I have a new favorite author and blogger, Jeff Jarvis. My first introduction to Jarvis was watching him as an analyst on one of my favorite “new tv” shows, This Week in Google, on the TWiT network. A couple of weekends ago, I drove from East Lansing, MI to Kansas City, MO and back for a friend’s wedding. On the way back, I listened to the audiobook of Jarvis’s What Would Google Do?. (Get it.You’ll thank me later.) It is instantly clear when reading either his book or his blog, BuzzMachine, that Jarvis “gets” the internet and new media as much as anyone. His book discusses Google’s philosophies about business, customers, publicness, creativity, and community, and how they all might be applied to other institutions.
Jarvis does a really excellent job of distilling some principles of Googliness (one of the many fun, Google-related words he invents) in a way that makes them meaningful while being general enough to apply to a lot of different circumstances. Here are some of my favorites:
- “Give the people control, and we will use it.”
- “The link changes everything…Do what you do best and link to the rest.”
- “If you’re not searchable, you wont be found…Your customers are your ad agency.”
- The mass market has been (or is being) replaced by the mass of niches.
- “Atoms are a drag.”
…and, perhaps his most radical proclamation…
- “Free is a business model.”
My favorite sections of the book, however, are after Jarvis has explained the basic tenets of Googliness. He goes through several hypothetical Googly institutions. Near then end of these is “Google U,” a hypothetical university. Appropriately, Jarvis has made this chapter available as a blog post on his website. He wonders why, in this world of seemingly infinite communications technology, why do students have to be limited to taking classes at a single university? Why can’t they take classes a la carte from programs around the country?
I’m not sure I think this is practical. How do you control the curriculum in such an institution? How do the institutions control their enrollment numbers and standards? I don’t have answers to these questions. However, one thing I do like about the idea is that a degree-holder (would they even have degrees?) would have to be evaluated on something other than the name-brand familiarity of the institutions they attended.
One of my favorite websites seems to be working toward this idea already, and best of all it’s free! You can watch videos of lectures from many courses at top institutions at Academic Earth. However, when you look through the available lectures, you might notice something missing: the arts (now we’re back to my neck of the woods). There are a handful of offerings in creative writing and a course in Roman architecture, but there are no classes in music (not even theory or musicology), and no classes in artistic “practice.” Courses that are so basic to art programs(life drawing or color theory) and music programs (counterpoint and aural skills) seem to defy the model.
I’ve been wracking my brains since reading and listening to this chapter. I really want for the arts not to be an exception to the Google U model. I really want arts education (and the arts themselves) to flourish in the Google Age. Is it the art that has to change or is it the way its taught? Or, do the arts simply defy our current communications technology? It’s probably a little of both, and of course the combination of the crusty academics and curmudgeonly classical musicians means that music programs will probably be the last parts of their respective universities to make such a change.
Is it possible to start a “free” university-style music school for the internet? I don’t know. Who wants to help me try?
I know there are a LOT of question marks in this blog post. I don’t normally like writing that way, but there are some many questions and so few certainties. If you have any thoughts on the matter, please share away in the comments!