The outriders of society…

This extract on skating over ideas and invest in some deeper thinking comes from a speech to new graduates at The Pacific Northwest College of Art. Susan S Szenasy , editor of the Metropolis Magazine told the students:

As artists and communication designers you can choose to be the
outriders of society. Like the scouts in the old western films, you can
be in the position of surveying the horizon and alerting the rest of us
to the dangers and surprises ahead. But I worry about you. I worry that
while you have evolved the use of your thumbs to work at phenomenal
speeds, you are not as interested in developing the habits you need to
accumulate knowledge, knowledge that can inform your vision as artists.
I mean knowledge of the world—science, literature, and
history—knowledge of the great contributions others are making or have
made to our rich understanding of humanity and the earth which gives us
It is not enough to find information instantly and use it
opportunistically to support your argument. To be able to analyze and
synthesize you need to delve deeply into a subject, build up your
understanding incrementally, and own that knowledge. Own it, so you can
call it up when you need it, without turning to your PDA, and use your
amazing brain-power to interpret what you know when critical analysis
is needed. What I’m asking of you is what I have always asked of
myself: To be endlessly curious about everything, to search for facts
when you need them, but more importantly, to search for ideas and
meaning. Read a book, look at a building or a landscape, drink it all
in—make it your own.

For more read here. Hat tip to Canufluck.


  1. This reminds me of a feature I listened to on Radio 4 recently about learning and the internet. Those who accumlate knowledge using only the web lack the necessary skills to contextualise and analyse information because the information learnt is instant and provided in cognitive bite size doses.

    This analytical skill is absolutely essential whether you are perusing books in a library or having multiple tabs open on your browser.

    It does beg the question whether we are losing that other essential attribute and that is scepticism. What I mean by that is are we losing the ability to get underneath the information that is being offered and attempt to discover what made the person proffering that piece of information come to that conclusion.

    Thanks for posting this as I believe it’s an issue that all social media users must think about.

  2. Oh for some more scepticism! Not cynicism but intelligent doubt. On page 48 of my copy of “What Works?: Evidence-based Policy and Practice in Public Services” (Davies, Nutley et al, Policy Press: Bristol) – a practitioner’s vade mecum – there’s a list titled “Hierarchies of evidence”. At the top is “Systematic review and meta-analysis of two or more double-blind randomised control tests” (e.g. the kind of lengthy expensive truth testing used prior ro releasing a new medicine), then comes “One or more large double-blind randomised control trials”, followed by “One or more well-conducted cohort studies”. Below this is “One or more well-conducted case-control studies”, and beneath that is “A dramatic uncontrolled experiment”, and below that comes “Expert committee sitting in review along with peer leader opinion” and at the very bottom is “Personal experience.” Personal experience is phenomenally unreliable as a guarantee of truth and yet for many people that’s their first port of call in justifying an opinion.
    Galileo, as a frail old man, succumbed to the threat of torture by the church and denied thesis that the sun, and not the earth, was the centre of what we now call the solar system. He noted a beam of light working its way across the floor of his cell and muttered “even so it still moves”. Trouble is the same phenomenon could have been attributed to the sun going round the earth. Galileo ‘knew’ from his elaborately collected evidence – via the telescope he invented – what was really happening but not via the ‘personal experience’ that told most people that it was common sense that the sun rises at dawn passes overhead and sets at dusk and therefore ‘obviously’ moves around a static centred earth. Secular common sense matched the assumptions of theology. Put the two together and science is stymied. It’s very difficult to be sure of or know anything. Seeking truth is hard work.

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