“Imagine going back 20 years and telling people they won’t make voice calls, but instead they’ll be sending tiny messages (SMS). It would sound insane. And these things cost $0.20 each! That’s an interesting question — why is this popular? It’s because it’s so lightweight, and it doesn’t have to interrupt you. We’re going to see more of that. It’s the pattern of Facebook and Twitter.” (via techcrunch)
That was Paul Buchheit; from Friendfeed on why lightweight is the future of “a lot of communications.” It’s like the telegraph or the calling card never existed. Sure, we never use them, but it still functions in largely the same way–a small, asynchronous, communication that acts as a link to another, more time-intensive activity (or, in the case of some, a series of small-intensive activities that could be mediated by actual face-time). The issue here is that we have always needed short and long form communication. Being able to determine which is the most appropriate for a given situation has become more complex, and being able to change how we communicate depending on the format is key. Clive Thompson’s article in Wired on the “new literacy” highlights the fact that “the kids” are writing more and more these days. As his resource, Andrea Lundsford points out, they’re better than ever at “what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across.” To those in the survey, good writing had to do with how well the point was made, and they felt that in-class writing “had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.” This startled me a little, being way to huge of a research nerd thanks to over-education, I thought back to Barzun, who reminded us to not start researching until you know whom you are writing to.
So what? It sounds like a disconnect in educational values. Students can’t fathom why teachers want them to write elaborate essays only for them, and teachers can’t understand why students don’t realize that they are trying to teach them how to communicate in particular brands of scholarly discourse, to practice writing for that particular audience. Critical literacy, anyone? Academic guerilla professor Christopher L. Schroeder takes critical literacy up several notches, but still gets tripped up by his own programme: he tries to deconstruct the academy before his students understand what the academy is and their role in it. Even his emails read like papers: has the man learned no kairos from his students?
But has Buchheit? Mostly, yes. He’s qualified himself by saying mostly, but of course the guy from Friendfeed is going to tell us that lightweight is good, that it doesn’t “interrupt you.” The problem is that we want to interrupt ourselves and our students. We need to demand attention. That is how we learn. In those “contact zones” where we create new meaning and understanding, there’s a lot to take in, otherwise no real understanding comes out of it. Relying on too light a medium probably won’t work, and who better than library-types to help people understand how the media we communicate with affects how people understand us.