Langer lists as properties of “sideways learning” “1) openness to novelty; 2) alertness to distinction; 3) sensitivity to different contexts; 4) implicit, if not explicit, awareness of multiple perspectives; and 5) orientation in the present.” I would like to suggest that this is how babies learn, and in doing so, center Langer’s argument on a kind of learning that is nothing new. Infancy, in all the stages of a person’s life, is when one is most open to novelty. Everything is new and unique. A baby absolutely must be alert to distinction. This is a matter of survival. A baby must most certainly have sensitivity to different contexts. This is how distinctions are made. 3 and 4 I think might be the same thing. Finally, a baby has no real relationship with history or the past, no? Where else must their orientation be, if not in the present?
Since this is a blog post, and so not governed by typical rules of organization and subject matter, I’m also going to harp on her use of Little Red Riding Hood as an example of someone not being mindful. In point of fact, Little Red Riding Hood was in its oral form a story quite the opposite of the version Langer uses, composed first by the Grimm Brothers in written form. The history of fairy tales is one of perversion. In its oral form, passed down through generations of peasantry, LRRH was a story of a girl who escapes the wolf through her wit, and comes of age. She goes out on her own, escapes from the clutches of a wolf by her own wit, and replaces the older generation, the grandma. The version Langer uses can be demonstrated to have its roots in male sexual fantasies. LRRH was turned into a story of rape, one that boxes women into an impossible situation where they must not be careless with strange males (wolf), but can also only be saved by a strong one (the hunter). Perhaps if Langer were thinking more mindfully, she could have used LRRH as the opposite example. LOL? My source here is Jack Zipes’ book, Don’t Bet on the Prince.
Although I find much of what Wesch describes touching and inspiring, I am also struck by the seemingly blind faith and optimism he has in regards to technology and the future in general. I think it is important to keep in mind the notion of ideology when it comes to people who put a lump in our collective throat when they speak. By ideology I intend to make reference to a person’s beliefs, their opinions, and what those beliefs obscure from a person’s perception. I would not argue that what Wesch describes in his examples of networked projects is worthless or out of touch, but I do intend to point out some things I think Wesch takes for granted and images he uses that are not accurate representations of reality.
The first image Wesch presents us is one of a crowded, stadium-seated classroom—drab and claustrophobic. This is a powerful image, and one that immediately naturalizes itself as an object of generic quality, which gives it at least a universal flavor I find suspect. I immediately find my imagination wandering into my past art school experience, for one example, or to my current graduate school experience for another, to find alternative and positive images of classroom atmospheres with old fashioned books, free speech, and creative work. To be fair, I do not think Wesch would say my examples are fringe or inconsequential, but my point is that his particular image under the auspices of his position on stage as a voice of some expertise in the subject matter he’s presenting is misleading. As is his juxtaposition of the former image with one at American Idol auditions for the same reason. As is his statistical experiment where students hold up signs presenting facts produced by a particular method in a specific classroom setting that has vast differences from my alternatives mentioned above.
Following an image of a cityscape of corporate social media emblems, we are then led into a concatenation of characteristics, according to Wesch, that describe the future of our “new media” landscape in the present. In passing, I will note that every single “new media” corporate sign he uses in his transition-image was about five years old at the time of publication (some more, Google was founded in 1998). The next image is this time sourced from his list instead of a visual aid, and presents viewers with a very positive outlook on the future, and I would like to briefly problematize it.
What does he mean by ubiquitous computing? We practically have that now. I know people in India who make less than a dollar a day who have access to every slice of tech he mentions (OK he doesn’t explicitly mention a lot of tech, but it is implied). Ubiquitous computing is not the harbinger of equality, a notion implied by the term itself, and it might even fan inequality’s flames. SBS Dateline did a report on the electronic waste pile-up in 2011 in Ghana that is having serious ramifications. Keep in mind that’s SIX years ago, and one of many similar examples in Asia and Africa. I am reminded here of what Georges Bataille wrote in The Notion Of Expenditure: “Cults require a bloody wasting of men and animals in sacrifice. In the etymological sense of the word, sacrifice is nothing other than the production of sacred things.” Perhaps I stretch, but are not Ghana and places like it the sacrifices we make for the cult of universal technological optimism? I don’t know how to care about them, all I want is the new complugator from Apple. I’m serious, I’m not exactly joking.
The rest of the list completes his image for the future in a similarly narrow vision. Ubiquitous communication? Like where we’ll all be able to finally understand each other? Perhaps he just means the potential for anyone to talk to anyone is becoming easier at a fast pace. Like telephones? My second favorite item following computing is ubiquitous information. Even if we exclude the vast proliferation of classified knowledge, the reality of copyright law is more rooted in access than it is in intellectual theft. Hulu used to be free, YouTubeRed could replace YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, J-Store, linda.com, and the list goes on of rental agencies guarding the keys to knowledge access, and this is not to mention patents on DNA or the rental agencies holding those keys of access. The rest is pure propaganda universals: unlimited speed, everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices.
Wesch says that “knowledge ability changes over time based on the communication environment they’re [the students] in … media shape what can be said, who can say it, who can hear it, how it can be said, and in that way [media] also in a sense mediate relationships.” I have to say that I have only some vague idea of what he means by “knowledge ability,” (intelligence?) but Jaques Ranciere might have an answer for Wesch’s techno-savvy plea. Ranciere’s theory on education in The Ignorant School Master is a beautiful image of a father giving a son a book, and telling his son to memorize the book, inside and out, as a model for universal equal education. It hinges on the “knowledge ability” of children to learn how to talk, and extends this logic to everyone, anytime, everywhere. Much more sustainable an operation than learning through technology, and equipping classrooms with devices that become outdated faster and faster.
My final diatribe is against his examples of social media and networking being used to solve problems. I hold no debate with him that his examples are positive, and have had some material effects. But the problem with say, Twitter for example, is that the scale of influence is a two-way street. This is partially how Trump stole the election, through the very same operations, at least in terms of viral scale, as Wesch’s positive examples. His 200-student survey seems severely flawed, and I base this in part on my own experience of graduating from an undergrad program and, hopefully, from two graduate programs. It does not accurately reflect the real problems of higher education, such as the simultaneous proliferation of adjunct positions and administrative positions. It seems as though he is confusing the symptoms of a larger problem with signs that traditional education is out-dated. I simply cannot buy his general program, although I do find his examples of positive social media collaboration hopeful.