I have been thinking lately in Vonnegutian terms. I am apparently a machine that is designed to post to social media and then respond to others. That may not be my job in life (at the moment, I am an Assistant Professor of Education at Pace University), but it is the place from which my value as a public person is (seems to be) derived. And it is the way I have started to (re) think my lived existence.
So, this article has really resonated with me. And especially this bit:
The folks at Facebook and Twitter have achieved something remarkable: they have made their users regard the world as staging ground for inputs to their products. The world and its events and relations are, so to speak, so much raw material to be submitted to the formulation and framing of Facebook statuses and tweets. The world is not the world tout court, it is the provisioner of ‘content’ for our social media reports.
I am not naive enough to believe that I (or anyone for that matter) is independent of outside influences. But this effect is really quite something. I debate ending my Facebook account and spending less time on Twitter, but there are connections there that are very meaningful to me. So, for now, I am staying put.
What worries me more at the moment is the way that Facebook and Twitter (and Pinterest and Instagram, etc.) have successfully and efficiently modeled exactly what we expect from learners in traditional settings (which, by my read, is still pretty much all K-12 schools here in the U.S). To make this point, I will need help from Mike Caufield.
In a post from July, “Information Underload,” Caufield makes the argument:
I’m increasingly convinced, however, that our problem is not information overload but information underload. We suffer not because there is just too much good information out there to process, but because most information out there is low quality slapdash takes on low quality research, endlessly pinging around the spin-o-sphere.
One of his examples really hit me. Caufield discusses Netflix:
Take Netflix as an example. Endless thinkpieces have been written about the Netflix matching algorithm, but for many years that algorithm could only match you with the equivalent of the films in the Walmart bargain bin, because Netflix had a matching algorithm but nothing worth watching.
He could also be describing the traditional role of teaching and learning in schools. The teachers (as a living recommender engine) is recommending to the students what is in the teacher’s “inventory”, not what is the next most interesting or relevant thing for the learner. The student is supposed to respond, like in the social media Pavlovian vision from the earlier article, by responding in the way that the teacher or school expects. The teacher who fulfills this goal is considered successful. The student who complies with these expectations is considered successful. But is remains unclear how much authentic learning is actually taking place beyond the fulfillment of these complementary algorithms.
I think that the formation of personal learning networks and the concomitant transformation of the roles of teacher and learner are the way through this quagmire.
I am not sure yet sure how to get my worldview back from Facebook and Twitter, however. I will keep working on it.