Thursday, April 2, 2009

Textbooks, the printernet and the end of bullshit

I did a post a couple of days ago and got this comment from BobH
Great stuff and right to the point. I called the good folks at PBWicki who insist their system is not meant to replace textbooks. Why not???? It's great to augment materials and be a place to share with your classmates/associates/organization, add web & other content, etc, etc. A customized living textbook, printed on-demand, for pennies on the dollar. What's stopping it?
Then I said,
What's stopping it is the fact that folks like Oce, Xerox and InfoPrint are focused at the top of the pyramid. It's just in their DNA.

So...they look at the education space. They "see" the textbook companies have the "content". They "see" the only way to do is to come in from the top of the pyramid. Based on what they "see," they think it means a gezillion meetings with publishers and education administrators....

Most of those meetings are power dances, not getting things done. So, they stay away.
Professor Henry Frankfurt of Princeton University says, "The "bullshitter" does not care about the truth and is only seeking to impress." Real meetings can be useful. Power dance meetings are classic examples of time wasting bullshit in action.

Meanwhile over at PR Communications there is a discussion about the nature of Public Relations. In the context of that conversation I said,

I think that points to PR people as message managers, not message controllers. It also points to a redefinition of PR.

Once the web made it very easy to compare and contrast, it became very clear that a large percentage of "journalism" is reprinting PR releases with a little gloss. In a value chain, it only makes sense. Journalists do not have the time to be experts at everything. They have the choice of a scanning the horizon or staying focused on a small area.

The emergence of beat reporting is a decision to focus on a small area and become an expert. The PR person by the nature of the job is focused on one area, their client. So the job becomes scanning the organization's information, and recombining unnoticed events to craft a story that someone will want to hear or read.

I think it's most clear in the recent Presidential campaign. Hillary's people thought they could control the news cycle. Obama's people understood that the only thing that has a chance of working is to keep telling the truth and building your fan base.

My bet is that Obama's team listened very closely to what people were saying. Not to follow it or pander to it or control it.

They listened carefully to get the the feedback to better understand how to more effectively tell the truth.

The opportunity for printernet publishing
The fact is that if you want to get your signal to break through the noise, the best media is Print. The internet just makes the signal v noise worse by radically increasing the noise. The problem, until the printernet, is that Print does not have the scale or the response time.

Textbooks with IP trapped content and value chain production can not respond fast enough nor be up to date have become too inefficient for learning. "Improving" them is only paving over cowpaths. The idea that they will be replaced by individualized computer instruction is good, but again misses the enabling factor. The advantage of Print is that it isolates signal from noise and captures that signal on Paper in a permanent form that can be considered, not read, viewed, scanned or consumed.

Without consideration and reflection learning is impossible.

Once printernet publishing becomes organized, Print is liberated from the disadvantages of the recent past. Millions of print products could be manufactured and delivered overnight to most urban areas on the planet, without getting close to straining capacity.

Much more important is that 30 copies could be delivered to a classroom, when teachable moments are likely to occur with just the right content in just right form at just the right time.


  1. Greetings,

    Good thoughts. Good site.
    Not sure about WIKI textbooks. Stalin would have loved that..."rewriting history has never been this easy!" The discourse of academia is tedious, but it does have the advantage of having the eggheads in charge.
    Like you, I see good possibilities for print. I like very much the idea of Print breaking through the noise, and the value of consideration. Print is dead. Long live Print!

    Mark Flanders

  2. Re rewriting history. Would you rather trust wikipedia or a textbook that was approved by the Texas School Board 3 years ago?

    Given the political correctness of local school boards and the various incentives to be dumber rather than smarter, I go with Wikipedia.

    Also, I think on a recent test Wikipedia = Encyclopedia Britannica.

    So Wikipedia = Encyclopedia Britannica v usual History Textbook?

    You pays your money and takes your choice.

    Is the marginal benefit of approved textbooks worth it? Given the graduation rates at the bottom of the pyramid, if I ran a school board that had to thinkin about getting rid of teachers, I know what I would decide.