The Next Great University Will Be Net-based

Here’s a brief reply to Eric, for closure: I completely agree with you regarding the solution to the free-market education problem. I published a couple of pieces on this topic over the last 2-3 months (one in the LA Times, one, appropriately, in Forbes), and I am now part of a project working along these lines. I don’t know whether it will succeed, but it’s clear some project along these lines will. There hasn’t been a great university founded in this country for an amazingly long time (I guess maybe Stanford and the University Chicago are the two most recent, maybe Cal Tech, but I don’t know for sure). What I do know is that the next great university will be Net-based. As you note, online education is already happening, and it’s a startling success.

[On a totally irrelevant but fascinating (to weirdos like me) topic: I think you’re also right, up to a point, about the “Ashkenazic families” vs. Jewish intellectuals in general who led the Long March to the Left. I’ve never written about the topic in part because I don’t want to give people a distorted impression. Not only were Gentiles prominent on the Left, but they were often pushed forward and became the cover boys & girls–thus, e.g., Dwight MacDonald. See Mary McCarthy’s hilarious story “Portrait of the Intellectual as Yale Man.” (Of course when she wrote it, no one knew that she was part-Jewish herself. But note also that it was startling at the time that a Yale man should be an intellectual.) It’s also true, though, that nearly all US Jews are Ashkenazic. Some turned into communists, and some turned into Robert Moses–not only a Yale man and establishment icon but also a right-wing Republican. It’s really East European Jews you mean. German Jews came earlier and were more conservative. But again, East-Euro Jews were prominent on both sides of the political spectrum. Nonetheless you are right, amd it’s a matter of history: Jews played a disproportionately prominent role in pushing American intellectuals and universities to the Left. That this never created any sort of anti-Semitic backlash (or hasn’t so far) is one of the most extraordinary, noble facts in modern American history.]

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In our techno-Utopian dreams, the advance of the internet is “a little like a cross between Adam Smith and Albert Einstein; the Invisible Hand accelerating toward the speed of light,” says tech visionary Jaron Lanier in this month’s big-thinking lead essay. Yet, according to Lanier, we chug along saddled by the illusion that the Internet is mainly a technological rather than a cultural phenomenon. Software, Lanier argues, is “brittle” and can continue to function only when backed by what he calls “Antigoras”– “privately owned digital meeting arenas made rich by unpaid or marginally paid labor … tweaking the global system of digital devices so that the bits in the various pieces of software remain functional and meaningful.” Antigoras are indispensable, but “if software stays brittle,” Lanier says, “there will be a huge dampening effect on any hyper-speed takeoff plans of the digital elite.” Takeoff velocity requires a reorientation that acknowledges that the “the Net is precisely the generosity and warmth of humanity connecting with itself.”

Response Essays

  • Open source software guru Eric S. Raymond takes issue with Lanier’s characterization of “lock-in,” his antipathy to the command line, and his discussion of ambiguity. Raymond claims that if Lanier’s point was just that the Internet is “a conduit of expression between people,” then he would stop in agreement. But, he writes, “the actual point seems to be to maintain an opposition between capitalism and (gift) culture that I think is … mistaken.”

  • Glenn Reynolds — taking pieces from both Lanier and Raymond — argues that small proprietary zones within the big open Internet — “semigoras” in Lanier’s terms — might prove “very fertile places for innovation and growth on the Internet” with the potential to empower individuals and small groups to “achieve the worker’s paradise” through technology and markets.

  • Ten years after his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow insists that “the Internet continues to be an anti-sovereign social space, endowing billions with capacities for free expression that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.” A liberating future is still ahead, Barlow argues, but we must be on guard against a deep fact of both biology and markets: “New success inspires creativity. Old success tries to kill it.”