Things That Are Better Than Ever: Learning

It’s very easy to look around at the world and find things to complain about; high gas prices, unemployment, and other signs of a bad economy. Those things are facts but they aren’t the whole picture, There are plenty of things that are better today than ever before.

They say that a good investor makes money whether the market is up or down, whether prices are rising or falling. This is true in our day-to-day life as well. Happiness and success can happen in the midst of troubled times by taking advantage of opportunities and avoiding the problem areas.

I was thinking about all the things that are better right now – October, 2012 – than ever before and lot of them have to do with technology. Gas costs about $4 a gallon but I saw a 1.5 TB hard drive on sale for $60 today. Computer, tablets and phones are better, faster and cheaper than ever before and that has all sorts of ramifications for day-to-day life and as I was thinking about this, one of the biggest impacts  hit me: if you’re reading this, you can learn anything you want to on your own schedule, virtually free.

That’s so staggering that I’ll say it again: for the first time in human history, you can learn pretty much anything you want to for pretty much free.

Everything from how to cook fried chicken to learning to speak Mandarin Chinese to differential calculus to learning to play Death Cab For Cutie songs on piano to Christian apologetics to refinishing a kitchen table to anything you can think of. It’s all out there, right now, just a click or two away from you. All you need to do is put in the time. It’s true for you, your friends, your kids – everyone. There are classes, lessons, web pages, forums, cheaper than ever or totally free. Everything, everywhere.

This is a new phenomanon. It wasn’t true 10 years ago before Wikipedia and YouTube and Twitter and ubiquitous high speed internet and a slew of other resources we take for granted now, was it? Maybe it was kind of true in 2002 if you worked hard but it certainly wasn’t true at all 20 years ago.

It’s new and we haven’t figured it out yet, really. We don’t act like it’s true. The whole wide world of knowledge is wide open to us but are we actually taking advantage of it to the extent we should be? Are we making sure our kids are aware of the power available to them and acting accordingly? Are political leaders acting recognizing the implications of this and making big changes based on it?

I’m not immune from this.  In the time I’ve wasted just arguing with idiots on Twitter, I certainly could have learned to program Javacript or build a Mongolian yurt or any of zillion other things. And guess what? I’m sure I’ll keep on arguing with idiots on Twitter.

But the brain smashing reality of what’s available NOW — not in some distant future but right flippin’ NOW – hit me and I wanted to shout it from my own digital rooftop. The biggest revolution in human learning snuck up on us while we were watching American Idol and playing Angry Birds and gossiping about Lance Armstrong and either listening to or ignoring Lady Gaga.

It’s happened. It’s done. The whole wide world of knowledge and skills is open to you. Nothing is stopping you or holding you back. You can decide what you want to learn and who you want to be in a year.

Are you ready? Are any of us ready?


  1. But as in any other time in history, the key words in this essay are “All you need to do is put in the time.”

  2. As you suggest, Lee, some of this existed pre-YouTube, even pre-Internet. In the pre-Internet days, the added constraint was that you had to live in a city that had a really complete library. Most of my web-searching abilities come from searching through New York Times annual summaries and through newspaper microfiche (not to mention my ability to read a web page by instant observation). Now the only constraint, other than an Internet connection and time, which both existed in the old paradigm, is one more constant – the desire to gain knowledge. The number of distractions, I’d argue, are exponentially larger.


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