HEWN, No. 288

"Those who ignore the past are destined to be in Wired Magazine" -- George Santayana probably

Sometimes people accuse me of crating caricatures when I write about Silicon Valley (ed-)tech types and the “Silicon Valley narrative.” But see, I don’t have to invent or exaggerate ridiculously terrible claims or theories or quotations — it’s easy just to point to things these boy-kings write themselves or to things they boast to other journalists. Like this, from Charles Duhigg’s New Yorker profile of Anthony Levandowski, a former Google and Uber exec (and the subject of a legal battle into whether he shared the former’s information with the latter) and the founder of a new religion based on AI:

“The only thing that matters is the future,” he told me after the civil trial was settled. “I don’t even know why we study history. It’s entertaining. I guess — the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Industrial Revolution, and stuff like that. But what already happened doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to know that history to build on what they made. In technology, all that matters is tomorrow.”

This makes my face melt in an Edvard Munch-like scream, of course. But it doesn’t stop me from typing furiously about why history absolutely fucking does fucking matter. I have three (three!) pieces in circulation this week that invoke the past to talk about tomorrow: one, in Vice, on “The History of the Future of High School”; one, the transcript of a talk I just gave this afternoon at the Network for Public Education conference on “Machine Teaching, Machine Learning, and the History of the Future of Public Education”; and one, the transcript of a talk I gave this week to a class at USF titled “B. F. Skinner: The Most Important Theorist of the 21st Century.”

Elsewhere in histories that sure do matter: “Was Gary Hart Set Up?” asks James Fallows, prompting us to think about a very long history of manipulative Republican operatives. Robin DeRosa writes about place and the past, present, and future of libraries. Jessica Wilkerson writes about place and mythology and Dolly Parton’s “blinding, dazzling whiteness.” The NYT’s Erica Green and ProPublica’s Annie Waldman write about the long history of racism and education in Charlottesville, Virginia. Reginald Dwayne Butts writes about the (in)ability of a felon to escape his past to become an attorney. Chris Gilliard writes about “friction-free racism” — which you must read and then re-read that Levandowski quotation above.

There’s probably a reason these machine worshippers fear the humanities, you know…

(This is a Victoria-crowned pigeon. Skinner never dared train these beauties to sing and dance and play ping pong and guide missiles. Image credits.)

Yours in struggle,