Archimedes' Death Ray

An Exploration of Human Existence (and Beyond) by Gregory M. Rapp

Hi, all,

I have been thinking (and rethinking) some issues with the datahoarders pieces I want to publish here. I am hoping to have something worthy of your limited reading times here soonish.


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

Been one of dem days. I'll have the datahoarding series posted tomorrow or Monday, obstacles depending.


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

So, for this week, I am working on a series of pieces concerning datahoarding, something epitomized with the subreddit of the same name. The datahoarding phenomenon is something I think fits well here on Archimedes' Death Ray because it tackles some deeply human needs in the twenty-first century. I will be introducing this posting series on Saturday, February 27. All installments will be released Saturday and Sunday of this week, with (potentially) more installments coming in the future. See you all Saturday!


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

This was originally featured on Medium and later on my now-defunct author Website. I have decided to use it as my first (of many) initial postings for this blog.

The spread of inexpensive technologies, particularly hardware and software packages, have created the conditions of possibility for an information-based civil war in the United States. It all sounds nonsensical, but is it? The us versus them mentalities have a deep-rooted history in the United States, stretching back to the country's very founding, possibly earlier. Just look at the U.S. Declaration of Independence if you don't believe these words—see below. In heterogeneous nation-states like the U.S., new developments in computer and information systems could lead to serious internal conflicts, if left unchecked.

He [the king] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. –U.S. Declaration of Independence

The information civil war, as some might call it, has started rearing its ugly head. We saw this with the post-2016 election, with various groups fighting back and forth over Russians meddling in American elections, among other things. What the 2016 election brought to the forefront is not necessarily a genie we want out of the bottle, per se. The election, with Russian meddling, showed just how vulnerable our society is when it comes to the consumption of information. With the advent of deepfake technologies, fake news outlets, and the ubiquity of social media and cheap Web hosting, our information consumption can be used against us, and quite easily.

A 2018 study by Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral found that fake news penetrated social media networks faster and deeper than the genuine truth. In the same study, Vosoughi, Roy, and Aral pointed out that “False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections.”[1] The implications of this study cannot be understated. Information is a double-edged weapon that can be used to inform and destroy or mislead.

It doesn’t help that politicians, like President Donald Trump, have used the term fake news loosely, making it a popular catchphrase. Older individuals, particularly those over the age of sixty-five, are likely to spread misinformation or fake news on platforms like Facebook.[2] This suggests there is a very real information consumption and dissemination problem in the United States, if not globally, particularly among our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

So why the talk about civil war? During the 2016 election, fake news outlets produced inflammatory articles suggesting that if Hillary Clinton was elected, the United States would be headed toward disaster, war with Russia, or, very possibly, civil war.

In fact, during the last election, and even before the election, right-wing extremist groups and militias declared they would resist the U.S. government if their rights were infringed upon. Much of what was fueling this sentiment, appears in part, to be misinformation on the part of those involved in such groups. Right-wing extremists and militias suggest that their constitutional rights are at risk, particularly their Second Amendment rights.

I teach political science at my local community college, and the arguments concerning the Second Amendment aren’t anything new or really that imaginative. Nevertheless, in my political science classes, students repeatedly articulate the line that Democrats are running the country into the ground, hoping to take everyone’s guns away. The problem with such arguments comes down to a logical fallacy, something we, in the business of rhetoric, another thing I teach, like to call the slippery slope fallacy. It ignores the information, specifically facts, available to the person making the argument in question. In other words, the right-wing extremists and militias forget that the United States has an incredibly powerful pro-gun lobby in the U.S. Congress, along with relatively lax laws concerning gun purchasing and ownership.

Civil wars happen, according to The Logic of American Politics, because of fundamental breakdowns in the ability to handle collective action problems, especially at the national level. The information civil war will happen because we cannot collectively bring ourselves to confront the new technologies, hardware and software, that make disinformation, fake news, deepfakes, and the like, able to propagate themselves so easily on the Web.

For a sneak-peek into what could happen, if we’re not vigilant, Bruce Sterling’s Distraction (1998) offers a rather grim picture of our future-present. In Distraction, weaponized information and its consumption disrupt American society, tearing it apart, making the nation seem as if it’s on the verge of total collapse. If we’re not careful, that could be the reality we live.

What can we do? There will need to be a fundamental shift in how we educate both young and older generations when it comes to media consumption. In other words, our nation’s most vulnerable populations will likely need help differentiating fake news from legitimate news Websites, among other things. Moreover, there will need to be a serious push, incentive-wise, to encourage social media platforms to root out fake news and disinformation campaigns, while ensuring these platforms are real bastions of free speech on the Web. Furthermore, organizations, like our nation’s news agencies, need to be held to a higher journalistic standard, in order to keep disinformation off Websites, screens, and airwaves. Politicians, too, must be held accountable for their statements, even people like Trump. Doing so, will, hopefully, mitigate the harmful effects that come with unscrupulous media consumption. If we succeed, we could, very well, ensure the survival of a cohesive and prosperous society. If we fail, we all know where that road leads us.


Notes. 1. Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinana Aral, “The Spread of True and False News Online,” Science 359, no. 6380 (March 2018): 1150, DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9559. 2. Andrew Guess, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua Tucker, “Less Than You Think: Prevalence and Predictors of Fake News Dissemination on Facebook,” Science Advances 1, no. 05 (January 2019), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau4586.


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.


This is a partially monetized article, as a test to see if readers are interested in such stuff. Monetization, to some degree, allows bloggers like myself to generate revenue streams that make our writing more sustainable. Most articles will be free on this blog, with the occasional monetized article, which will be marked in bold under the living Table of Contents. If you don't have a Coil membership or would rather support this blog using Patreon, please do so. A version of this monetized article will be posted there for Patreon supporters.


I remember in high school hearing about who built the pyramids in Egypt, and elsewhere around the globe. My uncle, a rather abrasive and opinionated man, believed the angels or fallen angels had built the pyramids, possibly aliens from other planets. He never believed ancient Egyptians, who were advanced, cultured, and worthy of building such wonders, could build something like the pyramids found as husks of their former (glorious) selves in Egypt today. Instead, architectural and technological wonders could only be built by white Europeans, not dark-skinned Egyptians, or so the thinking went.

While the Europeans did manage some grand feats themselves, they were not alone. Robbing other civilizations, other peoples, and other geographies of their grand wonders is a crime of Eurocentrism, a virulent form of ethnocentrism.

Read more...

Due to power outages and inclement weather, I'll be forgoing postings this week. I'll return next week with some exciting stuff. See you all next week!


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

Hi, folks,

No posting tonight. Just relaxing and enjoying the approaching winter storm here in eastern New Mexico. I'll have an update on the upcoming post here soon.

Best regards, Gregory M. Rapp


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.


Originally posted on Medium, but I think it is still as relevant today as it was then.


The analogy between cars and operating systems is not half bad, and so let me run with it for a moment [. …] Customers come to this crossroads in throngs, day and night. Ninety percent of them go straight to the biggest dealership and buy station wagons or off-road vehicles. They do not even look at the other dealerships. –Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning…Was the Command Line


I am a child of the late-90s and early-2000s.

I remember when things like computers still weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now. I remember dial-up, young’uns. Those who understand this old world know that one of the things that cropped up quite often was proprietary software and hardware. To paraphrase Neal Stephenson, the computer industry was much like the car industry, with a few large players and a bunch of no-names running around. Most people, and there were few exceptions, bought the from the big names like Microsoft. On occasion, when someone had money, they bought an Apple device with its own proprietary software. Much like cars, people stuck with what was familiar or easy to buy, understand, and get working out the box the fastest.

In the early 2000s, the computer software industry was dominated by the likes of Microsoft, with Apple coming, fairly far behind, offering expensive, and to use Neal Stephenson’s language, hermetically sealed software packages that made it fairly hard to understand what was going on underneath the hood.

This changed, I believe, with the rise of iPhone and Android phones, the steady increase in cheap computing power and electronics miniaturization, and, of course, the ubiquity of faster Internet connections. This confluence of technological progress created a rather unique period in consumer electronics and software history.

iPhones offered a unique proposition to consumers, albeit it wasn’t a new proposition, just something uniquely packaged and hawked by Apple. Apple offered consumers a lifestyle change, something that went beyond the squarish business types and their smartphones complete with Windows or some unusual proprietary operating system. Apple offered people a chance to buy cool, but it came at a price. You had to agree to some rather unusual “Terms and Conditions,” you had to download Apps from Apple’s store, and, more importantly, you had to dish out some serious cash to pay for it. The iPhone, like any technology of our age, came with strings attached.

A few months after the original iPhone began going on sale, the first Android phone came out. Thus, began the duopoly (see infographic above) of iOS and Android, dominating the smartphone market. And, again, Neal Stephenson’s apt analogy of operating systems mirror the car industry could be seen being played out in front of our eyes. However, interesting enough, the smartphone operating system industry, as of 2018, has been dominated by open-source software: Android. If we take Statista’s infographic (see above) seriously, we find that Android dominates the market with nearly eighty per cent of phones shipped and used today. While Apple’s proprietary software still dominates around fifteen percent of the market, the dominance of Android is quite perplexing and offers a rather interesting case study for those looking at the future of design, development, and adoption of technology, including software.

Security and Its Discontents.

One of the features that makes Apple’s iOS somewhat secure is Apple’s mixture of “security through obscurity” and an iron grip on what can and cannot be in Apple’s App store. The problem with Android is that the App store is a minefield for spam, malicious software, and, of course, insecurity. This makes it nearly impossible to truly (and fully) trust the software on Android phones. (With that said, I’m not saying Apple is much better, but they do have a few things going for them. More on that later.)

Another issue that comes that puts Android at a disadvantage is the lack of centralized security updates. Apple’s updates, albeit a real shitshow as a late, are far superior to anything put forth by Android. Android has numerous versions running across the globe. As an Apple user, all my devices, including my iPad, my iPhone, and my MacBook, are always running up-to-date software. Why? Blame it on Apple’s need to maintain some semblance of order over the chaos. This provides Apple devices with an added measure of security, security that Android devices lack out of the box.

How do we solve this issue?

The question above is a good deal more complicated than we might like. Some blockchain-enthusiasts suggest we can secure future smartphone operating systems using blockchain. (For those looking for an interesting read on blockchain technology, consider reading Wired’s blockchain reference piece.) Others have suggested that Google needs to take hold of the reigns and find some amicable solution to the security update apocalypse facing the Android operating system. Still others, including myself, believe that Android can find an innovative solution that ensures democratization and safety from malicious software, spam, etc.

The approach I see pertains to the design of Android. Security needs to be priority one. In other words, Android needs to be developed as a secure platform from the beginning. This is difficult, as the number of users operating on Android and the parties interested in cracking open Android using various security flaws are growing each year. Thus, Android needs to consider approaching security in innovative ways.

Using blockchain technology, or something similar, Android could force updates, especially critical security updates, in a way that is both secure and public in nature. The blockchain ledger could be used by the phone’s OS to ensure the security and validity of the updates. More importantly, blockchain could offer a sort of secure layer for payment systems on Android phones that are constantly under attack by governments and even criminal organizations. Further, blockchain-like ledgers could offer security in the form of whitelisted software, OS versions, etc.

To ensure security, organizations like Google could offer serious rewards for zero-day exploits and unpatched areas required serious security updates. This would ensure some security flaws are turned over to those working on Android’s security. To add to this, it would also require that Google, and other organizations, take Android security seriously and maintain transparency about exploits and fixes for said exploits.

Another way to secure Android would be to start taking the complaints seriously when it comes to Android’s App Store. These security flaws could be mitigated if Google took a firmer stance against software that acted maliciously. Another way to approach security here would be to bypass the Google-dominated app store and offer more secure alternatives by third parties that have taken security more seriously than Google has in recent years.

Privacy: I Have Nothing to Hide, Why Should I Care?

With security comes the issue of privacy. Following the Snowden leaks, many Americans (and people worldwide) became nihilistic in the face of privacy and security. The old argument, “I have nothing to hide, so why should I care?” cropped up over (and over). Privacy needs to be another design consideration when developing the future, particularly the open-source future.

Again, this is where Apple shines—to a point. The company has made it a point to secure user information from third parties and even government agencies. Android doesn’t have this kind of support from Google, and there are few, if any guarantees, concerning real privacy shared by Android users. Instead, Android, much like many Americans following the Snowden leaks, is facing a sort of privacy nihilism. This needs to stop.

In an age where private matters, conversations, etc. can become political fodder, there is a need to secure user privacy so that it isn’t ripped from its original context and weaponized by governments, corporations, or criminal organizations. Again, this is where a sort of decentralized security feature could ensure the safety of privacy. Android could adopt more secure hardware and software mechanisms to ensure privacy is still available to its users.

In Apple, iPhones are armed with hardware that ensures secure encryption, allowing for private information to be somewhat secure. Why not go this route for Android? Why can’t Android force certain hardware requirements? To say that Apple or any company has total security and privacy is bogus, but we can try to push software and hardware packages closer to this ideal. Android must look at itself and ask, “What will allow for democratization and ensure security and privacy for Android’s users?” The answer to democratization might not be in hardware but, rather, in the realm of software. Android could secure user privacy by offering better crypto and the ability to completely wipe one’s data out of existence. This would, probably, mean distancing itself from Google and other corporate interests. Android, most likely, needs to be an independent and self-sufficient entity, one that secures its own future and doesn’t rely on the whims of tech giants like Google.

Crime: Just the Facts, Ma’am.

Criminal enterprises are appreciative of open-source operating systems like Android, with millions of vulnerable devices saturating the marketplace. However, they aren’t the only ones, as government agencies are appreciative as well for the numerous security flaws in Android. However, Android doesn’t have to be synonymous with security flaws and privacy violations. Instead, Android could secure itself to ensure that it doesn’t become a safe haven for criminal enterprises and government surveillance programs. Android could, very well, become synonymous with security and privacy, but it needs to take drastic steps. These might include distancing itself from Google, allowing for real competition with Google’s Android app store, and, more importantly, embracing innovative technologies that secure the OS and user privacy.

What's Next?

There is no doubt that open-source is the future, especially when it comes to software for smartphones. However, to ensure this future doesn’t turn ugly and land us in a dystopian hellscape, we need to reconsider how we design open-source software like Android. Moreover, we need to make security and privacy a priority when it comes to the design of future open-source operating systems. We live in interesting times, when open-source software can compete (and compete well) against proprietary operating systems like iOS and Windows. The future will be a brighter place if operating systems like Android avoid the nihilism that has taken a hold of many users and organizations. Moreover, open-source smartphone operating systems can, like their desktop and server siblings, become synonymous with security.

Open-source software like Android has opened a Pandora’s Box, one in which opportunities and challenges have leaked out into the world, never to return to their previous confinement. We can either act and ensure open-source remains a staple of the future, or we can stand here, doing nothing, and ensure that users have no choice but to return to hermetically sealed proprietary software.


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.


This piece is something I've been working on for some time, wrestling with the issues pertaining to higher education in the United States. It is very much from an American experience here, and something I think that addresses the issues behind the myths centered around higher-ed here in the U.S.[1]


Everyone wants to go to heaven, but the gate of heaven isn’t like the gate of hell, which opens with a push. I confused the gate of hell with the gate of heaven. –Wang Xiaofang, The Civil Servant’s Notebook


College or university education, post-secondary education, or higher education has a serious problem, and COVID-19, with its political and economic fallout, has made the problem facing higher education more pronounced. Higher education is facing an existential crisis, one that is challenging its dominance in the American workforce. In fact, college or university education, much like belittled public education in the United States, has become laughable. Internet memes, rightwing commentariats, and, of course, conservative (and even liberal) lawmakers have shown college/university education to be nothing more than atrocious government waste, producing undereducated and ignorant graduates, and creating “too big to fail” educational institutions across the country that are (essentially) money-making enterprises for cash-strapped states.

When I first started college, at the age of seventeen, it was expected that I would find a job after studying hard, writing papers, and taking exams for four years. In fact, college or university education came with a sort of spoken guarantee that I would find a good-paying job with little or no effort, aside from studying and performing adequately in various academic subjects. Moreover, I would be able to pay off my student loans with relative ease and smart budgeting, inch ever upward toward true prosperity, and, one day, just one day, I would be a member of America’s shrinking middle-class.

This was about the time of the Great Recession, as misleading as that moniker has become. The Great Recession saw droves of Americans entering college, including young, traditional college-age students and older, non-traditional students. College became a way to escape the harsh realities of the Great Recession’s economic hellscape, where unemployment, wage freezes, mortgage defaults, and very real anger and confusion were everywhere. However, the promise that college education provided one with the ability to secure stable (and worthwhile) employment, one that was touted by politicians in Washington, D.C. and my adopted home of New Mexico, began to crack under the pressure of the post-Great Recession economic realities. It was an impious fiction, packaged and sold by the country’s political leadership, who, for various reasons, wanted people to skip on trades and seek out white-collar work instead. It was a fiction that, for the most part, proved to be true until it wasn’t.

The problem with any myth, particularly myths concerning how one achieves prosperity, is that it tends to break apart when the conditions allowing individuals to believe in them are ripped away. The Great Recession, and subsequent economic dislocations, ripped away any notions held by Americans that education, all by its lonesome, could help individuals achieve real prosperity (Think: Entering (and staying within) America’s shrinking middle-class). Although higher education does indeed bring about prosperity, and higher levels of employment,[2] many pundits believe that higher education, particularly through two- and four-year degree programs, is unable to help graduates secure true middle-class prosperity. In other words, if pundits are correct, the promises politicians made to so many Americans have become full of empty words for those Americans struggling to find gainful employment following college or university graduation.[3] Moreover, many college-educated Americans struggle against heavier burdens from student loans used to help finance educational opportunities.[4]

This rather bleak view of higher education has had many experts, including prominent futurists, claiming the death of higher education is upon us,[5] especially in the United States. The data seems to be indicating this: more people are pursuing alternative forms of education, high school graduates aren’t flocking to colleges like they used to, and the earnings for undergraduate degrees appear to be in decline. The number of students enrolling in and attending colleges or universities has been in steady decline since 2011.[6] More students are shunning for-profit and four-year colleges or universities.[7] Furthermore, some data, although I am skeptical of some of these data points, suggest undergraduate degrees, particularly four-year degrees, are seeing a decline in real wages. [8], [9]

Like any proclamation of death, we need to be wary. We also need to be vigilant when it comes to promises made by politicians, and we need to be critical of those experts proclaiming the death of higher education. Thus, we need to look deeper, and when we do, we find that higher education, although not dying, per se, is, indeed, a species facing endangerment and, very possibly, extinction. In other words, we mustn’t believe that death is already here and start planning a funeral and a life afterward. Higher education in the United States is on a sort of life support or even hospice care, depending on the state you live in. We can still take steps to help higher education remain relevant in the twenty-first century. Moreover, we can take action to push institutions to pursue innovative curricula and practices. However, saving higher education for tomorrow will take an incredible amount of work and resources, along with some radical solutions to very real problems.

In my own state, New Mexico, our last governor had an ax to grind when it came to higher education. Susana Martinez, a Republican and fiscal conservative, did the unthinkable when she vetoed a bill funding higher education in the state of New Mexico in 2017.[10] This sent waves of panic throughout the state’s institutions of higher learning, and, more importantly, it rekindled the debate concerning the supposed economic value, or lack thereof, of higher education as a whole. We even made the national news, and many New Mexicans didn’t appreciate being in the limelight. The state at the time, and this is still the case, has been ranked the lowest in public education, something that has demoralized New Mexico educators, even at the highest levels of our state’s education system.

To make matters worse, states like New Mexico are forced to compete for an ever-shrinking piece of the higher education pie. The rise of A.I., better software, cheaper computing hardware, and relatively inexpensive bandwidth, have all made it easier for colleges to compete across stateliness for student (and federal) dollars. Organizations like Liberty University and Southern New Hampshire University boast about serving tens of thousands of students, both in their respective states and elsewhere. State institutions, like my alma mater, can compete with more expensive schools in the online arena. Ironically, these same schools are using state funding to build and make repairs to their beautiful brick ‘n’ mortar campuses, which in the case of my alma mater hasn’t seen large on-campus growth in over a decade.

Instead, my alma mater has spent a good deal of money upgrading and maintaining its physical campus, all the while ignoring (really, neglecting) the distance education students and the infrastructure that supports their growing numbers. Distance education has become a way of shoring up funds, a robbing Peter to pay Paul moment, when on-campus enrollment has steadily decline into oblivion. Thus, institutions like my alma mater are surviving in a time of low enrollment nationwide. It is institutions like these who are clinging to the old ways, ignoring the realities beset in front of them, especially in the looming post-COVID-19 educational environment.

If higher education wants to survive, it will need to change. This need to change, adapting to environmental stimuli, is an important part of the successful propagation of lifeforms. The same can be said for institutions of higher learning, where there tends to be a shying away from the realities bearing down on higher ed. COVID-19 did not make these problems happen, per se. Instead, COVID-19 brought them to the forefront, revealing them to students, administrators, policymakers, and faculty all at once. The issues besieging higher education cannot be dealt with using old methodologies.

Between the failure of promises made by politicians and all the other negative baggage associated with higher education, the future of higher ed is in serious trouble. Higher education needs to stop thinking like an industry. When institutions see themselves as being part of an industry, they fail to find why they are doing something. The why is important here. We must remember that without answering the why, higher education will continue to face an existential crisis, and, if left untreated or left to fester, higher education could very well end up like nineteenth-century railroads: Irrelevant and unresponsive to future demands. In other words, if higher education wants to remain relevant, it needs to look at itself in a deeper, more critical way, avoiding the fate of many nineteenth-century railroad corporations.

Further, higher education needs to stop fetishizing the degree completion mantra. Degree completion, or even the completion of certificates, can only be one of many solutions to ensuring higher ed remains relevant into the foreseeable future. Another problem is bridging the gap between praxis and theory. In many higher ed classrooms, theory trumps praxis, meaning hands-on and experiential learning takes a backseat to so-called book learning. Thus, institutions of higher learning need to bring the two forms of learning together. For example, a student studying basic medical techniques should be able to practice them, even if that comes with simulations and workshops focused on learning proper techniques. Engineers would, in this learning environment, learn to apply their theories to the real world. Budding scientists could do the same thing here as well, making use of makerspaces to experiment and learn in ways that might engage the brain in deeper, more meaningful ways.

A successful higher ed institution would create learning experiences within and outside of the formal classroom. Moreover, the institution in question would offer the necessary resources to help students hone their skills and retain their knowledge from formal college courses using spaces like a makerspace or innovation lab, etc. Moreover, a successful college or university should not stop offering educational opportunities with degree programs. They could, in theory, offer continued education opportunities for alumni and members of the larger community. Thus, an institution such as a community college or rural university could become a hub for scientific and economic innovations, developing strong roots in the community that would allow these institutions to remain relevant and sustainable into the foreseeable future.

If higher education institutions fail to adapt and change to the needs of their communities, their students, and to the larger politico-economic frameworks, it is likely they will be replaced. These institutions could be replaced with alternatives like corporate-sponsored MOOCs, industry-specific certificate programs, or even micro-degrees centered on deep specialization for specific industry needs. Higher education needs to show that it can be a competitor in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to the way things have been done. Higher education, particularly in the United States, has shown promise to be a radical innovator, offering educational opportunities that could (and should) rival what is offered in its place.

Despite what some are saying, higher education is not dead yet. I emphasized yet for a reason. In the future, higher education could be replaced with alternative educational systems, systems that may or may not offer students what they need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the twenty-first century. If we lose institutions of higher learning, what is to say that we will not lose so much more?


Commentary & Bibliographical Notes: 1. Originally published on Medium as “The Death of Higher Education?” Revisited and revised here under a different name, something that felt a bit more poignant than the previous (and ambiguous) title. 2. An excellent discussion on employment rates among college graduates can be found on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): NCES, “Employment Rates for College Graduates,” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Accessed 11 January 2021, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=561.
3. See citation above. This is the official study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s NCES. 4. For a closer inspection of household debt, particularly college/university education debt, see the Federal Reserve’s short report on the matter: Federal Reserve, “Student Loans and Other Education Debt,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Federal Reserve, Accessed January 11, 2021, https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/2019-economic-well-being-of-us-households-in-2018-student-loans-and-other-education-debt.htm. 5. A rather poignant article on this can be found in The Atlantic: Adam Harris, “Here’s How Higher Education Dies,” The Atlantic, June 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/heres-how-higher-education-dies/561995/. 6. Paul Fain, “College Enrollment Continues Decline,” Quick Takes, Inside HigherEd, May 2019, https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2019/05/30/college-enrollment-declines-continue. 7. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSC Research Center), “Current Term Enrollment – Spring 2019,” NSC Research Center, Accessed 10 January 2021, https://nscresearchcenter.org/currenttermenrollmentestimate-spring2019/. 8. Jaison R. Abel, and Richard Deitz, “College May Not Pay Off for Everyone,” Liberty Street Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Accessed 11 January 2021, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2014/09/college-may-not-pay-off-for-everyone.html. 9. For an in-depth study of wage trends in the United States see Sarah A. Donovan, and David H. Bradley, Real Wage Trends, 1979 to 2019, CRS Report No. R45090. Washington, D.C. Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45090.pdf. 10. Valerie Strauss, “New Mexico Gov. Martinez vetoes higher education funding. All of it.,” Answer Sheet, The Washington Post, April 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/04/17/new-mexico-gov-martinez-vetoes-higher-education-funding-all-of-it/?noredirect=on.


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

Working on the special posting. It should be ready tomorrow (Monday)—just making sure everything is tied up. See you all tomorrow!


Archimedes' Death Ray is copyright © 2020–2021 by Gregory M. Rapp. All rights reserved. Please note: I don't mind if people share printouts or electronic versions of postings found here, just be responsible in doing so. That means, give credit where credit is due, and don't sell those copies for the purpose of making a profit. Fellow educators: Feel free to use anything you see here in your courses, projects, etc., so long as you adhere to Fair Use and ethical academic practices.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.