Please stop being wrong about the future of Higher Education. It’s embarrassing, and it is damaging to those of us who actually work in the field and care about it.
But first up, could you stop being wrong about the record industry. The pattern of a newer, low quality format supplanting an old one is not an unusual experience for them . Cassette tapes were a lower quality than vinyl. CDs are a lower quality than vinyl (and to be honest, it is also arguable regarding cassettes). And record companies love this stuff because it means that they can sell us content we already own all over again. Why do we let them do it? Because the new formats are more convenient for some uses.
The recording industry has singularly failed to die as a result of the mp3. True, they didn’t develop ways of selling mp3s online but – guess what? – they didn’t develop record shops either. Record shops did that, and iTunes (etc) are just online record shops. Very successful record shops. More music was sold last year in the UK than at any other point in history.
One of the reasons for this *was* a by-product of Napster. Record companies realised that mp3 meant it was now viable to sell more of their back-catalogue, and that the interest was there. Previously as long as the Beatles and a few others were always available, most music was allowed to fall out of print. Which led to people searching second-hand record shops for that elusive single.
What Napster meant was I could search for the rare music I wanted to hear and have a real expectation of being able to hear it. That was new, that was great. There was no other way I could hear the music I was now hearing. If I could have paid for it, I would. Eventually, I did buy recordings by artists I wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been for Napster. And it wasn’t just me.
Mp3s cost much less to produce than CDs or records, so it was much easier to keep all the old music around. No need to store it in a warehouse, no need to distribute it to shops. And record companies didn’t make any money out of second-hand record shops, but they do make money out of iTunes.
And of course, there is a load of things you *can’t* do with new formats. If you are a serious DJ, you’re probably into vinyl. Sales of which have soared. You can do things with vinyl that you cannot do with CDs or mp3s. Maybe you are an audiophile – maybe you have a great sound system and miss all of that harmonic stuff going on up there above 41kHz. (of course, you can’t *hear* stuff above about kHz but you can hear the way that it interacts with the stuff you can hear.) Vinyl is good for you, as are raw audio files, SA-CD and DVD-audio. More formats to sell.
And then there is stuff like Spotify and YouTube. New ways for record companies to get paid, by subscription or via advertising.
So the impact of the “disruptive” Napster was that the recording industry was able to sell more music to us, and a greater variety of music, at a lower cost to them.
Maybe cancel the flowers?
Another alarming component in your argument is that you managed to attend Harvard, hear great lectures, but didn’t see the development of a scholarly community. Guess what Clay? – you messed up. You were kind of “lossy”. Your education was riven with compression artefacts.
Scholarly communities of interest don’t just form – you have to work at them. You have to make them happen by talking to people. Maybe you weren’t bothered – maybe you had other interests, but don’t hold the system responsible for your choice not to participate fully in it. If you do just want a pile of lectures and some essay questions maybe a MOOC would work for you, but many of the rest of us *did* get a lot more out of our university experience.
That would be a superb way of “screwing it up”, to use your scholarly term. To think that all a university experience can be is a bunch of lectures and some essay questions. To think that the availablity of a new format that suits some peoples needs a bit better means that nothing else is viable. To think that a degree is something that you purchase and experience, not something you work for with a great degree of pain and personal change.
The needs that MOOCs satisfy are the needs of a bunch of middle-aged men (and it is – nearly – always men) who are comfortably tenured but seek the thrill of being on the cutting edge of technology and “innovation” (whatever that is – looks to me like inventiveness with all the fun sucked out of it). They make for great TED talks. Wonderful blog posts. But they are nothing more than a surface solution to the surface problems a non-specialist observer could see in higher education.
The problems Higher Education does face is that it is a marketplace when it doesn’t need to be. We spend billions of dollars forcing universities to compete without any evidence whatsoever that this leads to a better or cheaper product. We spend more on HE than at any point in our history whilst departments are closing, services are withering and talented young academics are leaving in droves because they have reached their mid 30s without finding anything other than temporary hourly-paid work.
The last great hurrah of the baby boom. Grey-haired millionaires trashing our cultural heritage, denying to others the opportunities that they have benefited from, and using a free product to undermine the maturation of education systems in the developing world. Maybe that works for you -it doesn’t work for the rest of us. There are other formats we would prefer.
Thanks for that.
[p.s: See also Aaron Brady]