Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

  • Mood:
  • Music:

Anticulture shock: backlash against history or generation gap?

Everything should be made as simple as possible - but no simpler.
    - Albert Einstein

Is it just me, or is there a backlash in North American education against historical and cultural awareness, being well-read, and generally being thoughtful and reflective?

Of course, the above is a leading question. Perhaps I'm confabulating two things: the generation gap and a real trend toward dumbed-down vocabularies. I will talk more about the latter at a later time. Where I'm coming from is that when I was a child and young teen, I would go out of my way to use big words. I stopped doing that (or so I thought) around the age of 15, but lately, students' standards of "big words" has changed from four syllables to two.

Edit, 11:25 CST: As zengeneral pointed out to me in a private conversation, I may also be confabulating historical and cultural awareness. e.g., "What self-respecting person of discipline X never heard of so-and-so?" is historical, while "What X-ician doesn't have a working knowledge of language L?" is cultural. To me, it's a fine line.

What I wanted to talk about today is that I also see an alarming decline in cultural awareness within technical fields. For example, I get a lot more blank looks when I refer to things that "once upon a time", ever computer science major in the USA knew, not just the "hardcore geek".

  • Famous computer scientists: Dijkstra, Knuth, Hoare, Turing, Hopper - this one really surprises me, as I don't think my colleagues have been lax about educating people about such things

  • Famous mathematicians and "hard" scientists: Just about anyone you care to name, though to be fair, I guess this is because I'm in a CS department.

  • Famous computing and computer science research: Garey and Johnson's study of NP completeness; the Enigma project; NCSA Telnet and Mosaic

  • Fundamental ideas in mathematics, CS, engineering: stochasticity (randomness) of processes, decision theory, metrics and figures of merit, sequent calculi, computability (huh?), linear independence (WTF?)

Similarly with popular culture:

  • The "greats" of SF: late greats such as Heinlein, Asimov, Lieber, Norton, even Tolkien; new greats such as Orson Scott Card, Julian May, Dan Simmons

  • Classic games: Sid Meier's Pirates!, pre-Civilization turn-based strategy games (I was shocked recently to learn that "Empire-style" and "Roguelike" are no longer recognized terms)

Did I just get old? Did a new generation of we-think-we-invented-everything kids spring up while I wasn't looking? (Yes, I realize that this is a continuum, and that every cohort of children are generally like this.)

Or are people trying to get dumber? I hate to sound cynical (I really do), but it feels like an assiduous, fashionable, and self-justifying trend. I just don't want to have the next two decades go down in history as the American Cultural Revolution. And of course, I could just be overreacting to the backlash against classical knowledge in CS/IT, or in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but it's eerily familiar sometimes.


  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.