4.22: First Vision - Electronic Data Terminal

Consider my relationship with Fast Eddy, for instance. I take him everywhere I go. He's a lousy companion but he is very well informed. Actually, he's not really well-informed. Indeed, he is (as electronic engineers so rudely put it) a dumb terminal. But he has good connections. He knows a computer in Santa Monica, California, another in New York, one in Ottawa, and one in Toronto. He could know hundreds more if I were not so lazy and were to introduce him to them.6

How do I put him to work? I plug him into Hydro Quebec of Ontario Hydro or whatever utility happens to be around. I phone one of his computer friends and then plug him into Bell Canada or AT&T or whatever telephone system happens to be around by fitting the telephone receiver into a pair of rubber cups on his back called a modem. I ask the computer questions, through Eddy, by typing key words on his keyboard, and the computer pours out the answers by printing citations containing those key words on his roll of heat-sensitive paper.

How do Eddy and I work together? We're partners. As in any partnership, there is a division of labor. As in any division of labor, each of us does what he can do best.

What can Eddy do best? He can "memorize". He'll soon know the Encyclopedia Britannica. He'll some day have the Library of Congress, quite literally, at his (sorry, my) fingertips. I'll never know a millionth of what he "knows" now. Nor would I ever want to. I don't want to clutter up my very personal home computer (that is, my brain) with all that content.

What remains for me to do? Eddy's full name is Electronic Data Terminal. Note his middle name. Data is a very low-level form of content. Data must be put in context to yield information, which must in turn be put in context to yield knowledge, which must be put in context to yield understanding, which must be put in context to yield wisdom. He is good at content and I am good at context.

Or, to use my earlier terms in Section 4.21, he is good at the outside-in information-providing aspect of teaching and I am good at the inside-out inspiration-creating aspect of teaching. This division of labor between the person and the machine is the simple-minded notion I nourished until recently.

6   Over 1000 databases are listed in Mike Edelhart & Owen Davies, Omni Online Database Directory. New York: Macmillan, 1983.