The thing that’s so interesting– well, exasperating– about new technology is the way it always seems to get used for very old-fashioned purposes. Bill Gates and Stephen Jobs are, after all, in the end not so different from John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. All of these men, and many others, took the newest technology and used it for a very traditional end: to build personal wealth. It’s not the only option, of course.
There is public good in what they do,no doubt. No matter how much the Robber Barons accumulate, people use trains, banks, and computers for all sorts of collectively beneficial purposes. One of these guys might do something unique, too, but aside from the inevitable philanthropy, it just doesn’t seem to be in our cultural DNA. If we are lucky, we might get one Martin Luther King for every 10 to 20,000 Mark Zuckerberg’s.
The internet in general, and higher education in particular, is no different. There’s a lot of talk about innovation, and disruptive change, but the result, in for-profit, public, and non-profit universities alike, seems to be a very traditional goal: “Low-paid adjuncts… Online replicas of existing curricula…” (“Online Venture Energizes Vulnerable College“). The future of education looks like the present of McDonald’s: low pay, mass production.