The people surprised at our new behaviors assume that behavior is a stable category, but it isn’t. Human motivations change little over the years, but opportunity can change a little or a lot, depending on the social environment. In a world where opportunity changes little, behavior will change little, but when opportunity changes a lot, behavior will as well, so long as the opportunities appeal to real human motivations.
Yet communities grappling with technical information share observations and techniques all the time, and, other things being equal, learners who share their observations and frustrations with their peers learn faster and retain more of what they’ve learned than those who study alone.
What is clear is that the simple application of seemingly fundamental principles isn’t actually simple, because the principles aren’t actually fundamental. Ryerson’s policy, and indeed the implicit policies regarding study groups for most colleges and universities, relied on ancient assumptions that hardly needed to be spelled out: Eighteen-year-olds aren’t global publishers. Study groups have to meet in real rooms. You can’t get 146 people around one table. What happens on campus isn’t visible to the entire world. And so on.
Society is shaped as much by inconvenience as by capability, by what it can’t do as by what it can. Those two characteristics are deeply imbalanced, however, because the cultural assumptions that rise up around inconvenience simply seem like realism: