On the outdated Dreyfus text "On the Internet"

Greater context will have to be laid out in additional posts, but I have just stumbled (and subsequently put down) onto Hubert Dreyfus' On the Internet as a result of Bent Flyvbjerg's text Making Social Science Matter.  As is probably not that shocking based on the nature of my posts I am most interested in engaging in scholarship that is authentic and full of purpose - and oftentimes this means embracing alternative and counter perspectives/methodologies.  I don't even remember how and why I landed onto Flyvbjerb's book in the first place but it is definitely a must-read.

The basic premise of Making Social Science Matter (if I can humbly dumb it down to only a few sentences) is that social science needs to stop trying to emulate the natural sciences and instead focus on phronesis, or practical wisdom, as defined and framed by Aristotle.  In this way, social science will become more relevant to the general public and will help fulfill the field's mission.  To help frame his argument, he draws on the work of the Dreyfus brothers' work on skill acquisition/development which I know I've heard/read about before but I can't seem to find any reference to it in my head.  Flyvbjerb's treatment of the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition hones in on the large gap between what can be learned on a lower, more procedural level and how there is something of an "x factor" that allows individuals to reach a level of expertise/mastery - which he points to as phronesis.

I can delve more deeply into phronetic social science later - but I must first rant on Dreyfus.  Since I enjoyed the Making Social Science Matter text I wanted to do some more follow up exploration with the Dreyfus brothers' work.  I quickly got my hands on a digital copy of Hubert Dreyfus' On the Internet - second edition - as if that makes any difference at all.

I only made it through the third chapter (of five) before I just closed the window.  I don't know if it's because Dreyfus is waaaaay out in left field in his analysis or if he's just gone ahead and bought the farm.  Maybe I'm off-base.  Let's break it down a bit.

  1. He refers to the Internet as the "Net".  Really?

  2. There is no mention of Web 2.0 technologies.

  3. He represents his argument clearly in terms of humans vs. technology and from the first sentences you realize that he is, in fact, quite anti-technology.  While differing perspectives on the use and direction of technology in learning is well-warranted, misguided, McCarthy-esque witch hunts on technology in education are not helpful.

  4. No reference to human agency.  This is the hill I will die on.  Everyone seems to leave this out of the equation - we have a choice, we have a say, we have the power to chart our future with or without technology.  Stop talking about it as if it is inevitable!

  5. For Mr. Dreyfus, teaching = lecture.  Within the context of this formula, sure his analysis makes sense.  But as soon as you wake up and realize it is 2011 the formula breaks down... as does his treatment of presence in online learning.

Save yourself the time, don't pull this book off the shelf.

As referenced in an earlier post, I am all for philosophical explorations of deeper educational technology issues and concerns.  But - armchair philosophers who lack adequate information and cite lousy studies - I think we've heard enough from you already.  Only those serious scholars need continue further.


  1. I think human agency has been long left out of the equation. You can see this philosophy piquing public interest back into 50's and 60's with the advent of robotic science fiction stories. The concept then was that we would create an automated system that would take control. This idea has seen a resurgence periodically throughout history, and it is a wonderful point of view for luddites. "If I don't understand something, it will take over my life." Interestingly enough, the luddites I know have willingly bought iPhones and the like, participating in the digital revolution and not acknowledging the technological takeover they are facing, but I digress.

    Technology is not a panacea (This, my friend, is the hill I will most likely die upon). I constantly hear that technology is a savior of the world, or something like it. I will always maintain that tech is a tool. If I have a spanner, I can probably fix my car more efficiently than without, but if you trust your spanner to me and ask me to fix your car, you will likely wish you had taken it to a Mitsubishi dealership. The same is true of technology, use it well and you'll have good results. Use it poorly and you'll have lousy results.


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