The Primer isn’t a viable enabling environment—but it does suggests a promising direction. One challenge with creating enabling environments (like, say, a scientific field) is that Enabling environments focus on doing what’s enabled, but that’s often impossible for novice participants, so they end up mired in abstract introductory materials. One promising approach: Enacted experiences can bootstrap active participation in enabling environments. Unfortunately, Enacted experiences are hard to author and Enacted experiences are hard to distribute.
The Primer is an enormous enacted experience—that’s part of what people find so compelling about it. It doesn’t quite bootstrap as I describe, but a parallel-universe Primer could: Enacted experiences of intellectual discovery could foster Nell’s curiosity and interest (dubious).
As it’s depicted, Nell doesn’t know or share the Primer’s goals. She’s meant to complete it, then leave it behind: The Primer is one big “onboarding” experience for the rest of Nell’s life. It would be self-defeating to starkly separate the “bootstrapping” enacted experiences I describe from the enabling environments they target. By contrast, The Primer++ would be part of the field it enables, and its participants would share the goals of its creators.
A Primer made in this way could be more like the enacted experiences of mentorship provided in great organizations, except that The Primer is scalable. (See also Enacted experiences have incredible potential as a mass medium)
Stephenson, N. (2003). The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (Reprint edition). Spectra.