To someone who dropped out of college and has argued along this lines to defend his decision, who has been playing with online reputation systems for a while now, this comment by Alex3917 — originally posted here in response to Paul Graham’s newest essay — was an epiphany, tying and explaining it all together:
So lately I have been thinking a lot about “qualified experts,” as mentioned in the article. Credentialism became prominent in the 20s because of advances in transportation technology. Before WWI everyone lived in the same town their whole lives, so anyone could vouch for you. Then after WWI there was increased mobility, so no longer could your neighbors provide the credibility needed to get a job or get startup funding. Thus college stepped up to fill the role of the middleman. This was essential to keep society functioning, although certainly credentialism hasn’t done much for the learning aspect of college.
Today, however, we have the Internet. Everyone is linked to everyone and anyone can vouch for you. I can email the management of any company and assuming I follow basic email etiquette I can usually get a response. As digital identity improves, everyone will be able to vouch for you based on the information you are supplying about yourself online. For example, PG has his essays and one of his books on his personal website. Surely this is as meaningful as a college degree.
Also, college credentialism is a hierarchy because you have one person making value judgements about many people. Anyone who knows anything about network theory knows that networks are more powerful than hierarchies, because Metcalfe’s law trumps Sarnoff’s law. Thus college supplied credentialism is much less effective than what we are capable of reaching if we use the Internet. This is why many of the “qualified experts” are so imcompetent, because hierarchies are so much weaker than networks.
Anyway, if someone wants to make a sh*tload of money I’d suggest developing some tools for the Internet that start to fill the credentialist role that colleges play currently. The value there will make the 2 billion Facebook is trying to get seem like peanuts. :-))
Btw, have I told you about Schank’s Law already? I think not. Here it is in all it’s glory:
Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.
by Roger Schank, as it appeared in The World Question Center 2004