Libraries & The MOOC Trois: On Disruption

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Although the traditional archive used to be a rather static memory, the notion of the archive in internet communication tends to move the archive toward an economy of circulation: permanent transfer and updating. -Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 99.

Ernst starts out with this blazing redefinition of what an archive is, which substitutes use and reuse which essentially conflates the idea of archives with that of communication. In reference to my earlier posts, the canon has become the archive. The archive of internet communication is not an archive at all. When you “archive” a email in Gmail, it becomes a saved but inaccessible, a digital parody of a dusty box on a lost shelf. But that sense of archive is a misnomer: a body of work which stays relevant through re-circulation is not an archive. By keeping things past present, it is a canon. This is why all the talk of organizing the world’s knowledge and slapping it all online has become a quixotic project. While one can create an honest-to-god archive on the internet, the best function of the internet always will be communicative acts. That which is curatorial will usually take a back seat. The grafting of archives and other institutional models tend to follow this pattern:

Less so a library, the internet feels like a mall, albeit one with a robust newsstand (and adult video section). It’s open 24/7 and now offers same-day delivery. Less so a school, it’s a playground, equipped with a billboard for our personal brand. From this vantage point, the internet is less the revolutionary invention that it is, or can and should be, instead acting as a glorified telephone and digital, sepia-filtered distraction, one lubricated and optimized for constant, frictionless consumption. -Alec Liu, Groupon, Aaron Swartz and the Failings of the Second Great Tech Boom

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It is acting as optimized. Wolfgang Ernst calls it an “economy of circulation” with certainty, but that phrase understates the nature of this massive  shiny, lubricated entertain-ucation-plex, where the hustle of self-promotion edges other things out. Trying to wade through a discussion board or a tumblr looking for something that rises above the merely interesting can be exhausting, and now it’s part of education:

Taking a cue from Twitter and LinkedIn, education online also needs to do a better job leveraging peer interaction and collaboration. Most MOOCs do already promote discussions among classmates to help with homework and grading. But the emergence of Twitter and LinkedIn (and soon Facebook) as go-to sources of professional insights shows that people want to actually learn from, and work with, their colleagues and business contacts just as much as from PhDs, editors and other experts. -Todd Tauber, The Dirty Little Secret of Online Learning: Students Are Bored and Dropping Out

Granted, learning has always been communicative, but it also requires critical thinking, time away from other pressures, and focus. Making the claim that being more like commercial, entertainment-driven websites like Twitter or Linkedin as example of how people learn now is wildly disingenuous: how we entertain ourselves and use those tools in a professional setting is not at all how “we” learn. We all learn differently, and as the industrial educational complex of the early 20th century gets dismantled, the silicon-valley wet-dream of edutainment is seen for what it is: an economic tool. It follows a new advertising narrative of disruption, a familiar call in many a educational sector that is “ripe”:

The drive to create is no different, no less human than that the urge to profit. But only recently it has taken on this sickly pallor–the desire to present itself as different… as difference. It has become a drama, a narrative of success or failure. -Adam Rothstein, Disruption

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Disruption is the story of startup culture through advertising. Rothstein brings the sickly obsession to be different to the fore, as opposed to the long lines of actual institutional change which involve considerable human effort and goodwill. Disruption promises to short-circuit that, a techno-economic fix in the stead of humanity’s emotional dirty work. As they currently stand, the MOOC’s biggest supporters want to sell the disruption narrative. Less so a school, it brings the world of personal branding into the classroom. And with the work of students and teachers reformated to fit the digital insta-canon, one taken away at the end of the communicative performance, the archive dies. The cycles of knowledge get shorter and shorter, and the long memory of dusty stacks will fade. One direction out of this is a new archivist manifesto, one that emphasizes the personal ethic of care.

The current discussions on search, open access, archives, preservation of information and digital objects, often hide away the politics of individuals under the disguise of “users”. Users to technological capitalism, are consumers to consumerist capitalism. Archivist manifesto is a call for the reinsertion of knowledge and skills for developing personal archives, that on one hand, reinstall the culture of care and a technological culture; on the other hand, develop an infrastructure that allows sharing of information on individual level and bypasses marketing tools such as search engines and commercial social networks. -Yuk Hui, Archivist Manifesto

Somebody ought to add the MOOC to that last list.

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