Log in

No account? Create an account
Breath vs depth of knowledge (or Oxford vs Cambridge culture if you prefer) - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
void where prohibited, except by law
Breath vs depth of knowledge (or Oxford vs Cambridge culture if you prefer)
This is a comment of mine from mobbsy's journal, responding to a post of his about the differences in culture between Cambridge and Other (presumably as in "Other Place") Geek conversation styles. As a former resident of Cambridge and current resident of Oxford, I hope I have some perspective of the issue. I was quite interested in what I wrote, so I put it up here for reference and comment.

Usual disclaimers apply. All generalisations are wrong. Blah blah blah.

While I feel that both styles of discussion you mention have value, I'd maintain that focussed intellect can sometimes lead to a certain inflexibility and failure to examine a problem from perspectives other than the highly technical. Now I'm a robust sort of a gal, and can give as good as I get when the discussion becomes heated without regarding it as a personal slight, but I'd say that on occasion arguments have been 'won' through force of personality rather than force of logic.

While it's to be expected that any group of friends will have similar opinions, it would have been nice if occasionally people would have tried a bit harder to step outside of the ringleaders' razor sharp dissection of the minutiae of the presentation rather than the underlying idea. In Cambridge geek circles, it's often hard to have a half formed idea and put it on the table for discussion, since more often than not it's descended on by a pack of hungry hyenas who regard dissecting an idea as an end in and of itself, rather than as a means to gaining a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding that idea. Cambridge conversation sometimes feels as though it's more about winning than learning, and tends to exclude some very interesting and valid ideas whose progenitors don't regard conversation as a competitive sport.

Personally I love being able to make intelligent comments to pretty much anyone about a subject that's of interest to *them*. I also regret the lack of focus of my somewhat dilettante nature and in particular its tendency to leave projects unfinished because the last 10% of the work isn't that interesting to me.

What I'd like to say is that there are many ways to have a conversation and I think it's largely a matter of personal taste rather than some objective standard of conversational correctness. I'd hope that people would be smart enough to realise that there are just about as many ways to be smart as there are smart people, and leave it at that.

I was thinking earlier today that when I first came to Cambridge, it was very important to me to know where I fit in the hierarchy of clever. (Side effect of defining your identity pretty much entirely in terms of your intelligence, unfortunately.) These days I realise that the hierarchy as I perceived it then doesn't really exist. I'd still been stuck in the old academic mentality of trying to measure and grade intelligence rather than learn from all the differences of perspective that exist out there.

Having said that Paris Hilton is still a pig ignorant sack of crap.
13 comments or Leave a comment
davywavy From: davywavy Date: June 26th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, now it starts working again.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 26th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
You what?
davywavy From: davywavy Date: June 26th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I replied to this post on the other journal, as replying on yours wasn't working at the time.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 26th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
How odd.
From: kaet Date: June 26th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with what you say about "Cambridge" conversation.

The problem I have with "Oxford" conversation though is that it doesn't seem to offer a "way in", in the way "Cambridge" conversation does: it doesn't seem to be as keen to teach.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 26th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm intrigued. Can you elaborate on what makes a "way in" to a conversation?
From: kaet Date: June 26th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suppose there are different kinds of barriers to entry, but I guess I mean it in a kind of didactic sense: there seems to deal with "uncouth" neophytes by teaching, rather than by deriding or ignoring. I suppose that restricts things to canon a bit more, I don't think it's an unalloyed good thing, but I'm pleased the way some of Cambridge's autodidacts put me straight in years gone by.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 26th, 2007 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, so sort of less cliquey then. Or at any rate a more welcoming clique?
From: kaet Date: June 27th, 2007 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah. More welcoming, as long as you eventually agree, ;-).
keirf From: keirf Date: June 27th, 2007 05:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but the problem with the Cambridge clique is that if you don't agree with their underlying philosophy and methodology (generally a form of logical positivism), you get treated rather rudely in discussions.
From: kaet Date: June 27th, 2007 05:45 am (UTC) (Link)
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: June 27th, 2007 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh well said! And thank you!

Grins cheekily.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 27th, 2007 10:14 am (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome. *smile*
13 comments or Leave a comment