We want vicarious participation in the popular because it feels less lonely than reclaiming one’s inherent potentiality as a solitary, transcendent avant-garde artist. If everyone can be an artist, no one needs to be congratulated or recognized for being one. Instead, one needs to be recognized for the rarer skill of appreciation, of being able to sympathize with others and unite with them in feeling. Eternity is very lonely. -Rob Horning, Beyond Avant-Garde
Schools can be about sorting, or about educating. I think right now we want them to be about both, but this is impossible. Schools focused on sorting are obsessed with fairness. -Elizabeth Cleland, How I Get All My Students to be Good at Math
There are a number of heavily freighted claims in that quote, but the last sentence took a couple reads and it still is hard to understand, but it works: sorting schools need to appear fair in their sorting mechanisms. Connected Learning, with its’ pro-social leanings and emphasis on being interest driven masks its’ own sorting obsession that using 21st century technocentric feelgoodisms. It has two major issues in that regard: being “interest driven” and being “networked,” in the valley senses of those ideas, integrating its’ logic into personal growth at an unprecedented level, one which does not allow for exit. First up: Interest. There is little indication outside of exceptional cases that interest is a good way to find something useful to do with one’s self. It would be nice to avoid tying self-esteem to economic usefulness, but given how much one’s working life impacts “the rest,” it’s a tough thing to de-couple. This brings the issue of pig farmers into play:
Their contentment instead grew over time as they got better at what they did, and then leveraged this skill to gain traits like competence, autonomy, and impact — exactly the same types of traits that made Rowe’s pig farmer so happy. -Cal Newport, Why “Follow Your Passion” is Bizarre Advice
Note the last part of the list: Impact. You can follow your passion to be a professional whatever-you-want, but not having an impact is deadening, especially if you are concerned with making the world a better place and/or making a decent living. Even at best, this is a tenuous proposition. But Mike Rowe and Cal Newport make the point that without doing something that needs being done, getting paid is hard. Newport’s extension of this is that “following one’s passion” and “finding what needs to get done” often don’t meet up, and as a result, neither will a sense of fulfillment. Interest, in a social media connected world, is monetizable. It sells ads on the internet the way actually doing IRL does not, making your interests a way for someone else to get paid. Asking students to generate ad revenue while pursuing an interest seems dubious, at best. Still, it does one more thing very well: it sorts them by rewarding those who play by a pro-social and monetizable set of rules. The idea that education is “production centered” feeds into this as well: to know is not enough, you must produce and promote, which is how you will be sorted. Onto being networked:
Education needs to be about personal growth and teaching students to enjoy and revel in their knowledge, not on grooming students and sorting them for a job market that may be entirely different in 10 years. If students learn confidence, flexibility and that they’re good at learning, they’ll be ready for anything. -Elizabeth Cleland, How I Get All My Students to be Good at Math
Ms. Cleland is not at all concerned with being social or connectedness. It’s about something which will help you get jobs and be successful but is mostly monetizable only by one person, if only for wages: knowledge. “Knowledge is social” has taken many forms, and much learning is. The resulting knowledge, unless it is networked, is not easily captured. Also note that Cleland doesn’t emphasize “interest” as driver for what might make you economically viable, but being able to learn is. Knowledge, for all of it’s ephemerality is still incredibly corporeal. The hive mind is nice, but to have real impact it has to be YOU. Which leads to a disturbing trend in celibacy: Isex.
These celibacy stats have coincided with a technology-media landscape that is progressing beyond the social, actively and aggressively targeting our most private and hidden lives: Snapchat, Tinder, Redtube, Facebook. Each has their own coded message – don’t bother with warm flesh. We’re consistent, we’re not as expectant, we don’t have the same capacity to hurt.
We might be heading towards exactly that prediction; a science non-fiction in which computers control the world. Yet we can fight them, and fight them we will, just by taking off someone’s clothes. -Tom Seymor, I-Sex: It’s Better Than Real Sex
Isex hits all of the right pleasure centers, but it’s a simulation for the real meeting of bodies. Impact isn’t your interests, and the network is nice, but it commodifies what is corporeal. All said and done, Connected Learning is a fine example of a valid 21st century pedagogy. It will educate, it will connect, it will help some get ahead in life, but it also enacts the modes of digital commodification of the corporeal that makes life a little less like real sex and a little more like Isex.
(The Modern Subject) removed the barriers created by enchantment and so transformed nature into material stuff that could be understood and hence made vulnerable through instrumental reason to being exploited for the sake of increased human happiness and material well-being. -James R. Currie, Music and the Politics of Negation, p. 127.
The eruption of the industrial revolution was no doubt traumatic, and generations of revival have clearly not banished its destabilizing effects. Three characteristic symptoms of trauma in particular seem deeply inscribed in the history of craft revival: repetitive behavior, false memories, and flashbacks. -Glenn Adamson, The Invention of Craft, p.185
Now I realize they used these words to capitalize on their expiration date, their nebulousness and their opacity to anyone not encountering them that day, in that year, or that decade. I have assembled these items in hopes they will become equally misunderstood—for better or for worse—as soon as possible. They were gathered around October 18, 2013, and reflect a very personal worldview—but by the time you see this, they will all be post-recent. -Lumi Tan, Post-Recently
I recently learned about the post recent from the above blog, and if you want to really get worked over I suggest you check out the Joyce-challenging artspeak produced by Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo’s “The New Sleep: Stasis and the Image-Bound Environment“. Dating from fall of 1985, it’s a perfect internet K-Hole, and feels like a Tumblr. Lumi Tan’s wish that these things would all be buried, unearthed, and confounded is apt in its reflection on the blaze of images both in the article itself and in contemporary life, even for those not internet-enabled. The aesthetic-acceleration of contemporary life begs for a comparison, and NY Mag writer Ann Friedman has an interesting comparison:
Again, perhaps we can take a cue from teenage girls. They’re quite aware that they’re seen as frivolous and self-absorbed, but on a deeper level they know they’re engaged in an important project: figuring out who they are and what they want to be. If we took our Instagrams and Snapchats and reblogs half as seriously as they do, perhaps we’d reach some new insight about our adult selves, too. -Ann Friedman, Our Tumblrs, Our Teenage Selves
This sounds pretty legitimate, if not just apt, but the reality is that “the millennials” are among the groups of people who, perhaps as “natives” more readily see the pitfalls of these image-cycling platforms:
The “Intel Innovation Barometer” reveals millennials globally show a stark contrast to their reputation as digital natives who can’t get enough technology in their lives. A majority of millennials agree that technology makes people less human and that society relies on technology too much. -The Future of Technology May be Determined By….
Intel seems surprised by this, but anyone with a keen sense of observation of people under the age of 25 knows this already. Instead, the main supporters, and users of social technologies and associated issues were wealthier, not necessarily younger: “The research revealed that individuals with high incomes are the most willing to anonymously share personal data, such as results of lab tests and travel information. They are also the most likely to own technology devices and engage with technology on a regular basis.” This is the associated glamour of the internet. The ever-sharp Autumn Whitefield-Madrano at The Beheld describes the way objects perceived as glamorous work:
We may perceive glamorous objects as an entrée into that world (hence the desire for that shade of lipstick, that style of ring, that color on the soles of our shoes), but it’s not the object we want so much as the life it promises. “But glamour only works when it can tap preexisting discontent, giving otherwise inchoate longings an object of focus.” -Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, The Power of Glamour
Not to say that some teens don’t wan’t to emulate the silicon-valley lifestyle, but many just use them as tools to pursue their own visions, glamorous or otherwise, while still maintaining a keen sense for what it does to their selves, their self-perception and their projected image. In this they are different than many who are wealthy who by actively (over)participating in social media, want to get some of the apple-cum-facebook, instagrammed sheen. Over and over again, wealth seeks youth as a source of glamour, and what can be more so than the promise of a world not tied down to specific places, especially when the function of place, in a pre-globalized sense of the world, is mediated by the great equalizer so many try to fight, time. Matthew Battles says it better:
Time is the internet’s too-cheap-to-meter cultural resource, and it’s only just begun burning through it, generating a storm of atemporal media traces that pile up before us as our wings beat furiously. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat
But the kids, per usual, are alright, and they know this better than those seeking wealth. They might be plastering their walls and tumblrs with images, but they’re not looking for the glamour of platforms, they seek glamour in content, and project it back out into the post-current world at a rate Lumi Tan would appreciate as being post-recent:
Finally (but never finally), this: history is not another country, not the not-even-past, not even that which we are condemned to repeat. History is everywhere, rather; you’re soaking in it. And yet we’re not angels: our faces are turned away, and we’re trailing history in our wakes. -Matthew Battles, The Past Will Not be Flat
And here we come to the real crux of the matter: the less people who participate, the more people end up just becoming consumers, and if the only people producing things for these people to consume are corporate entities, then we’re subjected to an overwhelming quantity of spewed-out, predigested ‘culture’. People have stopped participating and are content just being present, and thats a problem and whoever thinks “oh shut up dude, this happens all the time” you’re wrong, the internet leaves nothing hidden, every fuck dick can copy and paste a personality they found on the internet, and thats never been possible before. But fuck it, who needs to actually go out and do something worthwhile IRL when you get the same chemical reaction from 100 internet strangers telling you your outfit is awesome. -Johnny Love, Subculture as we know it is dead, and its all the internets fault.
In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability. -Atul Gawande, Slow Ideas
Uncontrolled variability, as Gawande briefly illustrates is anathema to efficiency. However, the converse of messy and anachronistic communication through slow channels is not always the domain of the technologically disadvantaged, but it also a way to display privilege in a technologically obsessed world. Literally, to not care about efficiency in communication, to do something the old fashioned way is in some ways a projected indication of class. So, in the United States, we are what we buy. Consider the Molskine Notebook:
The reason for the brand’s success is its unique positioning, which combines identity and culture thanks to its high design and iconic content, as the product satisfies a sense of belonging to a community sharing common values, rather than just a function. This also justifies its premium positioning. -Chiara Rotelli & Emanuela Mazzoni, Moleskine: Initial Public Offering
Paper, especially a leather-bound notebook of blank paper, is a luxury. It stands opposed to the cheap xerox stock that overflows despite the birth of the digital age, and implies a non-work time suck of doodles, drawings, notes, and mental sketches. It also implies creativity, over, and over. The kinds of notebooks alone tell a tale of the creative class in mashed fibers: passion, city, reporter, professional, creativity, black page, cover art, limited edition. This is paper for the privileged. It is messy and anachronistic, but also private. These notebooks are places for mistakes, first drafts, and experiments, only to be communicated to a few, and almost never without revision. Privacy, silence, and a lack of communication are bound up nicely in pages, blank in a discreet black book that projects a quiet power as a brand object.
This takes me back to Illich (1983) and his call for the defense of the silent commons. This call, essentially a manifesto, declared silence to be a shared condition placed under threat by new technologies and their amplificatory functions. It functions as a critique of mass media, regarded as a deeply non–convivial technology in which communication ‘machines’ provide prostheses and do so selectively, so that certain dominant groups (those who get the equipment) become louder hailers with the power to silence others. -Caroline Bassett, Silence, Delirium, Lies?
Bassett is worried about people being silenced by loud hailers, and the 21st century has proven no different. But the inverse is also a problem. More often than not, we are encouraged to participate, to make ourselves seen and known. Now to have the quiet space, to communicate slowly or not at all, but to just jot some notes and doodles is the position of power.
We installed the ethos that pedigree was over and all money was now equally valuable. The mythology of Silicon Alley was forced to coalesce for good, with City Hall’s fervor behind it. The start-up culture wars—a fresh beef with the West Coast, except boring!—intentionally pitted us against the weirdo jerks of Palo Alto. The scrunchy-face foxy Foursquare co-founders appeared in Gap ads, clad in mediocre jeans but form-fitting venture capital. You were a good person if you were an entrepreneur. You were creating jobs, until you weren’t. The big floor-through lofts of Broadway between Houston and Spring filled up with inexpensive furniture and even less expensive young people, each with a bitter mouthful of Adderall, each office bright and identical. So far, we’ve disrupted a few things, mostly coffee-related. - Choire Sicha, Let Me Tell You About the Most Heartfelt $200 I Ever Made