I saw the class task of creating a personal learning environment (PLE) as something very similar to what I have been doing for years already. I have been using Mozilla Firefox as my search engine for a decade now and have slowly perfected the ‘Bookmarks’ tab as my internet library. I have arranged my favorites into related folders and separate files for those that don’t fit together within a scheme. This way I have dozens of websites that I commonly use only a few computer clicks away. But the farther I delved into the PLE concept, the more I was able to see subtle differences between what I currently had and what I needed to create. The RSS feeds were just one feature that I hadn’t used before and knew little about prior to this class. In additio0n to the basic idea of a dashboard were also the newer computer tools out there that I was ignorant of such as Prezi and Symbaloo. I must admit in the end, there are many changes occurring in areas which would assist my efforts so I need to remain vigilant and flexible to these innovations.
The overarching thought to much of the discussion about the electronic medias is that of connectivity. How we as a conglomerate human environment gain so much by the increased ability to connect with each other; to globally reach out and converse like no other time in history. The idea is that collaboration can now be expanded beyond anything ever dreamt of 50 years ago or for that matter, 20 years ago. For many applications this is a ‘no brainer’ as to its societal worth. We will be able to share our ‘cognitive surplus’ (Shirky, 2010) in such a way that human intellectual development will be ratcheted into high gear. The rewards will become manifest and no one will question the wisdom of this new frontier.
Or will they? I would argue that connectivity is simply value neutral in and of itself. The consequences of increased on-line information and ability to converse with others can form into a multitude of perspectives. A group of people with similar interests or concerns such as a group who are afflicted by the same disease can find solutions they could not have prior to this global connectivity. But what if that group is interested in how to poison the water supply to Milwaukee or how to build a small thermonuclear device or how to bully a fellow junior high student? Then the utensil of enhanced connectivity seems to work in the opposite direction that the happy pundits extoll. There it becomes easier to victimize with the increased communication and information.
Lets follow up on this idea; what happens when a ever watchful government uses this connectivity to increase its surveillance capabilities over its populace? When in the name of national defense they find that it becomes a perfect tool for assessing our individual threat profiles and thus gives reason for actions?
I am not a conspiracy groupie who believes that everything is based upon a grander and malevolent cause but I do believe in evaluating the potential good and/or bad in a social phenomena prior to its wholesale blind adoption. The internet and its eventual offshoots will bring many beneficial aspects to our daily lives but we must also realize that there will be the negative factors which will come into play as either manifest or latent functions of this change. The inventors of the horseless carriage never intended that people should die horrible deaths on the yet-to-be-built interstates but it happens because it is one of the consequences of modern travel. As with most things, we must accept the thorns with the rose.
Today I decided to watch the Joseph Kony-2012 video on Youtube. This has gone ‘viral’ over the last few weeks and has over 56 million hits. It is a 30 minute long video which has a powerful message which also begs to be included in the general discussion of the class. When modifying the initial question of whether Google makes us smarter or dumber, we can look at an even broader notion of can/will the new electronic media bring about fundamental changes for the benefits of a world society.
The idea behind this video is noble and unique. Joseph Kony is the Ugandan rebel who leads an army called Lord’s Resistance Army which has terrorized the surrounding regions of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for twenty years. This has included killings, rapes, mutilations, forced conscription and sexual slavery but it has gone largely unnoticed by the Western media and governments. It has not been a high enough priority on the financial and national security scale. The creators of the video hope to bring tremendous amounts of attention upon this crisis and to galvanize the world’s governments into some type of action.
The interesting fact here is that this impetus is largely based upon the tools of mass electronic media such as Facebook and Youtube. The authors idea is to generate an unavoidable degree of activism that our legislators and executive branches will have no choice but to divert enough resources to eliminate this threat and capture/arrest Kony. Last November, President Obama sent 100 military advisers into the region to assist the armies develop better techniques to remove the LRA for good.
It will be interesting to watch how this effort will work out. If it succeeds, then maybe we have passed through an older conventional barrier to communal efforts. If nothing comes to pass, then maybe it just reinforces why the old conventions have lasted so long.
During the ‘Google’ debate in class, the positive effect side of the argument brought forth the issue of historical societal concerns which appear to mimic the contemporary debate about the infusion of electronics into modern global-culture lifestyles. They used these previously debunked issues as hysterics, even out of the mouths of such as Plato. How the world would have been different if only we had followed the good-intentioned but foolish advice of these prophets of doom and catastrophe. The ‘enlightenment’ is evident for all to clearly see if only they were to avail themselves of the historical facts presented.
One must first analyze the accuracy of the historical ‘fact’ and then if it passes the litmus test, determine whether it is compatible as a valid measuring stick to the current situation. When we exam the issue of the printing press and especially the Gutenberg press innovations, we can find historical information (late 1400s – early 1500s) which indicates that some scholars of that immediate era were writing of concerns about how mass distribution of the written text would effect European society. But most of the academicians of that time frame were either part of the church or had been educated by the church and there was a underlining issue of destroying the intellectual hegemony that the Catholic Church enjoyed at this time.
So this begs the question, were the arguments speculated then based upon a real thought of turning society on its ear due to technology run amok or were they based upon the perceived social upheaval brought about by better education for the common people? This again can be seen as having a parallel with the ‘Google’ debate unless we are looking at a difference in magnitude as the core of the effect. What if the manifestations of overindulgence into the electronic world of communication, information, recreation, entertainment, and finally human satiation taking place in the ethereal world are to our great discredit? What if we become hollow shells of our former glory and find that we are incapable of singular achievement? What if, rather than the panacea of the future, Google and its electronic ilk are the precursor of an unstoppable societal urge for living cocooned away from real-life? What if this is the beginning of human efforts to seal themselves off from the threats that engaging in traditional manners of interaction bring? How long before machines fight our battles, calculate most mathematical answers, predict the weather, manufacture our commodities, and eventually nurse our offspring? Wait a minute, we are almost there!
Many a good science fiction story is based upon the human frailty (read flaw) of wishing someone or something else had to do the dirty work so we invented machines which could perform like subservient humans. There are important lessons to be learned about possible/probable futures from those who specialize in delving into those possibilities.
As I have reread my postings so far, I get the impression that I’m a prophesizing Luddite who has little active foresight in the matter. I am not in the habit of declaring the innovations which make my life easier as unworthy of social adoption. I do not view progress in a default negative manner. I realize that many, no most inventions brought forth from the mind of men have their origins based upon a rational problem-solving thought process. That the phrase, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is valid and accurate for the social and individual efforts of the creative mind.
As a creature of the modern world, I have adapted to the convenience of electronic communication. I check my personal and work emails everyday (I only work every third day) and use them for a considerable amount of my administrative interactions. I fully enjoy the fact that this communication is immediate and also produces its own documentation. This very feature has come in handy more than once where it was to my advantage to be able to verify a previous purchase, request, work task, information sent or asked for, etc. The additional feature of incredible organization capabilities goes without having to defend its use and our dependence upon electronic storage of information. The ability to no longer rely upon a large office cabinet for my administrative and logistical work functions and keep them handy in a hard-drive sitting upon my desk is again without need argue the superior nature of conducting business in this manner.
I acknowledge the clear and undeniable advantages that the electronic office has brought to our current managerial and administrative tasking. I appreciate that I am presently writing this posting out by typing with the assistance of grammar and spell checks which make me look smarter than I am. I genuflect before the alter of the contemporary electronic devices and the slues of software which stokes the continual evolution of efficiency.
I do not mean to rail upon the good graces of all electronic devices which have entered our world over the last century. There are many societal artifacts which bring tremendous benefits to most of us and some come with minimal costs. But each of these items needs to be weighed against their short-term and longer term costs. Many of these are not known at the time we sing their praises. It seems to be an observation (without empirical data at this juncture on my part) that the majority of the long-term unknown consequences at the moment of social implementation are usually negative in their impacts.
I was working out at the gym I belong to yesterday when I had a moment to reflect upon the better fortune I had to be using an electronic treadmill versus having to run outside in the inclement weather. This surely has to be a social benefit i thought at that second. I am exercising where otherwise i would be sitting at home watching TV or gazing at all the information on the internet. I do believe that there can be a real and measurable beneficial effect upon us as individuals and as a society by the innovations we create. The problem arises if over the next few decades people become leery of the Metroparks due to all that dirt and wild animals and eventually sequester themselves inside on treadmills and ellipticals and watch monitors and TV screens which show us beautiful pictures of what we used to do outdoors. In other words, if the electronic machines change our habits to the point that we give up things which were indelible to the human condition, then maybe we have paid too high a price for that very convenience.
I was adamant but a mere 2 weeks ago that reading a book was far more engrossing than reading a Kindle or its ilk. Why on earth would anyone with a traditional academic background think to pervert the process by engaging in this electronic farce?!? Were not those of us educated in the ‘real’ collegiate world of bricks-n-mortar edifices taught to turn away from the transient and opaque?
Imagine my surprise as my wife and son, now reading electronic versions of their respective books, are now speaking of the convenience to reading in this more modern style. At first I threw off their foolishness and blamed the lack of perspective for their inappropriate endorsements. But to my chagrin, I have found myself asking more particular questions about how this and that works concerning their new found hobby. Can I become a traitor to my long held views on what is worthwhile and what should be thrown on the heap of ridiculous prepackaged useless commodities of modernity. Not sure but I think that maybe my sarcasm is an indication of a leaf potentially being turned.
There will always be a strong soft spot for the mental picture of the well-worn oak desk and burgeoning bookshelves of an English literature professor who has spent half a lifetime reading, studying, and finally becoming the embodiment of these classical works. The sterile picture of a computer chip which contains a hundred times more words does not illicit the same endearing loyalty or engender the same sense of warmth.
But who knows, maybe this time next year I will be walking around campus with my IPad 27, boxed up my books and burnt my bookcases, and will never look back.
I was a high school & college student in the late 70s/early 80s who loved the advent of the arcade games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Tron. I spent many a quarter on their entertainment and competition value. For only a quarter a shot, it was well worth it. And eventually I must have spent a semester’s tuition into the coin slots. Maybe it was even a fair trade due to its cathartic value which allowed me to continue my studies unabated with stress. Or maybe it was the beginning of an addiction to avoid chores that needed to be accomplished in a more timely manner (up for debate).
So along comes home video game systems with the promise of being accessible whenever I wanted and I would most likely save money over the long term. At first there was Sega, then Sega Genesis, PlayStation2, PlayStation3, and finally the Wii. All in the pursuit of what I seem to forget. For a period of my adult life I did play these games at home but there came the time where I realized that time was too scarce. As my children have grown, we have fully entered the ‘Soccer Mom’ lifestyle (which is another rant on a later day) and there is always 24 things to do and time for only 12. The idea that a few hours can be spent in front of the TV playing a video game is now foreign. It is normally a singular activity and at least watching TV with the family completes a little together time on the checklist.
I now look at my son (12) and daughter (10) and see the behavioral traits I have helped to create but wish I had more clarity 10 years ago. For them, it is a natural aspect of life to become immersed in an electronic world which isolates them from their immediate surroundings. We have bought the latest and greatest for them and then wonder why we have issues with their inability to perform simple chores when asked. There are many answers to that postulation I understand but one of the more obvious reasons is the comfort of their electronic world which they have mastered. My son and his best friend lost a basketball game badly last weekend. Once the game was over, they just wanted to go back home and play their video games – it was where they were champions and the real world lost its significance. The sting of reality disappears when they were then able to fall into the ‘Alice’s hole’ and they were then capable of beating the game.
Not that these points can’t be debated or proved to be associated with other phenomena but I can see through my own mind’s eye the transition that our industrial world seems to be walking. I ask my son the generalized question of “do you want to be good at soccer or good at PlayStation soccer?” and I get the everknowing eye roll with the ‘here goes Dad again’.
Divergence and respite from the daily stessers we face is just as important as accomplishing the tasks which induce the stress but if we add obstacles to our real world success such as near-addiction to electronic games and devices, we have only hurt ourselves and society in general.
When is too much information the path to stupidity? When is the search for what can be the method by which we lose our way?
I understand the the wonderful direction that is provided to us by the internet and its ilk. I, without debate, understand the convenient tool that Google has become and I use it multiple times each week, if not daily, myself. I understand the mirrored argument seen today about the electronic invasion of our lives that parallels the societal catastrophe which the printing press was supposed to bring about. But it is possible that we are looking at the wrong parallel. What if the more accurate analogy is the car, elevator, refined sugar, and nuclear weaponry. What if the manifest functions of the internet are outweighed by the long-term latent effects of reduced critical thinking, shortened attention spans, and an overall lazy demeanor towards academic pursuits.
Some long for the day that humans may be replaced by robots on the battlefields so to keep our loved ones out of harms way. We already see unmanned aircraft that now can deliver fatal payloads upon our enemies. Distant space exploration will most likely be undertaken by artificial intelligence and robotic machines due to the enormous time frames required to span the stellar distances. When do we worry about modifying our humanness to the point that we have become what we created and there is no stepping back.
The well known sci-fi series of Dune by Frank Herbert, has as one of its basic premises that machines can not be built which mimic the human mind. It is a premise which precedes the story line but involves that humans continued to develop their machines to the point they were forced to fight their very creations at the near peril of the species. It is a theme seen over and over again such as the popular Terminator film series with its evil villains controlled by the Skynet defense system.
Not that I/we should take our marching orders from fiction writers but we should take note of trends which are sometimes best understood by forward thinking minds. As mentioned earlier, certain traumatic injuries were non-existent prior to automobiles, diabetes and obesity were not common prior to the huge influx of refined sugar into our diets, and mad-men (or governments) did not have the capacity to kill millions of other humans in a single day prior to the development of nuclear bombs! Not all inventions of convenience or preference are beneficial in the long run and once we are addicted or the genie is out of the bottle, there is no turning back!
This is the opening salvo for me into this form of technology and I’m not certain that I am performing this correctly at the moment. I suppose that it why they make tutorials. As my parents were fond of saying “if all else fails, read the instructions”.
I understand the trepidation one feels when we attempt something for the first time. I went from curious to miffed to pissed that my initial efforts were thwarted by my ignorance of how to simply get this assignment started. I just wanted the computer fairy to pop-up and quickly guide me through the easy steps to get the blog rolling. Also the realization that a few million other humans have successfully navigated the path to blogdom only made my irritability the worse.
If this will soon be published in an acceptable manner for the class project, then I will need to learn the nuances more indepthly so to be able to ‘get off the porch and run with the big dogs. It will be interesting on a self-critique level to see if my objections to the concept of blogs were based upon not knowing or whether I was able to accurately guess at its relative worth to society in the beginning. As a sidebar note; I had a study board I used during my fraternity days and it became the ‘philosophy board’ as various people wrote ‘enlightened’ comments on it. I always maintained that not everyone who was able to lay hands on the board had the intellectual, artistic, or academic prowess to gainfully participate in the written discussion upon the board’s surface. Thirty years later, I still have the board and a somewhat similar attitude concerning what is relevant and what is just plain non-contributing opinion. I somewhat see blogs as the stage upon which everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame to shout that they believe the moon is made of cheese!
Time to cross a barrier into the unknown electronic world of sharing thoughts, ideas, and in some cases just pure ranting. What can be so important that I have to say that others would want to listen to my ideas when there are simply trillions of other bits of data to be had on the internet? I believe we can overestimate the importance of the availability of the quantities of information. Some of the authors we have familiarized ourselves with so far this semester have mentioned that we are now in a connected world where we must all adapt to the tremendous opportunities that the internet and its treasures offer us. We do have certain advantages over previous generations in the accessibility to information and some of this must be critical knowledge but a human is still a human and a library with 40,000 books is still beyond the individual capacity as much as a library with 2 trillion books!
We must still take the time to learn and synthesize the relevant information and to develop critical thinking skills. We must be able to decipher truths in our world as we encounter them and not rely upon momentary flashes of information no matter in what quantity and speed they are presented. There are clearly efforts which are enhanced through the social media conduits available now. The mutual collaborations seen in open-source programming on the web is a excellent example of such but there are also the arguments which have validity that point out that we are raising children into a different social dynamic. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate the truth in this statement is the point that the number one use of the internet in the US has nothing to due with academics or pursuing any higher social goals – it has everything to due with the basic nature of man the animal and our primal urges. ‘You can take the boy out of the forests and bring him into the shiny electronic world of the future but you can never take the base instincts out of the boy’. The image that the internet will lead to a glorified human future is a marketing ploy which forgets our basic natures and believes its own hype! Yes there will be jumps in magnitude in certain arenas of human endeavors but there will also be social prices to pay for these advances.