Have we hit bottom yet?

Dana points me to an interview with Steve Maher, and there, lo and behold, I find a crucial thread for my already satisfyingly tangley argument on the subject of digital technology and education. I already knew that we had long ago abandoned philosophical investigation in favour of information (or data), and that therefore the governing shibboleth of our pedagogical understanding was access, understood as technological access to information (or data management). But here, for the first time clearly, I see someone taking the next logical step. For Steve Maher does not see access as a means to information. He sees information as a means to access. Think I’m kidding? Here it is:

Q: So do you see information as a part of what you teach?

A: It’s the material that we use to teach. The way I think of it is that our relationship with information is changing. The last time this happened, speech and memory were replaced with automated text, and because of that, the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation happened. So if our relationship with information is changing, then we have to figure out what it is we have to prepare the kids for, and recalling information might be just a remnant of the industrial age where they just have to remember a bunch of stuff.

This guy’s a high school teacher. For him, information is just the material he uses to teach how to use computers.

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6 thoughts on “Have we hit bottom yet?

  1. Speaking of new ways of approaching information . . . I recently read a paper written by one of my fine undergraduate colleagues about how Derrida ‘atemporally’ influenced Aristotle’s conception of Ethics. Perhaps we should take a cue from this man (boy?) and begin to approach philosophy as a mere means for a new technology of time travel.

  2. This happens in a David Lodge novel! Can’t remember the details, but I think it’s something like a doctoral thesis on T.S. Eliot’s influence on Augustine. Much fun is made, this being Lodge. I’d be interested in the line of Derrida justifying such enterprises, if there is one: let me know if you hear one cited.

  3. I actually wrote a paper on it myself last week, but it was published 2000 years ago in Sanskrit. You probably won’t be able to read it.

  4. Every time I see this subject line in the “Recent Comments” column, I think it’s your infamous spanking treatise, Have We Hit Bottoms Yet…

  5. Oona,

    This is a bit old to bring up again but I couldn’t help thinking about you and miscellaneous other mental spin offs for at least 2 hours today. I took my first flight with Virgin America today from Seattle to San Francisco. I encountered the seat-to-seat chat technology for the first time as well. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it.

    Basically, each seat has a tiny screen (like we’re sort of used to) and a little remote control blackberry type thing in your armrest. With these two devices you can have an online chat with other members of the flight simply by punching in their seat number. I was a victim of (fortunately) only one solicitation. I had heard about the technology from a friend and so was thus prepared. While she had decided to reject all chat invitations on her flight. I thought instead, that this would be a perfect Oona moment to type “Hi” back. This then prompted me to think about all kinds of seat-to-seat chat etiquette (necessarily different from normal online chat etiquette, no?).

    This are the dynamics I noticed right of the bat:

    It’s not really that weird to IM a random person but, you necessarily put the other person in at least a superficially awkward position.

    When choosing on whom to project your boredom you are forced (by the nature of your shared tin can) to either put yourself in the awkward position, the other person in the awkward position, or both. I think this definitely brings in the voyeur dynamic.

    So, for example, my chat initiator decided to call herself Bec and she was seated two rows and two seats behind me to my left. I was on the aisle, but without standing and turning around, would have no idea who this person was. She however, without my knowledge, or anyone else’s could see exactly who she was chatting up.

    Now, when the gentleman and woman in my row decided to go to the lavatory, I was forced to stand up in the aisle. This presented another dilemma. Where do we draw the lines on our interaction? Or intimacy? Do I want to see the face of my interlocutor? She presumably saw mine as I boarded the plane, before I sat down. Or perhaps she hadn’t and was either choosing someone at random (unlikely) or could at least see the back of my head (but no face).

    So, realizing the extent or limitations of our interaction, I chose, upon first standing in the aisle, to continue to face forward. This seat-to-seat chatting didn’t warrant face-to-face intimacy. But the second time, I thought this was incredibly awkward, because I *knew* she was looking at me as I stood in the aisle. So I half-turned and raised my eyes to Seat 26B whereupon I found the face of Bec. She gave a brief almost apologetic smile. It was really, all she could do in her situation I think.

    This prompted me to think about the end of our flight, standing two rows apart waiting to deboard and most likely, loitering around the baggage carousel together. How would we transfer our seat-to-seat interaction into the “real” world? I thought, well, I would shake her hand and introduce myself as “real” world conventions call for. But even that seemed weird, since we had already had a significant amount of small chat under our belts.

    Something of my gut reaction is to keep the cyber and real worlds separate. Since we had been introduced in cyberspace, I didn’t want to encounter her in real space. But it’s the opposite going the other way. People introduced to me in real space have no problem transitioning to cyberspace.

    The thought I couldn’t shake from my head was how ludicrous the conversation was, occurring between two people less than 10ft away, yet without sound and without looking at each other. I couldn’t think of anything more anti-Oona.

    Please tell me you’re an avid seat-to-seat chatter.

  6. More evidence that the highest tech is mainly used for the lowest ends. i.e. diverting oneself. Even better if one’s chosen distraction involves joining the Mile High Club, having arranged one’s assignation with the latest gadget. Thanks for telling me about it.

    And of course I don’t mean that *you* are vulgar: you’re just being kind and cool, as always. Which means that some of what you experience is the normal sort of embarrassment anyone feels with a new acquaintance, sort of like the aggragate of sensations described so well by Douglas Adams under the terms: Corriearklet, Corriecravie, Corriedoo, Corriemollie, Corriemuchloch, and Corrievorrie.

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