Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Interview: Self-Educator Race Bannon (Part 2 of 2)

What do you see as the importance of reading? Is reading necessary to self-education, or could self-educators who dislike reading substitute other media and skip reading entirely? Must we still read books? How do you decide what to read?

This is a tough one. I am such a book person that I know my answer will be biased. There is a certain linear structure to the book form that presents information in a logical, progressive way that other forms may not. With that said, I think reading, in any form, is vital to learning. Why? Because I consider words to be the foundation of all learning. Yes, the spoken form can relay information without the need to read, but my instincts tell me incorporating the read and spoken word into a self-education regimen maximizes learning.

Other media certainly has its place though. And as technology increases those options I’m sure that books will take a seat alongside, rather than in front of, other learning options. As this happens I would personally continue to recommend the value of books, but I think I will have to succumb to the notion that true learning can take place without books.

I decide what to read in lots of ways. When bookstores were more common and contained broader selections than they do today, I would spend hours roaming the aisles and scanning the books. Nowadays I often do the same thing virtually on I carry a notepad with me at all times and I write down titles and authors whenever I hear of something interesting.

What role do other people play in your self-education? Do you find that conversations and other exchanges with other people can be educative, and if so, do you seek out such exchanges?

For me, knowledge without human interactivity is useless knowledge. I’m not one who believes knowledge for its own sake is the ideal. Knowledge should serve mankind. Yes, there is value in learning about something simply to satisfy one’s own curiosity, but ultimately knowledge should serve some purpose even if only on the individual level.

My conversations with people do two specific things for me. First, they expose me to new subjects, new insights, new perspectives that I might not stumble upon on my own. This often instigates the beginning of a self-education project for me. Second, once I’ve embarked on a learning path, I use people with knowledge about something to help me fill in the blanks and to place that knowledge within a real-life context.

Do you follow current events, and if so, where do you get your news? Why did you select those sources? Do you feel that it is important to follow current events and/or participate in political debate, and if so, why?

I am somewhat of a news junkie. Passive listening to mainstream news outlets, on television in particular, do little to inform me in the robust way I need to be informed. My preferred method is to read and watch on the web and I try to mix up the sources. I start every morning with a scan of these sites: (for my local newspaper’s online edition), (the closest thing we have to unbiased major news media in my opinion), (for left-leaning news and blogs), (for the moderate viewpoint),, and (for technology news). I also subscribe to Google newsfeeds on various topics and the summaries of related news shows up daily in my email inbox.

I feel it’s vital to follow current events and be part of the political debate because I consider it an individual’s responsibility in a civilized society.

What books, movies, music, art, websites, or other media would you recommend to other self-educators, that is, to other people who want to make a conscious effort to learn more, discover more, and expand their minds? List as many resources as you like, but be sure to place emphasis on those you most strongly recommend.

OK, I’ll get the blatant self promotion out of the way first and suggest my blog at is extremely useful. My favorite website of all time is and a great education can be achieved by simply listening to the presentations streamed from that site.

I also think everyone should become skilled at doing targeted advanced searches on web search engines. Most people only tap the most basic power of search engines and if they simply learned a few tricks to narrow and focus their searches the resources they’d come up with would be dramatically superior to the standard results.

I love so many books it’s hard to recommend even a few. What I do recommend is that people adopt the approach of reading a few books well rather than just reading a lot of books. A single good book read well and with thought and introspection is of far more value than a dozen books read quickly and without deep engagement and thought.

Other thoughts and insights?

None I can think of at the moment except to thank you for doing the work you’re doing. Fostering self-education in any way does society a great service.