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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (June 5, 2002)

Rejoinder to Professor Kumon

Ronald Dore (Professor, University of London)

Dear Kumon-sensei,

I suppose the real source of my angry feelings about the world is not -- certainly not -- the progress of technology (for which I feel especially grateful at the end of a week in which my son had a brain tumour removed by incredibly sophisticated surgery) nor optimistic forecasts of the liberating effects of the progress of technology. It is, rather, the fact that the first thing that gets liberated are the commercial forces which are steadily destroying culture and in destroying culture in the pursuit of profit, destroying also the trust which once bound people in society together.

To take two of Professor Kumon's examples. First culture. I too find it convenient when I want a particular book to use Amazon or the Maruzen website. But every time I do so I get infuriated by the way they throw advertisements at me; try to persuade me that, being the Ronald Dore who bought X, I ought also to want to buy Y etc. etc. Compare that with one of the major pleasures of life: going to a bookshop, browsing in and out of the subjects one knows something about, the occasional serendipitous discovery that opens up new worlds, the chance to tachiyomi, Some British and American bookshops are fighting back against the loss of directed sales by putting in arm-chairs and allowing suwari-yomi, but how long will that be commercially viable? In Trento the other day I commented to a friend on the enormous number of boutiques selling women's clothes. Yes, he said, a lot of them used to be bookshops.

And trust. Which is better: a university culture which assumes that all students will try to cheat, but thwarts them by the use of efficient search engines, or a university culture in which teachers can assume that the student who would not feel it self-demeaning to cheat is so rare as not to be worth bothering about?

Best wishes,

Ronald Dore

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