We live in a time of contradiction, the world is safer than ever and people live longer; the world is more unstable and there are newer more insidious dangers facing us than ever before. We live in a time of great wealth and human prosperity; we live in a time of economic hardship and globalization and the specter of manual labor automatization threatens the livelihood of billions. We live in an era with access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge and art; we live in an era of increasing ignorance and stagnating cultural institutions. I’m not here to settle the issue of security and work, but I do think there is a solution to the problem of information and culture. We simultaneously live in a post-apocalyptic cultural wasteland where the access to information and art has led to greater ignorance and stagnation and right under our noses are some of the most important innovators and teachers of our time. Behind the clickbait thumbnails, lets plays, and odds and ends YouTube, and the internets newer media formats in general holds a key to spreading information and molding the western if not the global consciousness of the 21st century. Its not that YouTube videos, blogs, and streams are a revolutionary format that are better at delivering information than the old mediums like print, film, radio, and periodicals; they’re not but they offer a new scale and interactivity to lead people to ideas that will change them for the better years before or years after they would have traditionally had the opportunity to encounter them in school. You can’t convey the necessary information about a topic on YouTube to really teach anyone before they click away chasing some new content but you can take that precious five to ten minutes to lead them to some of the best works in the old media and give the audience some tools to contextualize what they read/hear/watch. What even the best educational YouTube channels cannot do is truly replicate the experience of being in a classroom discussion section because its not really interactive. Broadcasters upload their video and commenters shout back into the void. PBS Idea Channel does a good job of uploading dedicated comment response videos but this is the exception to the rule.
Next month there will be a new use of the twitch.tv platform that I am very excited about. Starting July 2nd Comic Book Girl 19 channel will be broadcasting #DuneClub, which is effectively a class in the science fiction classic Dune by Frank Herbert. If you don’t know much about the best-selling science fiction novel of all time I’ll spare you the explanation of the plot and setting but know that it is a great work of 20th century literature that very effectively uses prose to convey a story that is like a psychological iceberg; the surface level events and dialogue are simple enough drama with a sci-fi backdrop but the real journey is a journey of the mind, of characters who live alien lifestyles and can expand their consciousness in a literary description of not just what the distant future human technology and economy is like, but what the future limits of our control over our bodies and minds to perform tasks that we assume can only be done by computers. Think space yoga. Dune is a long book and CBG’s project to read the book within a month and host an online class and discussion where the audience is transformed into students in a discussion section of a class, transmuted like the poisonous water of life into sacred mélange by the Reverend Mother Comic Book Girl 19.
YouTube videos of greater length, Wikipedia articles, podcasts and other great online media can greatly enhance our understanding of all aspects of the world we live in and open up platforms to discuss any niche topic from tea to reading Harry Potter as a religious text, but the opportunity presented by Dune Club is particularly significant. The internet has so far been a tool that can be used for self-study, and collaborative learning has been at a disadvantage because of the loss of the sense of place that a physical classroom with a lecturer or discussion section leader can provide. But much like Twitch plays Pokemon there is great potential to take the tools for self-study and form great real-time discussion events that can be archived and revisited. CBG 19 has put a lot of time and money on the line betting that given the right book and the right platform the world of user-generated content and self study in the current internet age can be expanded and Dune is the perfect book to do this. Dune can’t be filmed, that isn’t to say that its impossible or a waste of time to make a film or television adaptation but there is no replacement for getting into the mind of alien-like people using their humanity to solve massive problems that in reality we can’t ever solve without applying the same faith in the human mind that Frank Herbert had. Its not just Dune though, there should be a lot more “content” like this, content that isn’t “content” but events and experiences online that do more than link servers and media together but really bring human minds together to learn the way schools do but with the scope and scale of possibilities that only can be found on the internet.
Give Dune Club a chance or start your own similar project.