The importance of text knowledge versus movie knowledge

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

I don’t think this is entirely correct, as it gives too much importance to book learning, but it is certainly an important thing to keep in mind:

At first, the Internet seemed to push against this trend. When it emerged towards the end of the 80s as a purely text-based medium, it was seen as a tool to pursue knowledge, not pleasure. Reason and thought were most valued in this garden—all derived from the project of Enlightenment. Universities around the world were among the first to connect to this new medium, which hosted discussion groups, informative personal or group blogs, electronic magazines, and academic mailing lists and forums. It was an intellectual project, not about commerce or control, created in a scientific research center in Switzerland.

Wikipedia was a fruit of this garden. So was Google search and its text-based advertising model. And so were blogs, which valued text, hypertext (links), knowledge, and literature. They effectively democratized the ability to contribute to the global corpus of knowledge. For more than a decade, the web created an alternative space that threatened television’s grip on society.

Social networks, though, have since colonized the web for television’s values. From Facebook to Instagram, the medium refocuses our attention on videos and images, rewarding emotional appeals—‘like’ buttons—over rational ones. Instead of a quest for knowledge, it engages us in an endless zest for instant approval from an audience, for which we are constantly but unconsciouly performing. (It’s telling that, while Google began life as a PhD thesis, Facebook started as a tool to judge classmates’ appearances.) It reduces our curiosity by showing us exactly what we already want and think, based on our profiles and preferences. Enlightenment’s motto of ‘Dare to know’ has become ‘Dare not to care to know.’

It is a development that further proves the words of French philosopher Guy Debord, who wrote that, if pre-capitalism was about ‘being’, and capitalism about ‘having’, in late-capitalism what matters is only ‘appearing’—appearing rich, happy, thoughtful, cool and cosmopolitan. It’s hard to open Instagram without being struck by the accuracy of his diagnosis.

A few mistakes here.

A minor point. The author, Hossein Derakhshan, seems to confuse the Internet (invented in the USA in the 1970s) with the World Wide Web (invented in Switzerland in 1989).

More importantly, it seems silly to insist that book knowledge is automatically more important than knowing about what new fiction is being offered up on television or movies. I’m thinking about an event such as Clexa, and how people reacted. People want to see themselves represented in current fiction — it’s a political issue, and wanting to ignore it is therefore also a political stand, and a deeply reactionary one. Derakhshan appeals to the Enlightenment, which is itself problematic. The rationality of the Enlightenment may have furthered useful sciences, but it was also applied to such questions as “How can we maximize the number of slaves this ship will carry?” The Enlightenment oversaw history’s greatest genocides, the erasure of cultures and languages from many millions. It seems the Enlightenment still is being used in the same way. Something like Clexa might seem like a silly distraction on a silly teen melodrama, but a political agenda that wants to erase people’s identities is very serious and seriously evil.

Finally, much of the posturing in the images online are aspirational. For whatever reason, people find it easier to describe the life they want with a photo, rather than words. A photo of a happy Kenyan family now living in New York, or two men kissing, communicates more than a million words. Those who want to protect the knowledge of the world should aim their struggle against the true enemy of knowledge, those dark forces of hate that want to erase people and languages and cultures.

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