Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Education is entertainment (and vice versa)

The Lampsilis mussel is an interesting creature: it imitates another fish in order to lure a bass. You really have to see a video to understand how amazing it is:

Did you learn something new just now? Would you consider this video "educational"? Can you imagine one situation where knowing about the Lampsilis mussel would somehow help you in life?

"That's a very high standard", you may say. Quite right. A lot of things that we learn would be considered "educational" but would otherwise not be useful on a day-to-day life. Take calculus, or introductory cell biology, or the difference between a catabolic and an anabolic reaction. Even if they are not referenced daily, they may be very interesting and deeply satisfying to master.

But wait, "interesting"? You mean, "interesting" the way some will find learning Middle Earth geography in Elvish would be "interesting"? "Deeply satisfying" like knowing the truth about Snape and Lily?

What's really the difference here?

"Maybe", you may interject. "It's just that some very smart people find very serious uses of calculus." Certainly more so than Harry Potter. But then what would you say about philosophy and art history? What about the Lampsilis mussels?

"Maybe you're forgetting something," you may say. "Information is just information. It's the context in which we consume it that determines whether it's educational or not. If you watched the video about the Lampsilis mussel while writing a paper on evolution, then it was educational. Otherwise, it was entertainment."

Yet even that's unsatisfying. Why would you be researching evolution? Why would you be taking that course? Why are you getting a Ph.D. in marine biology? Somewhere along those lines of questioning, an answer should pop up that sounds awfully like "because I find it very interesting".

And so, education is entertainment.

"Wow, hold your horses," another person (who is not you) might interject. "I'm studying because I have to graduate to get a job."

Well Bob (because those people are always named Bob), it seems like society doesn't need you right now. Not in a bad way -- you're still very special, just that this particular moment, there are enough people producing enough stuff to sustain all of our lives. There's a cognitive surplus, so to speak. It looks like forcing you to be entertained educated is one way to "deal" with this surplus.

And so, education is still entertainment.

Let's not talk about the Lampsilis mussel. Let's talk about sports. Has knowing about the outcomes of your local sports team somehow helped you in life? I know it had in mine -- from the perspective of building rapport. Then again, you could really extend that to any piece of information! Watching Star Wars has been useful -- very educational about, um, culture, yes -- culture. And binging on Game of Thrones? That, uh, brought me closer with, uh, people.

You learn things about human nature from film. You learn teamwork in games. I learned about the different types of alcohol from a text-based MMORPG. Friend of mine swore that he used to learn much more from anime than anything else.

And so, entertainment is education.