Twitter, Educaton, and Planned Obsolescence

Going forward, the impetus for organizing political change will emerge from regular citizens using the new communication tools to accomplish specific goals. Charismatic leaders will cease to perform the function that they have in the past. With such leaders removed from the equation, countless waves of change will compete and create unique actions, forming brief ad hoc social networking alliances and achieving very specific goals. The usual activist interventions, like feet-in-the street events planned by established coalitions, will continue to decline in influence.

It’s time the old Left began using Obama’s youth tools. In terms of process, the old Left has become conservative. The Obama Democrats, by using powerful democratizing youth tools, have in effect become the Left.

In a way similar to how Gorbachev was the transition to the break-up of the Soviet Union, Obama will be the transitional leader making possible the arrival of the new wave: highly integrated citizen involvement, organized anarchy, a global community of peers.

The Two Lefts, and a Tidal Wave of Change
, Andrew Lehman

As someone who has been involved with the internet since it’s modern inception in the early 1990s this sort of Utopian sentiment sets off alarms for at least two reasons. First, despite it’s historical references it’s a remarkably a-historical analysis rooted a very common and very ill-advised technological determinism. One clue is the reference to the end of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev is the perfect Jeopardy-question of faux history, a Soviet leader widely enough known to be a legitimate part of a game show. It’s truthiness in historical analysis. This is the third or fourth wave of Utopian wish-fulfillment associated with the internet. Every time I hear it I remember that the Wright brothers were convinced that the airplane would make war impossible.

The second reason, is that, for good or ill, the very same political economy that brought us the pet rock has brought us Twitter and Face Book and all of the rest. This sort of analysis, in other words, cannot see the forest for the trees; it has little or no sense of historical perspective, and it doesn’t offer even rudimentary distinctions. It’s history without an inside.

Whatever position you take on Wikipedia, it comes from a very different impulse than, say, My Space, which is largely commercial. Apple Computer is a large corporation; Mozilla is not. These tensions are quietly tearing the wired world apart. In fact, I think the social momentum right now, despite Obama’s achievement (Dean’s innovations refined and focused) is more centrifugal than centripetal.

There is a kind of magical thinking that wants to find a way to instantly reverse the impact of thirty years of conservative destruction of the social commons. The funding and philosophy of the school system, to name only one example, has been fundamentally damaged. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s crumbling as we speak. Social networking will not replace this sort of community.

Our first historical task as progressive educators, I think, is to begin to separate out the technological chaff from the wheat; the effective tools from the latest fads, and start drawing firm lines, even as we acknowledge that they will need to be re-negotiated on a regular basis. Not everything that happens is good; not ever new tool is useful in the classroom.

Teaching critical thinking, in this context, should mean teaching students that commercial culture is by definition a push towards profit over people; that education seeks to expand humanized culture, the reign of people over things. It’s possible to use the master’s tools against the master, but it does not happen automatically or easily.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation