Everything Old Is New Again: Vol. 47

I was reading an old (1966!) New Yorker interview with Buckminster Fuller when I came across this gem:

…”But, of course, the university itself won’t be anything like what it is now. We’ll get rid of all the teachers who are just holding on to their jobs in order to eat—all the deadwood, which is the biggest problem in a university anyhow. The deadwood will get fellowships to study or work on their own, and TV will come in to take over most of the actual teaching. There will be a large technical staff making documentary movies. The university is going to become a really marvellous industry, with tools like individually selected and articulated two-way TV that will permit any student anywhere in the world to select from a vast stockpile of documentaries on any subject and watch it over his own TV set at home. The individual is going to study mainly at home. And the great teachers won’t have to spend their time delivering the same lectures over and over, because they’ll put them on film. The teachers and scholars will be free to spend their time developing more and more knowledge about man’s whole experience—past, present, and future.”

“But what about the students?” I asked. “How will they react to being cast adrift in a world of impersonal educational machinery? Isn’t part of the answer implied in the recent disorders at modern multiversities such as U.C.L.A.?”

Fuller considered the question. “You know, young people sometimes have an infallible sense about these things,” he said, at last. “In my youth, we used to talk about ‘square shooters.’ Today, when a student calls somebody a ‘square’ he means something entirely different. It doesn’t imply that he’s lost respect for integrity, or anything like that. A ‘square’ these days is somebody who’s static, immobilized, obsolete—as obsolete as the square box in architecture. Today’s student knows instinctively that his world is dynamic, not static, and that the normal state of affairs is constant change and evolution.

Fuller describes what we’re seeing now with MOOCs, only he got the technology wrong (he thought TV). Once again, everything old is new again…