Tag: John Senior

How to Think about the Cell Phone

Weapon of Self-Destruction or Tool of Self-Improvement:

The cell phone. Is it a great thing? A useful thing? An annoying thing? An addicting thing?

A ton of writers have condemned the cell phone on all sorts of grounds. They’re tired of rude talkers who use it in restaurants, parks, and churches, and they’re disgusted by the way cell phones seem to give people a sense of being: “I cell, therefore I am.”

At least one writer, though, decries all this decrying. Jeffrey Tucker, writing at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (http://www.mises.org/story/1849), cogently argued that it’s just more criticism of capitalism, of the Marxist sort. It’s an approach that’s been used repeatedly: Criticize a new technology as an extension of man’s alienation, pepper the essay with quotes from Nietzsche and Freud, and raise the specter of addiction. A few more such jeremiads and the psychiatric profession has a new mental illness to profit from, then maybe the government will get involved with funding.

Tucker also thinks it’s just fear of something new:

“Because our eyes see something new, something we haven’t been socialized to expect, and because the market is expanding and democratizing so rapidly, it creates the illusion of something having gone oddly wrong. Instead of seeking to understand it, the temptation is to reach into pop culture’s bag of ideological bromides and decry it as some sort of pathology.”

These are excellent points.

But he doesn’t address questions that any good disciple of Marshall McLuhan would ask: How does this technology affect the user? What is this need to be in constant touch with everyone, everywhere?… Read the rest

Listening to Podcasts at Oxford in 1374 and Kansas in 1974

Why do we love those conversational podcasts?

If you were a student at a medieval university, you listened to lectures.

And listened and listened and listened to lectures, often more than ten hours a day.

But they weren’t like lectures at today’s universities, where hundreds of students sit in a hall and listen to a professor deliver a monologue.

The medieval morning lectures were like that, but come afternoon, the lectures morphed into dialogue. The professor would assert a position, a graduate assistant would field questions or objections posed by undergraduates, and discussion ensued. At the end, the professor would summarize that afternoon’s conversation.

It was the “Scholastic disputation.”

Each session was meant to unfold knowledge gradually, as informed and inquisitive minds rubbed against one another, sharpening each other in the process, like knives rubbing against a whetstone.

Kansas: Early 1970s

The disputation, like everything else Scholastic, evaporated over the centuries and gave way to the mass lecture hall, with one professor doing all the talking.

In the 1970s, three professors at the University of Kansas brought back the disputation.

The three professors were John Senior, Frank Nelick, and Dennis Quinn, and they led the Integrated Humanities Program, a program dedicated to the wild notion of restoring a sense of beauty and poetic knowledge in its students.

The Program had a lot of facets (e.g., waltzes, star-gazing, great books), but its centerpiece may have been conversations among the three professors with the students watching.

The following description of these highly-popular sessions is taken from Fr. Francis Bethel’s John Senior and the Restoration of Realism.

The 80-minute classes were neither planned nor rehearsed. They weren’t even mentally prepared beforehand. Said Quinn in an interview:

We didn’t plan the lectures. We had lunch together before class started and on the way

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