Monday, March 31, 2008

Is the Story Enough?

Meaning, in the end, is always a private construct built from the brick of our experience, and the mortar of our mood. In conversation we have opportunities (taken or not) to clarify the speaker's meaning.

Editing allows the print author precision of expression, but still the reader constructs the meaning. Until we can read each others thoughts, communication both oral and written will be problematic. Oral and literate communicatoin rely on completely different skills and yet they are wed in a remarkable way. It is a paradox.

Moving from a pre-literate to a literate culture changed the way in which humans thought. Now we may be moving in the dirction of post-literacy if some of what I have been reading is correct.

At a workshop I atttended recently, the presenter considered the impact technology has on reading and thought. He described a recent event at nearby Vanderbilt University where a student presented his thesis proposal to his professor on a post-it note.

"Y IPL BFD o +"

For those of us for whom text messaging remains a mystery it translates - "Why the Internet is the biggest F____ deal of our lives."

In his research he asked several professors about the declining use of standard English. One told him that she no longer marks down for spelling, punctuation, and errors in grammar. If the student can cogently argue her point it is enough.

It reminds me of the old Jewish story in which the Rabbi, whenever danger threatens, goes into the forest, lights a fire, and recites a prayer after which the danger passes. He is followed by a succession of Rabbis who take up his mantle. Each one forgets a part of the ritual until the last Rabbi can only tell the story -- but God is gracious and the story is enough...and danger is averted.

So for me this past couple of weeks the question has been -- will technology ultimately improve our thinking and deepen it or will it, as Neil Postman suggests, only broaden exposure as we amuse ourselves ourselves to death?
Will the story be enough?

Footnote: My thinking is formed here by my experience as a storyteller and observing both the lake of density in oral language and the impact of story on a group of listeners as compared to impact of exposition (most sermons fall into this category) on listeners. Here is a link that summarizes a lot of the thought beginning int he 1960s regarding this oral/literate divide and its implications for society.

Informing my thinking were these books - Savage Mind - Claude Levi-Strauss, Orality& Literacy - Walter Ong, Preface to Plato - Eric Havelock

Friday, March 28, 2008

Words, words, words

Words, Words, Words.....

Eliza Doolittle is talking about love, but the words are equally appropriate for technology in education. For the past 15 years computers and internet connections have dramatically increased in schools, but this doesn’t seem to have improved student outcomes. It is not just the luddites who are questioning the impact of every increasing technology.

Peter Salovey, Dean of Yale College said,
A stunning trend is emerging for the first time ever. We test incoming freshmen with a general knowledge instrument, then test them again when they graduate. For the past three years, the majority of our students score higher as freshmen than they do as seniors—on the exact same test. The reality is, many of our students know less when they graduate than when they entered.

Carolyn Wakeman, Professor at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
The most alarming change I have witnessed is in the literacy of our students., Twenty years ago most journalism students were avid readers and testing placed them at a college reading level. We currently have students that read nothing outside of class assignments and a few test as low as third grade reading level.
It is difficult to be in the midst of monumental change and understand what is really happening. As a person of a certain age, I straddle both the digital technology age and the world in which reading and listening to an expert were the beginning of knowledge.

Could the change be as dramatic as the shift in consciousness that occurred between the oral and literate world with the introduction of the printing press? Reading had been around for centuries, but until technology made it possible to mass-produce books the culture remained an oral one. It is no accident that the paintings in the Sistene Chapel “tell” the story of the Bible from beginning to end.
Claude Levi-Strauss who studied the differences between oral and literate cultures pointed out that once people could read and write memory dropped dramtically. One of the unitended consequences of the literate revolution was that human memory atrophied.

It is time to look at the unintended consequences of technology. As McCluhen indicated, are we moving back toward a pre-literate consciousness?
So along with our struggle to move technology into the schools we need to talk also about which of these consequences need to be welcomed and which need to be combated.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

My Audacity of HOPE

The darkest hour is just before dawn! The first time I heard this lyric I was a teen listening to the Mamas and the Pappas. I came of age in the turbulant dark hours of the late 60s and early 70s.

Still in the chaos and darkness of assisination and riot, I believed that dawn would arrive. My generation would usher it in! We would end war, poverty, racism, sexism, and wait quiety for the second coming! Well, perhaps I wasn't that optimistic, perhaps, I only had the audacity to be hopeful.

Today in the world of Web 2.0, I feel that same rush of hope that dawn is just over the horizon. In the darkness before this dawn several librarian friends and one technology coach have met for dinner during the deep months of winter to share food, company, and technology. But as I think about the dawn, I am forced to wornder what the light will reveal. How much of the landscape will I recognize?

Fifteen years ago, when I first began to use the Internet I thought about the changes hyptertext made in the way we understand text. The linear tyranny of the author is gone as readers construct meaning in their unique way.

Today, I am stunned by the Web 2.0 tools that speed up the disintegration of the old ladnscape. Then today I ran across this little video on You Tube -

In a virtual world what will dawn reveal?