The school semester is about to start again and it reminds me of something that is very important: learning. Actual learning seems to be a rarity in our society, filled with instant gratification through things such as computers and food. And what do computers and food have to do with learning? They are perfect examples of how much we do not know.
First, while it may seem obvious how computers relate to learning, as with many things we do not often discuss the topic in full. The internet is a seemingly infinite source of facts, figures, and what is commonly called knowledge. And while the internet is an amazing invention that has no doubt furthered many aspects of learning, it is not a place of learning. The internet has made available information which was before either not available or extremely difficult to find. Access to information is not learning about the information. It is simply access.
Computers are not only a vehicle for the internet, however. Computers allow us to live the way we do in ways most of us do not think about. Without computers most of our infrastructures in our societies would fail; people would not get paid; lights would go out. Computers help in countless ways, but the cost of that help is high. Reliance upon computers has created dependence rather than independence. Knowing that infrastructures exist, and that we rely upon them is not knowledge: the facade of knowledge is not knowledge. It is simply rhetoric.
We do not know how the infrastructure that we rely upon works, and in fact, we often do not know when it does not work. Our food supply is a perfect example. The grocery store provides food in the same way that computers provide access. We can simply walk into the great building and there are rows and rows of “food”. Most of the edible products in a grocery store are not food in the real sense of the word. They are a combination of HFCS, salt and fat. These ingredients are often processed through means of chemical and mechanical manipulation. Furthermore, these products are not created to feed, but rather to make a profit. The cost of profit over food is unhealthy eating habits, addiction, and a lowering of all of our qualities of life. Having access to products to eat is not necessarily having access to food.
Many of the products available to “consumers” (the word to describe those who buy and use) are ready-made, pre-packaged, and designed to be quick and easy. Michael Pollan wrote that it is not thought that differentiates human beings from other animals, but cooking. These ready-made, pre-packaged units (the word used to describe what a vender is selling) take the necessity (and knowledge) of cooking away, and hence a bit of our humanity away. Adding water or turning on a stove is not necessarily cooking; it is preparing.
And so what do computers and food have to do with learning? Learning is a process that takes time; there are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts because the process has to do with understanding, and to understand one must study the long and short-term implications. Computers create easy processes that do not rely upon long and short-term implications. This is not to say that computers are not useful tools for learning. But it is to say that the process of learning does not change even though a computer is being used.
The same goes for food. A credit card can buy a shopping cart full of products, but these products are not necessarily food in the real sense of the word. Furthermore, grocery stores and corporations that sell and provide products for consumption are not always interested in the consumer knowing the difference. Learning the difference, however, is a key component of knowledge: the byproduct of learning. Finally, and perhaps the most insidious implication of our ignorance, or perhaps indifference, towards learning is that we lose our independence without ever realizing it. Cooking is the key foundation to independence, for without it we are truly no different than our not-so-distant cousins in the forests and jungles. Simply being a human being is not being human. It is what we learn that makes us people.