I just finished the book Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers. I found this book to be wonderful and timely. Ostensibly about technology, it is really about living a life of depth in this age of information.
Powers recognizes the positives of social media; the need to belong is part of being human. Texting, Facebook, Tweeting, cell phones, etc., all offer tools of connection and extend our circles of belonging. They extend our ability to connect with others, and offer much more variety in doing so. Powers is not critical of the technology per se, he is critical of how we too often mindlessly use technology.
This is where the power of the book comes from. More than just a modern look at technology, Powers book offers a practical philosophical treatise on the importance of living a life of depth. Depth is the aspect of live that creates meaning. It is the difference between experiencing an event, and reflecting on it so that it becomes meaningful. The challenge of technology for each of us is creating boundaries around it so that our lives are not just a superficial surfing from screen to screen. Adding experience without meaning is like eating junk food. Real sustenance comes when we create time and methods that allow our inner lives to flourish. This is what creates depth for us.
Too often we live superficially, looking at our Crackberries for the next hit, without allowing time to process our experiences, to make sense of them, to live with a sense of order and intention. Powers points out that subtle sense of inner disarray so common in modern life, and suggests that this necessarily comes when we don’t have a “focal practice” to anchor ourselves within ourselves (rather than floating mindlessly through the fog of technology surrounding us). Powers offers practices to protect our inner lives from the technological onslaught, while still engaging intelligently with technology. A must read.
I’m also re-reading Emerson’s Self Reliance, and Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class As Soulcraft. These are happy coincidences. The congruence between these and Hamlet’s Blackberry is amazing, but not surprising. Timeless ideas are timeless for a reason.
Shop Class As Soulcraft
The forgotten variable in the current education culture= legitimate power.
It’s very simple. Legitimate power is the influence that I allow another to have over me. Very simple. Illegitimate power is the control another attempts to have over me for an interest outside of my own. Again, very simple.
Many psychologists argue that one of the core needs of being human is the need for power. This all too often is seen as negative, because all to often it is associated with illegitimate power. But power is healthy and necessary. The question, is the source of my power legitimate or not?
Educators are necessarily put in positions of power of students. Not bad or good in itself. The question for educators, is what is the source of your power? Does it come via your institutional position, your ability to give grades, enforce consequences, institute and follow policy, etc. Or does it come from being a person that students want to follow? (I recognize that it’s much messier in real life: All educators lean on institutional power to some degree. The best lean on it as little as possible.) Because remember, we don’t have power as a given over students. They ultimately have the power to allow us influence in their lives. We may be able to get them to do what we want with rewards and consequences, sure. But we will won’t have an impact in transforming their lives (and real learning is always transformative) unless they allow it of us. This is the choice that life won’t let us take away from them.
So the most important question for us educators is, who am I becoming right now? The answer to that has huge everyday ramifications for the students in our care.
I’ve spent 2 of the last 3 days learning from Punya Mishra (@punyamishra). Punya runs the Educational Technology master’s program at Michigan State. He is a great example of a “learner,” a person who reframes everything into the foundational question of, “What can be learned here?”
I expected Punya and his partner in crime, Leigh Graves Wolf (@gravesle), to try to sell me on all of the uses of technology in schools. I was sort of right. But more importantly, they were spreading the word on the importance of the teacher and the teacher’s ability to imagine and create. Yes, you read that correctly, imagine and create. In this data soaked, test driven educational culture full of program driven prescriptions that we currently swim in, Punya and Leigh were pushing the idea that “who” the teacher is actually matters. The teacher’s development as a learner, as a person with ability to reframe, or perceive the world, is the key in the classroom. As Punya says, “Go to Google for information, come to me for wisdom.” He did not say this to laud his own wisdom. His point was, there is a ton of technology out there. There is an incomprehensible amount of data and information at our fingertips. The issue for educators is, so what? How do we make decisions about this? How do we determine what’s important? How do we best use the tools available for deepening student learning? Those questions of value (always prioritized by the values of the individual) don’t just disappear with access to new technology. Our responsibility is to choose consciously and wisely. This can’t be done with the newest program or shiny technology. It can only be done with wisdom. The human aspect of technology use remains more important than ever.
More from Punya
I’m little nervous about entering cyberspace in this way, I can’t lie. It feels a bit like walking around naked. Why expose myself and my thinking? Or, thinking of it another way, who is being exposed?
Blogging is one more way of presenting ourselves to the world. As such it feels narcissistic and arrogant, not the kind of self I want to be presenting. It also seems that the whole idea of social media is centered on narcissism and arrogance. Who am I that I think I’m important enough that people should be reading my ideas? On the other hand, who am I that I think I have nothing to offer? (And the irony of the number of “I’s” in the previous sentences is not lost on me.)
Michael Wesch is an anthropology professor at Kansas State University. He does some incredible work with social media. One of the questions he works with is that of identity. If our identity is developed socially, that is, if we learn to see ourselves at least in part through the eyes of others, then how is identity developed with the advent of social media? How do Facebook, Twitter, etc. affect our identity development?
See Wesch’s presentation here:
So I’m hoping (and we’ll see) that blogging is one more opportunity for change and growth. That involvement in this form of media will affect who I am, who I present myself as, my voice the world, and, most importantly, who am I becoming. So is it narcissistic and arrogant? It’s hard to argue against that. But if it helps in growth, and the conscious awareness of who we are becoming, then that benefits all, and may be the highest form of generosity. Let’s hope.