There are people blessed by their encounter with a great, charismatic teacher whose example they emulate for the rest of their lives. I did not have such an encounter. There is no teacher I’d like to emulate. The best teachers were those that left me to my own devices. If they would just give assignments, grade, explain mistakes, show a better solution, and point to the right books - that would be enough. But no: it was endless lecturing, and it spoiled everything. I hate lectures; I also do not understand the point of lecturing, especially to large audiences, that is to say more than one person. It would be so much simpler to read and ask questions later. I always end up reading anyway. I find following lectures difficult, wasteful. My attention is constantly distracted by the stream of words. The person who mutters these words stays in the way of understanding. The sound of the voice. The face with the moving lips. The hands. The lecture drags on and on. It is impossible to stop and reflect, go back and check things out. It is impossible to skip forward and find what the lecture builds towards to. There are lecturers who are better at the art of exposition, but none beats a written text. I skipped most of the lectures back in college, and those I attended were torture. I understand that in mediaeval Europe this way of self-mutilation was the only method. I can imagine that there were few decent textbooks in the more recent past, and those were expensive. Perhaps there are people who learn by ear better than by eye, although they should be having trouble teaching themselves later on. Maybe such people have to be put together and droned upon. However, I do not think these folks are many. Why does this method of education persist? It is not education only. Why do we have all these plenary lectures, meetings, conferences, presentations? If these are social events, why spoil them by wasting each other's time? Even poster presentations are better than eight straight hours of 15 min talks. Why not have parties instead? Or the real symposia, the Greek ones, with red wine and double flute players? Can the professional hierarchy be established in some other way than through vocalization in front of tired people who cannot leave?
Newton and Euler did not attend conferences. They did no go to workshops, summer schools, study groups, and panels. If they wanted to talk to someone, they went and talked to this someone. If they couldn't, they wrote letters. Nobody complained, and the best science ever done was done in that way. The conferences were for salesmen, traders, and lawyers. Then, in the 1870s, the conferences became the norm of scientific interaction. Lecturing won. Now we have electronic preprints, web access to journals, e-mail, telephone, airmail, uploadable power point presentations. The opportunity to interact with each other is enormous. And yet orally delivered lectures remain the modus operandi.
Why? Would it ever change back?