We’ve all heard it before, seen it in movies, read about it in books… that world where the “parlor families” of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 meet and laugh and eat together, that world of Pixar’s WALL-E, with slug-like people in their floating chairs, playing virtual golf, wearing virtual clothes.
That world in Minority Report, where mall-advertisements know you and your preferences with a simple scan of your iris. Not to mention our old favorite, that world in The Matrix. And if you’re looking for an even MORE outlandish version, check out The Social Network and Zuckerberg’s crazy online world, that one where human beings supposedly can meet and interact with other human beings… virtually? What a novel concept!
JK. LAWLZ. ROFL. (note my clever integration of online lingo… oh, the irony…)
…WE ALREADY LIVE IN THAT WORLD.
Or rather, worlds.
The idea of a life lived totally and utterly fused with technology is nothing new to us. For many, it has become pure reality… and as hackneyed or heretical as it may sound, I truly believe that this brave new electric frontier may well one day (today?) morph into some ugly universal curse, rather than the shining progressive blessing we’ve venerated.
As for me, that day arrived a year ago, when I first was introduced to online education during my year in China. I took a mere 3 classes via the web, and ultimately, those classes consumed my life. Literally. To give you an idea, I spent more time on the computer during the day than I actually spent teaching English, which was one of my main reasons of going in the first place. I found myself unable to devote myself to my Chinese family and to their world because I constantly was drawn back to the nagging, hypnotic, blue glow of the world inside my screen. It was a tragedy… there I was, living in a country full of intrigue and adventure and challenge, breathing its air, eating its food, befriending its people… and I stared at an 8-by-11 inch space of pixellated unreality for a good third of the day. (That said… I should probably be thankful for the fact that I had a computer to use in the first place; without one, without the online classes, my year in Beijing never would have been possible, so… I guess that makes my argument slightly less plausible…)
Nonetheless, my deep and burning bitterness towards technology remains… (dramatic music cue) …and believe it or not, as thankful as I am to OSG, this same bitterness has rekindled during these last few weeks of classes.
The Haiku interface and all the supplements (Twitter, Voicethread, GoogleDocs, GoogleReader, Vimeo, WordPress… am I missing any?) is engrossing, engaging, useful… it “connects” me with people I never would have otherwise interacted with, it allows me to study and discuss on my own time… it has successfully managed to plug me into a myriad of various networks with which I can more easily connect with my fellow human beings.
This is exactly why I dislike it so intensely.
First of all, I’ll just say, as a kind of disclaimer, the class itself is brilliant. I love the questions we’re asked, I’ve been forced to think deeply about my country, I’ve become more aware of my responsibilities as a citizen. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my classmates and my teacher (even if, to put it bluntly, they will remain nothing more to me than a pixellated face for the entirety of our acquaintance). I genuinely and truly can say that I like AP Government (even if the workload occasionally is a little… ah, shall we say… strenuous? Challenging? I’m-dying-of-court-case-report-syndrome-please-call-an-ambulence?)
But learning online is tough. I like people. I like knowing their stories, seeing their faces, engaging. The classes I perform best in are the classes in which I am most engaged on a personal level.
Let’s face it… I know nothing more about all of you than your academic writing style, your inferred political opinions, and the few personal facts you imparted to me over a slightly fuzzy computer-camera film (loaded and posted to Vimeo). For all that I’ve been able to know via Haiku, Mr. G could actually be an ax-murderer (NO OFFENCE, MR. G!) with an astonishingly convenient amount of knowledge about U.S. and World government. I can’t hear him or my classmates laugh or shout… I can’t see them just be human.
And in a very sad (but true) sense, I can never truly be friends with my fellow OSG classmates… when you boil it down, friendship is action, not a few pixels that form a face or a word, even if it is a kind face or a kind word. I still don’t know you, and you don’t know me.
An online education is convenient. It’s fast. It’s full of facts and figures and thoughts. It’s impressive. It’s progressive. (or so they tell me…)
But when all is said and done, what do we want education to be about? The speed and ease with which we can post or repost thoughts and ideas? The amount of ways we can express ourselves virtually?
Or… do we want it to be about encouraging us to take action in the world… the real, physical, people-are-getting-shot-at-and-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it world?
Maybe we can talk about that choice sometime, as a class, in a real room somewhere… a room where “chat” is more than the pixels and sound waves of a “chat room.” Discuss and comment face to face… where faces aren’t compiled into some kind of “face book,” or crunched into some kind of “face time.”
Real people talking to, learning with, real people.
What a novel concept.