D’You Ever Wonder Why We’re Here?

Wow, pretentious title is pretentious.  But it’s an question that actually came up in my New Media Faculty-Staff Seminar.

The title comes from an online web series, Red vs. Blue.  I love Red vs. Blue.  It was one of the first, and is still one of the all-time best best, online machinema creations.  The first lines of the pilot episode go like this:

Simmons: D’You ever wonder why we’re here?
Grif: It’s one of life’s great mysteries, isn’t it? Why are we here? I mean, are we the product of some… cosmic coincidence? Or is there really a God, watching everything, you know, with a plan for us and stuff. I don’t know man, but it keeps me up at night.
Simmons: What? I mean why are we out here, in this canyon?
Grif: Oh. Uhhhhh. Yeah.

There are really two different ways to approach the question “Why are we here?”  For instance, someone might ask me:  Why are you studying at Virginia Tech?

  1. Well, they accepted me and gave me a stipend/tuition remission, so I’m here.
  2. Because at the end of the day,  I wish to become a professor at a small, liberal arts college.  The interdisciplinary program ASPECT will allow me to pursue my dual interests, that of religion and politics, in a way that will make me a well-rounded scholar at a small college.
Obviously, the first answer is very knee-jerk: Why am I in this place?  The second is more long-term:  Why am I on this path, and what is my goal?  The first starts the conversation.  The second gets us someplace interesting.

The question we kind of ended NMFSS with on Wednesday basically was a “Why are we here?” question for Gardner.  For me, it implied a lack of self-awareness of what we are doing.  I don’t expect Gardner to ever come in and tell us why we’re meeting each week, what the justification for each reading is, etc.  I will never be the “is this going to be on the [life] test (obviously we don’t have real tests)” kid in NMFSS.  The answer’s in the reading, the format, and in our conversations themselves.

I don’t wonder why we’re here (in NMFSS, that is.  Earth gives me a big headache).  I know (or at least, I think I know) why I’m in NMFSS.  It seems as a collective class, we all have an understanding, like Engelbart, that we are on the cusp of something… awesome.  There’s a reason we’re now calling most of the internet Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is when the integration of material exploded.  Before, everyone had their own little space, their bulletin board, their journal, their family tree, their whatever online, and archiving websites (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) brought that information together in ways that search engines never could.  Web 2.0 didn’t do this on its own.  People did it.  People all over the world used their collective genius and energy to (mostly unpaid, at first) put together Web 2.0.  Web 2.0 is big.  Beyond big.  Huge. Ginormous.  OMGWHAAAAT-big?  Mother-of-all-Demos-level awesome that even Engelbart might be slightly impressed by.

Does that mean we do nothing in NMFSS, if we’re not actively solving a problem?  No.  I am constantly amazed by our readings, conversations, and group exploration.  So, what’s the “reason” or “point” of NMFSS?  I think the “question” to be answered is that we don’t need a problem to solve during the course of the semester.  That is not our telos.  By reading what we’re reading and discussing the way we’re discussing, we  learn to approach everything we encounter creatively.  Then, we need to share that information as widely as possible with the 21st century tools we have at our disposal, because otherwise, what’s the point of learning?   And we need to do all of this with an overarching love of learning, thinking, and doing guiding our thought processes.

I watched my parents go without to provide my brother and I with the best education they could, but I know so many others whose parents couldn’t find the means.   That’s probably why I am a big fan of disseminating knowledge openly.  I absolutely hate that academic journals are so expensive, or that lecture hall space caps out just because the fire marshall will come if we let in more people, or that students can’t go on trips (regardless of their abilities) because they can’t afford to.

Does it cheapen what we do as academics if we share it with everyone?  Absolutely not.  If someone is teaching for the money or the prestige, they probably should stop, because only the rarest professor gets either.  If one teaches because they have a love of learning and helping others to learn, then sharing knowledge with anyone and everyone should come as naturally as breathing.  If one is teaching at a land-grant institution, we get this.  This is that “service” part they bandy about so much.

New media allows us to do all of this in ways the writers of our texts hoped for.

That’s why we’re here.


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