Learning, Digital & Education from Oliver Quinlan.
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This week: The myths we live by, limitless tools & silent study


How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that's already happened)

In this fascinating 'long read' David Graeber and David Wengrow explore the myths we tell ourselves as a society and about inequality throughout history and where it has come from. They reach right back to pre-agricultural times to explore the story that human societies used to be relatively equal, but that the development of agriculture and cities caused us to 'inevitably' become more unequal in order for those systems to function. These days we readily accept the ideas in these myths, even if we don't examine them or even think about them that much they underpin a lot of our assumptions about how our society works. But they aren't really how things happened, and the two David's here go into many powerful examples of why both agriculture and large organisations of people do not inherently require inequality. 

"there is absolutely no evidence that top-down structures of rule are the necessary consequence of large-scale organization. [...] it is simply not true that ruling classes, once established, cannot be gotten rid of except by general catastrophe."

Our view of the world is based on stories like this, that most of the time lie unexamined, yet shape the way we think about important and fundamental issues that shape our lives. This article is a great invitation to examine one of the biggest of these stories.

George FitzGerald on tools

I've been thinking a lot this week about tools, particularly creative tools and specifically in my case tools for making electronic music. These days computers give us almost limitless possibilities for electronic music. When I first got started with it you needed to save up a lot of money for specific hardware to get anything done. Now you can emulate pretty much everything, right up to synthesizers that cost as much as a new car, in a computer. It feels like this should make it easier to do good creative work, it doesn't. 

Faced with limitless possibilities, creativity can really struggle. But there's no reason why we have to use all these possibilities. In fact, a lot of what I learned about visual artists when I was at school was how they often seek to restrict themselves. The George Fitzgerald interview linked above really got me thinking, as rather than just showing off all his music equipment, he really gets into why he uses a room full of ageing 70s and 80s electronics when he could emulate it all in a laptop. It all comes down to restrictions. He takes each limited piece of equipment and finds the few ways in which it can do something special, then repeatedly uses these to create music that sounds unique.

It got me thinking about the limitless possibilities of digital tools and how paralysing they can be. I wonder where else my use of digital tools could do with having some restrictions imposed. Aside from the obvious distractions that are well talked about these days, where are limitless digital tools making it hard to get things done. It seems to me we've got the tools to achieve almost anything right now. We just have to decide to do it, and set out the plan.

George also has a rather good new album out this month. 

Should you listen to music while studying? No... here's why

I enjoy Donal Clark's irreverent blog on learning and education. I don't always agree with what he says, but he has a great way of making you think and raising a smile along the way. Here he looks at people who use music when revising, or learning in general, and seeks to blow away all the 'Mozart effect' urban myths that this is a good thing. There's something interesting here about working habits in general- that what we like might not always be the best way. Tons of people like studying with music, it feels good to them. Yet the evidence seems to show quite strongly that it's not an effective thing to do. I wonder how many other things in terms of workflows and approaches we stick to just because we like them, and they remain unexamined..?
... and finally...
Thanks for reading.
Until next week,


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