Internet before WWW / Learning before Education

This is Gopher, one incarnation of what the Internet looked like before the World Wide Web ((“Types of Internet Protocols.” Online Library Learning Center. The board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Web. 2 Jan 2010. .))

In Internet is to WWW as Education is to…, Willy Kjellstrom reflects on his recent reading of Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas — and how he (Willy) discovered that there is a difference between Internet and World Wide Web. We often use the terms interchangeably, without loss of meaning. They are, at this time, practically synonymous.

From January 1 Blog Post (click to enlarge)

Then, at the end of his article, Willy questions my January 1 resolutions post, where I resolve to avoid using certain terms, including education, preferring to emphasize learning.

Now I recognize the futility of complying fully with ones post-New Year’s Eve promises to one’s self. But I would like to draw on two distinctions between my perspective and that of Kjellstrom.

Number one, Willy appears to be younger than I am — “Harvard Alum ’05,” according to his Facebook page. Of course, that could be graduate school, which he, like me, may have attended over a decade after general college. But for the sake of my objective, I’m going to assume that Kjellstrom is decades younger than I am.

You see, I have always known the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web, because I knew an Internet before WWW. I remember when you navigated the network of networks using Telnet and FTP — when, if you wanted to look up the meaning of Telnet, you had to know the IP number of a server that housed a file with definitions. I remember the rise of Gopher and the slower but formidable rise of the World Wide Web. I recognized these as protocols for shaping how information logically connected, so that we could navigate the network of ideas. Yet, I grant that in most contexts, I can exchange the terms in my conversations without losing meaning.

Also, being 34 years out of college and 16 years out of graduate school, and especially because of the shifts we have seen during the most recent decades, I understand that learning is an integral part of life, not just something that you do in school — a realization that I know Kjellstrom and you readers understand as well.

But, and this is my second point, in this time when so much is shifting (industrial to post-industrial, machine age to knowledge age, whatever you want to call it), learning has become a critical life skill.

I can remember, standing in line, at my high school graduation, and two graduates behind me claiming that they would never read another book. At that moment in history, and at that moment so close to our formal education, it was a perfectly plausible proclamation. They were, no doubt, getting jobs in one of the town’s mills and expecting to work the same job tasks for the next 35 years. We had been prepared for the next 35 years. What none of us knew, was that in less than 15 years those mills would all be gone, and my classmates would have to, as Toffler predicted, “learn, unlearn, and relearn” as a way of life.

Education is still characterized as a place you go, to get taught — where we teach and our students learn how to be taught. Yet, in the real world, learning is not something that is done to you, but something that you do yourself, in your own way, with your resources and sense of resourcefulness. I am not saying that every student moment in school is spent in passive receipt or that teaching should never happen. But “being taught” is still the character of the beast, and it is getting in the way of helping people learn to teach themselves.

If our global connectivity and sharing of ideas — our network of networks — was in desperate need of reform and the World Wide Web was getting in the way of that reform, then the distinction between Internet and WWW would be much more important.

Thanks, Willy, for continuing this conversation.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.