to who they are.) Oh, yeah!

MB: I mean, if you meet people face-to-face, and then you write to them online, it's like you know who you're talking to, right? Well, that's an important assymetry, I would suggest. It's not a two-way street, it's sort of a one-and-a-half-way street. You know, or it's a downhill street, it's an uphill one way, downhill the other.

M: It's interesting, if you're with a friend all the time, in person, and they talk about a friend whom you've only met online, but they went to high school together, or something, that sort of, makes the dichotomy less sharp. Familiarity - but with somebody that you've know completely and only online, you develop a persona that's not necessarily - (MB: yeah, yeah, you're sure they're wearing black t-shirts! (gestures to his black shirt) (laugh))

MB: what high school did you go to? (M: Stratford, in Houston) Stratford High - and was it built recently? (M: The 70s - It's one of those that was built like in the "open classroom" stages of - there're no windows - and the building is really a fortress, but there's - everything is all - all the walls inside were added, ten years after they built it; originally, I guess at that time, the pedagogy was -) yeah, the idea was, just partition, but there was nothing - the acoustics was dreadful. But no windows, huh? (M: no!) That drive you crazy? (M: yep) How did you respond to that? (M: Skipped school!) Did you? (laugh) (M: yeah - ) I'm writing a whole piece about high schools, that's why I'm interested.

(assistant enters; pause for MB to sign papers for assistant)

MB: yeah, so - I'm writing about high schools, and I'm talking about what I call "place machismo," which is, you develop a thick skin towards how awful places can be. And environmentally - and my argument is that it's created a whole - several generations of kids who don't know what a nice place feels like. (M: right) And, basically, because of high school. (M: I'm sure there's places like that in Austin.) oh, there's dozens! (M: but, the place I went to had no windows. Maybe in the drama room - the art department had a little balcony - ) And the place sounded like a prison, right - just like a constant "din!" coming down the halls, with lockers, and - (M: And it's - I had to wonder - there was not much thought going into the feeling qualities of being there.) Did you have gardens? (M: there were courtyards - ) Did you have courtyards? (M: Yeah, though you were completely surrounded by three-story - ) blank wall. (M: blank wall, yeah.) Did you ever want to sit in that courtyard? (M: Well, it was better than the cafeteria (laugh)) If you wanted to get together with two or three friends, and just like, just be with eachother, shoot the breeze, where would you go? (M: while we were on campus? we'd just go outside of the school, as far as we could, while remaining legitimately on campus!) where you allowed off campus during lunchtime? (M: I don't think so - ) did your school have lots of electives? (M: oh, sure, sure) Like every kid is doing a slightly different - band - so any one class might be - it's like kind of like college, right - any one class could be a bunch of people doing - at some other point, for some other reason - and of course it was co-ed, right? (M: yeah) lots of freedom? (M: relatively - ) See, my argument is, you had lots of freedom behaviourally, but the building treated you like prisoners. I went to a school - (M: that wouldn't be too far from the truth - ) I went to a school (laugh) where our behaviour was extremely - corporeal punishment, the whole class was going together, military training, things like - you know, very un-American - uniforms. But the building was fabulous. We had columnated courtyards, and windows that opened in every room, the whole building set in gardens, playing fields, lots of places to hang out, you know? (M: So the buildings made you feel - ) The buildings made you feel free, and dignified, though the behaviour was very strict. Here, we let the kids kind of go wild, in a way, and then, we have have to build insane asylums to like, prevent them from tearing the place down! (laugh) But, I can see why you'd want to escape a world like that into a virtual one. I can see the attraction of TV - it's funner - to have your head. And computers, now computers, you know - music, and cellphones, and drugs, all that.

M: And that's an important force in virtuality? (MB: so, yeah - put that in your pipe and smoke it! (pause) so, do you have any more questions?)

M: I wanted to - you've talked about "cyberspace architects." I don't know what if the architecture school addresses this -

MB: It did for a long time, but we don't right now. But for a little - about ten years, we had more than one person who - that did just wonderful virtual building. Yeah, and his name was Marcus Novak, and a - he didn't get tenure, because his work was too fantastic. That's not really - that's not why. What complicated it - the bottom line is - his work wasn't conventional enough - this institution wasn't that ready for it. So, we hosted him here; he did a lot of good work here. But yeah, there was all kinds of, sort of virtual architecture going on. Right now, but what's going on is, the communication lines aren't fast enough to transmit these worlds. I mean, if you think a page takes ten seconds to download, imagine how long it takes to download a world. If you're playing a video game - online gaming - the world - even then, where do you think the world is? The world is on your hard drive. And all you're sending to other people is, you know, where you are, and what direction you've shot in. (laugh) But everything else is done locally - the character rendering, the place rendering - all of those things. Maybe that can continue in the future, but, when we have broadband, you know, real events in the place itself can be transmitted. With places to hang out; people begin to find some different worlds and contant eachother and get together, because there's another world (garbled) - so I think that's coming. It's coming.

M: Do you think the University is fulfilling the need for designers - (MB: no, not at all!) Well, what kind of an an education would a -

MB: Oh, an architectural education. I would put it - If I were to make a degree - If I said, put a degree program that would create virtual worlds - social worlds - (M: yeah.) Art, RTF, Architecture, maybe some people from Computer Science, we'd need some deep-level programming. The Computer Science people tend not to have much imagination. Creative imagination - they're creative in their own way. But, and our Computer Science department is very, very hardware driven. Not that they don't have software people - they're about making computers go faster.

M: Now, along those lines, do you find that there's a place for an education akin to your "threads," where there's a -

MB: oh yeah, oh yeah. I've said the four threads were - I mean, I can see a course in each, you know - 301, 302, and 303, or whatever. So you'd have to flesh it out with right readings - yeah, absolutely. (M: ethics ?) Maybe the ethics takes a bit of philosophy. I don't know that the four threads cover ethics. (M: I was just expanding on the Liberal Arts aspect of it, and how - ) Well, you know, the idea of, for example, a sort of literature, a literature of magical environments - trans - It's not just science-fiction, it goes back into mythology, and that could make a fine course. So with, you know, the map-making story, the math story, so with the architectural history story.

M: That's what I think is significant - that cyberspace, or, whatever you want to call what we're talking about, as an ancient project (MB: yes, absolutely) and about the value of that conversation in the education for "cyberspace architects."

MB: Yeah, very. When I was really into it, in the mid-90s, I was teaching courses in it, there were kids from all over campus coming to it. We did projects - there were 5 or 6 different people around - I mean, they're still there, but, you know, they're doing their own thing, now. All that stuff is important. But I think that cyberspace will get its second breath of life - right now, it's just a word. Right now, it's just a - it's actually a hyperbole. A hyperbole for life online - web-life. But one day it won't be a hyperbole, just like Jules Verne knew we were going to go to the moon - he didn't know when or where or how, but he had the basics right. (M: Cyberspace is a myth) Yeah, cyberspace is a myth. And you know, we can get ready for it in various ways. I mean there's - it does - there's still more technology difference. Computers are five times faster than when I was writing that book - but you know, we need the computers maybe 50 times faster, we need bandwidths maybe, 500 T1 lines to every computer, 50 T1 lines to every computer, that's just a fiber optic feed to every computer - now you're talking. Screen resolution, at least 2000, maybe 3000 pixels. (M: It was pretty idealistic - like how much you were looking forward to it) (laugh) well, because it was psychological? yeah - (M: yeah, I mean, no one now would be able to use - ) Yeah, well I can tell you the biggest problem, I think, behind all of this, is the scarce resource - human attention. The fact is, people, I don't think, can take much more. It's like we're - people actually and totally bamboozled by the ocean of information out there. And I don't know that they're gonna swim in it any better than they are now - that's what I'm worried about.

M: Do you see that as a role of the designer?

MB: no, I mean, people only hear sound-bytes, they don't finish newspaper articles, they buy books but they don't really read books, and they books they don't read are like 8th grade-level books. They'll read in airports, and they'll read on planes, but I don't know - and I'm like Mr. Intellectual, I have smart friends - I don't know anyone, today, who like on a Saturday afternoon, sits in a chair at 2 o'clock, and picks up a book, and reads it 'till 5 o'clock, getting up to the bathroom, have a cup of coffee. (M: I do - but I'm weird.) You are weird! (laugh) how many friends do that? (M: I hang out with some bookish people) Are they reading decent books, or (M: sure!) is it sort of sci-fi stuff? (M: oh, don't knock sci-fi (laugh) - but, all kinds of stuff - a couple of friends are pretty serious writers, also, so they're constantly trying to find literature - ) Well, I really think there's a scarcity out there - a scarcity of attention. Getting attention, keeping attention, having people actually work at reading books. I mean, the hey-day of the book, you know, was maybe, first half of the century, last half of the 19th - the invention of the novel, and the rest of it. It was possible for a while to be - for an educated person to have read the "major works." And each country, maybe a dozen authors that everyone read - and you talked about them, and you knew about them - and you got literature courses, and you read them. And so you can go back in time, and sort of pretend you live there, read your Zola and your Stendahl and your Tolstoy, and you get the feeling that you're moving - you have a big conversation going on, you know, between France and Russia (moving hands as if across a map) you know. But, can you do that know?

M: You have to seek out that conversation, I'm sure -

MB: I think people are like blasted, and blasted, by radio, by TV, by movies, by newspapers - look what's on the magazine racks - I mean, people don't read magazines. Magazines are too much for them. In the doctor's office, waiting for a haircut, at an airport - people will read half the magazine article. How long do you think people stay on a page? You know they've got some statistics somewhere, that if anything is underlined on a page, people will click it before they've read the paragraph. Just because it's so cool to see something else happen.

M: So that's an aspect of what you think doesn't work about information tech - not just that it's - the absence of a lot of the good things about a physical campus, but (MB: its incredible distractive power) it's distractive -

MB: Yeah - now, if you were doing it - If I were doing an online course in order to get credit, in order to get a degree, in order to - you know, in other words, if I was strongly motivated, and I had to write an exam, I suppose I could - I suppose you could expect people to like, read 20 pages online, then do something about it, carefully. But that's not the average online experience. I mean, they talk about - site designers talk about "stickiness." You know - just getting people to stay! It's one thing to come to your site (M: sure, yeah) but the average stay on a web-site, is like 7 seconds. You ever watched a bee going to flowers? That's about it. If you can't get the juice in one little - get the pollen in this one little visit, you're out of there. Music is going to be given away - MP3? I don't know how musicians are going to make money ten years from now. (M: somehow they still do it!) Well, we're in a transition now. (M: Do you think that's going to replace the physical medium?) More and more. Or it's going to slide to the edges of it. I mean, there'll be survivors. Theatre is still around, but there's less of it. There'll be books. Everything will be OK, if you happen to be a lucky islander - or a caveman. But the edges are all going to be chomped up by an ocean of free, semi-free information carrying out the tide - screaming at you. I don't know what your program is going to do about that! (laugh)

M: It sounds like there's a lot of mixed feelings -

MB: mixed feelings, very mixed feelings. you know, I embrace - everything will be OK - we made a for a couple billion years, we'll probably make it some more, you know? And I do, I welcome the future, I embrace the future, but I really - I guess, I radically feel that the future is up to us. There is no such thing as "the future." That's why it's called "the future." It's like - no one's been there, no one's come back from it, understand? It doesn't exist. The future is not like a carpet that's all rolled up and then you just like, kick it, and it unrolls itself. It doesn't - it's not predetermined and just hidden from you, and unfurling for you. The thing is it's a carpet that's being woven as we do it. And so the design that it has actually depends on what we do. It's totally, totally up to you, and me, and him, how the future works out. And so when you have fears or concerns about the balance of the virtual to the real, or whatever, the competition for attention, or where these four threads go, they actually don't go anywhere - they just go up to now. How the four threads go, it totally up to us - totally. And when you realize the responsibility you have in making the future come out, it makes you think. I mean, you can't sit back and let other people make it for us. So, I say I have concerns, because I want people to hear those concerns, to say, "wait a minute, we can do something about that!" If I'm the president of this University, I think I might just pick up the phone and say, "You know that online initiative - the distance learning? Why don't we think about using that money for something else? Or why don't we review the courses - I'd like a committee that reviews what courses we put online there - I'd like to be sure that we're not losing the educational value - (M: right, right) You know what I mean? That's an action that comes from a caution that the future doesn't roll out the way you fear it will roll out. But a lot of people are technologically fatalist. "Oh, it's going to happen, you can see it! You know, get used it!" You know, "Dig a hole, find out where you can ride it out! See if there's a place you can make some money!"

(flipped tape)

M: What place is there for computers at the University besides administrative?

MB: Ah, I see you citing that article. Yeah, computers in research, computers in movie-making and the arts, yeah. Computers in payroll, library management - I don't have a problem with any of that. My god, my life - I couldn't work without a computer. So yeah. But, so you know - I mean you say, why draw the line at being educated online, being educated by computer - I just say, be careful. I'm not saying you can't do it. I'm just saying, don't throw out the baby with the - don't kid yourself that it's the same thing. (M: yeah, yeah. I'm curious to know how - ) I mean take something like payroll. Like checking, like say, 50 years ago. You know, three clerks, hand-wrote checks to everyone, and they had a big ledger to, everytime they'd write out in their ledger. OK, maybe they had nice lives, made good money doing that, but I don't - I personally don't see a really great loss by having a computer have all the records of a paycheck, do all the calculations without fault; the deductions, right? I think the world's a better place when computers will do that - it's drudgework. But learning? Is that drudgework? I'd say that's one of the points of life. To sort of call it drudgework and then find a way to streamline it, is totally backward.

M: (garbled question about how MB uses computers in his teaching)

MB: Oh, I think right now they're a good way to tell a class you're going to be late. (laugh) I'm just being facetious. I get - I usually get all of my students e-mail addresses and - but I meet them to teach them. But I often get e-mail from them about logistical stuff. "What was that address? I didn't get the name of the book you recommended. Here's the reading list. I'll be in my office Thursday at 3." Particular students with particular problems they might have - they might have, I'll answer a question. "Yesterday you said yadda-yadda-yadda I didn't quite get it." I won't sit down 45 minutes composing a perfect reply, but I will usually, do give a few - So in other words, it's a way of keeping some conversation going between meeting periods, and I think that's valid. It's like the web in the duck's foot - sort of low-level, it's low-level, and it builds between the peaks (gesturing webbed foot). And it keeps people feeling like they're "in the class." You know. And that the teacher's there - And it beats being called on the phone. So, there's a use for it, a place for it. (M: Do you find you have more contact with your students?) But I would never invert it - I would never, I don't think. Well, put the course online, and just occaisionally read it.

M: Yeah, yeah. I was going to ask if you feel you have more connection with your students -

MB: Because of the online? Well, you know, architecture's a little different. I teach small groups, with long hours of contact in the studios. Do you have any friends in the architecture school?

M: No, but I've heard quite a lot about it from a couple other interviews that I've done. Seems like what I've been thinking is that the TLC model could learn a lot from an architecture studio.

MB: Well, what makes it incredibly rich, over and above - I mean, we need to think about how attention - I don't know how deeply you want to think about it, but attention has a dual, aspect, what you might call "addression." (laugh) Addression. (M: Addression) Yeah, not aggression (laugh) - (M: one of your coined phrases?) Yeah! Addression, that is, the ability to - one is addressed. Right - one pays attention, but one is addressed. Addressing someone is how you get their attention. But well - it's like the opposite side of attention. You're getting attention. So, how people are addressed. Now, what goes on in the studio is extemely high levels of both. It's 15 people, maybe, and a teacher, in one room, and high powers of attention. And now, in this world, there are people who will barely finish reading a paragraph before they have to keep on going, or do something else - that is a huge amount of attention, a whole world of attention, that the students give eachother, that the teacher gives the students. And any number of times, eyes meet; a number of times, your work gets talked about, you know? It's a swimming pool of attention. In other words, love, but it's attention, which is, thought - (M: that sounds like an important aspect of your own - ) Yeah, but you ask who many teachers in the English department who would like to spend nine hours a week, in a - in front of a creative writing class. Which is what we're basically doing. So, you know, it's - a lot of people have looked at architectural studio as a model, of how almost everything should be taught. But, you just have to know that it's an expensive proposition, attention-wise, and money-wise. And I can have one teacher talk to 200 people in an auditorium, (garbled) and after the 10th time I've taught it - it's a 1-hour lecture, but I can just about recite - that's efficient. (laugh)

M: It's not quite as - you actually don't expend nearly as much energy - (MB: the teacher - the lecturer, you mean?) yeah.

MB: Probably not. The kind of interchange that goes on in the studio, though, it's often quite casual. It's very Socratic. You know, we talk, you know, I say something, and then, they laugh, and then - "oh yeah?" And then - have you been in a seminar? (M: an architecture seminar?) no, just a - (M: round-table?) yeah. So, that's going on in the room where the work is going on, you know. Yeah, if you guys could put together a core sequence which was called, "the culture studio" or something like that, in which there was always something being created by the students, and there'd be a - the teacher is like a coach, you know, who's committed to being there. They don't necessarily need to be that prepared, they just need to be there, and care. So you're more like a coach, a mentor. Yeah, that'd be a nice way to build a - but I don't think online is a substitute. I guess that's what I'm saying; in other words, that kind of continuuous pinging each-other and talking. That sort of a co-presence is like a drop compared to what goes on in the studios.

M: I think that people just teach eachother different techniques, also, like that, it happens on its own. I mean, you could get a book on JAVA or something, and teach yourself, but it's so much harder.

MB: Yeah, because you learn together. Like in the studio, I'll tell one kid, "Here's how you do this, that or the other"; two hours later I'll come back, they all know it. (laugh) Someone said, "Hey, did he just say what to with the - ?" "Yeah, he said - !" And a third person - "Oh, I didn't know - !" "Yeah, you could!" "Really?" "Yeah!" And it's around the studio...

 

 

 

 

 

" I just think that distance education is a crock. And it's a niche that's going to be occupied by really second-rate institutions. Fortunately, Gresham's Law says if the world accepts the degrees offered by what are essentially correspondence schools - you know, correspondence schools are not that new. We've had correspondence school since the 19th century. It helps people who are stuck at home, it helps people who can't get feet, there'll be some that are OK. And I'm not sure whether it'll be better to get a degree from a good correspondence school, or a degree from a really lousy community college. Maybe - at some point, one's to say, one's better than the other. But in general, this online learning, distance learning, it's just correspondence school education. And I think there's tremendous pressure to go for it, because it saves money. If X is the same - if you think X is the same as Y, and X is cheaper than Y, X wins. And so in order to prevent that from happening, we have to keep asking ourselves, how is X different to Y? Why is it cheaper? Usually - my Mom used to say, "What's cheap is expensive." If you do the accounting correctly. "

 

Addression, that is, the ability to - one is addressed. Right - one pays attention, but one is addressed. Addressing someone is how you get their attention. But well - it's like the opposite side of attention. You're getting attention. So, how people are addressed. Now, what goes on in the studio is extemely high levels of both. It's 15 people, maybe, and a teacher, in one room, and high powers of attention. And now, in this world, there are people who will barely finish reading a paragraph before they have to keep on going, or do something else - that is a huge amount of attention, a whole world of attention, that the students give eachother, that the teacher gives the students. And any number of times, eyes meet; a number of times, your work gets talked about, you know?

 

Addression, that is, the ability to - one is addressed. Right - one pays attention, but one is addressed. Addressing someone is how you get their attention. But well - it's like the opposite side of attention. You're getting attention. So, how people are addressed. Now, what goes on in the studio is extemely high levels of both. It's 15 people, maybe, and a teacher, in one room, and high powers of attention. And now, in this world, there are people who will barely finish reading a paragraph before they have to keep on going, or do something else - that is a huge amount of attention, a whole world of attention, that the students give eachother, that the teacher gives the students. And any number of times, eyes meet; a number of times, your work gets talked about, you know?