The increasingly known academic Bernie Bolt, so named because his mother, Jenny Bolt, conceived him during a rather vigorous edition of The Golden Shot, was preparing his Tedx talk. He had been invited to speak at Tedx Blackpool on his ‘new’ academic discipline ‘Presentstory’. Interestingly he had conceived of this new discipline whilst looking at History, moving right a bit, looking at futurology, moving left a bit, and he stopped and fired at the gap in the middle. “The story of all our nows” was how it was originally described on the website for his online MOOC, and here he was preparing to talk about a subject, which, to be honest, he knew very little about. The trouble with starting on such a venture is that he was suddenly thought of as an expert whereas, in reality, he was a complete novice. It was like asking Captain Cook to know all there is to know about Australia on the day he landed at Botany Bay.
However, there is something about his discipline of ‘the present’ that allows everyone’s ‘inner novice’ to be free. The idea of just studying the present means there is no need for a large body of knowledge, the entire subject is predicated on the idea that all that was needed to study it is a set of skills: quickness and alertness, the ability to think critically at the same time as doing something and/or experiencing something one could be instantly critical of.
His first ‘paper’ was on Football fans swearing at their most overrated or over valued player, but to capture the nowness he recorded his thoughts during a match and captured it all in a live ‘periscope’ broadcast on the internet. As the piece continued he was set upon by a small group of brutish 50 and 60 something thugs who had yet to embrace the modern game and he ended up in casualty with minor bruising and cuts.
But just like watching the Golden Shot, it was the ‘live’ nature of his academic discipline that caught the imagination of the ‘yoof’. They saw that here was a discipline that could be caught rather than taught, no need to study a body of knowledge as that would belong to the subject of ‘history’ and would pollute the unadulterated study of the present. How invigorating! Academic work was shared via snapchat in the early years, dissertations were written and read at the same time and then would ‘self destruct’. This was a course impossible – and that’s where its popularity resided.
As the course got accredited and the bureaucrats got hold of it, evidence and data had begun to take over, a body of knowledge had accrued and in some lesser universities courses had sprung up looking at the oxymoronic ‘history of the present’ and some phds had been written looking at the present as the start of our ever evolving future. This upset Bernie, I mean he was pleased because he was able to monetise his work in books and MOOCS but something had been lost, if one can lose the ever-present…
Here he was, preparing for a Tedx talk, and his excitement was precisely because his definition of the present, defined quite early on, had been shaped by TED. ‘Occurring now’ had had to be defined. Extreme anarchist students had insisted that this had to be 0.00001 seconds, they celebrated amnesia and ‘pretended’ that alzheimer’s was the ultimate expression of freedom, until they experienced someone close to them suffering from it, the elderly anarchist ‘leader’, who, in the end could only remember the poll tax riot and had to go to Trafalgar Square every day to fight with pigeons and tourists and those cheapskate ‘street entertainers’ who painted themselves to look like unconvincing statues… Bernie was not so extreme, he articulated, originally, that the present was defined in units of sense, when one starts ‘ a sense tense’, a sentence if you will, one knew, sort of where one might be going, even if one changes one’s mind or meaning during the course of it. But this was too loose a definition for the authorities and they needed the present to be defined more clearly so that they could ensure that any legal comeback from a student who had failed the course could be defended against in a court of law. Compromises were made, the subject suffered, but at least now the present was defined: “The present is defined as that which happens during the duration of a ‘sense tense’, which is a collection of moments comprising the thoughts of the academic engaged in ‘framing the collection of moments’ and totalling, just as in a TED talk, no more than eighteen minutes.”
This, he deemed, was the ultimate way to engage students, keep the authorities happy, and retain a sense of nowness. – He was sure that the students couldn’t concentrate more than eighteen minutes, but, importantly, their motivation to be ‘academic’ could last long enough to monetise online product. The present, usefully, could have a commercial future, and, in this, he was to be proved right.