Engaging in the discussions in class this week as well as the readings and resources posted, the theme that immediately emerged in my mind when thinking about digital and media literacy was ‘acceleration’.
When the traffic investigation unit of a police department investigates the scene of a vehicle collision, there are hallmark signs and physical evidence that is left behind that can indicate when a car may have increased it’s speed – and when that speed was suddenly decreased. None of this evidence is noticed in the moment by the driver: their focus is elsewhere.
I think to a certain extent, we are very much still driving the car when it comes to our relationship with the digital world, and I think it is clear if we look in the rear view mirror that this car is accelerating, and fast.
Potter’s revelation that “more information has been generated since you were born than the sum total of all information throughout all recorded history up until the point of your birth” illustrates this in plain language. We are saturated with this ever-accelerating wealth of content and information and have very little capacity to deal with it.
I don’t think that stumbling on this idea of acceleration is a novel concept. However, this week as I turned over some of the posted links in mind (especially Sherry Turkle’s lecture) I was struck at how positively this acceleration is often framed. Throughout much of human history, we have marched forward in an endless pursuit of an idealistic “progress”. This pursuit has been used to justify some of the most horrible things we have done to one another – all in the name of progress.
To be clear – I am not trying to draw false value comparisons between historical nightmares and “kids these days are always on their phones”, but I think that there are similarities between how we (as in humans, especially in capitalist societies) have thought about societal “progress” and how we think about emerging digital technology.
I thought a lot about the presentation in Tuesday night’s class, specifically the pieces about technology evolving in the classroom. In a serendipitous connection this week a podcast I listen to discussed a recent article focusing on an upstart “education” organization based in the United States called Optima Academy. The school offers a completely online, virtual reality school experience. Students engage in virtual lessons through the use of a VR headset. I encourage you to read this New Yorker article on the school:
I bring this up as an example of this “acceleration” in motion. Emerging technologies like VR represent for some people a bright, shiny future that might “save us” from the current under-funded nightmare of public education. For me, this is exemplary of this march towards a mindless, purely aesthetic progress that will obviously do more harm than good for our students (plus – it doesn’t really work, as described in the article).
I’ll leave you with an idea I’m admittedly borrowing from the hosts that discussed this article on the podcast. A point they had brought up that had really resonated with me regarded how our education system might be the last bastion of experimentation for big tech corporations to foist these shiny new emerging technologies on to society. Adults have the agency necessary to choose their participation in these technologies – an agency that has at least at this point in time, resoundingly rejected concepts like the “metaverse” and augmented reality as “everyday” parts of social life. At least in their current form. However, kids, our students, don’t have that same kind of agency to decide on the incorporation of these technologies into their lives. I think this is something important to consider.