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“Do Rocks Have Rights? In an Age of Information, They Just Might!”

April 24, 2013

Information Revolution topic of annual Keefer and Keefer lecture

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at dickinsonh@beloit.eduor 608-363-2849

Upon waking up each morning most people check their smartphones before their feet even hit the floor. Thus, smartphones are now defeating gravity as priority, theorizes Tom McBride.

“We are quite possibly in a major revolution,” said the English professor and Keefer Professor of the Humanities. “And this revolution is going to be as big if not bigger than the Industrial Revolution, as big if not bigger than the Darwinian Revolution, and as big if not bigger than the Copernican Revolution. We are really living through a fundamental shift in how we operate things.”

McBride reflected on these matters in his annual Keefer and Keefer lecture titled “Do Rocks Have Rights? In an Age of Information, They Just Might!” in April 2013.

The question McBride proposed to his audience is how a liberal arts college like Beloit is supposed to react to such a stupendous revolution. He presented six ideas that he asserted should be considered when pondering the liberal arts in an information age, including the theory of rocks having rights.

Citing philosopher Lynn Townsend White who asked whether or not rocks have rights, too, McBride argues that an age of information may be calling for a new set of ethics.

If rocks do have rights, their rights must be based on their existence, not on their lives, since rocks do not have lives. But if rocks do exist, they do so in the infosphere, a place where McBride says information itself comes to constitute one big ecosystem.

Anything that exists is a carrier of information, he says, and it deserves our respect and attention as well as the right to have its information ferreted out with accuracy.

“Since we all benefit from being in an ecosphere...does that not in fact give us as beneficiaries certain obligations as guardians?” McBride asked. “And we’re all beneficiaries of information, so should that not in fact mean we have certain ethical obligations to be guardians of information?”

SOURCE:  Tom McBride is a professor of English and Keefer Professor of the Humanities at Beloit College. He is also a co-creator of the globally-recognized Mindset List. A graduate of Baylor University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, McBride teaches Milton, Shakespeare and critical theory, and has team-taught many interdisciplinary courses. He is a co-founder of the program in Rhetoric and Discourse in the English department and for many years headed the college’s First-Year Initiatives seminar program. He has published critical essays and creative non-fiction in journals including Texas Studies in Language and Literature, The Baker Street Journal, and Two Cities, and on and He has been a commentator on language for Wisconsin Public Radio and is known on campus for the twice-yearly Keefer Lectures. He can serve as a media resource on topics related to his teaching and research interests.