“History of Communication” Final Blog Post

Throughout the semester we examined some points in history that provoke thought about human development, media communications, and the impact of technology on society.  In this essay I wish to relate some of those ideas to current educational opportunities.  Specifically, I wish to discuss the connection between history of communication, present educational opportunities afforded by digital technology, and student’s individual goals.  Inspired by the text we read and the blogging practice that we were engaged in throughout the semester, combined with face-to-face classroom discussions lead by instructors and students, I assert that student-centered education and user-driven media communication could form a fruitful bond, which (when used thoughtfully) could enhance a positive educational outcome and assist on the creation of better opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

One experience that inspired me was an “Upgrading Your Curriculum” workshop that I participated in (as part of my research fellowship at “Harlem Schools Partnership”, Teachers College, December 15th, 2009) presented by Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  In her www.Curriculum21.com resource network Dr. Jacobs emphasized the importance of the connection between our heritage (the richness of our individual and collective background), our community (i.e. the classroom), and (this is the weakest link) – the student’s future goals.  Through web technologies teachers and students from around the globe could enhance the practice of knowledge sharing and discourse regardless of geographical and other boundaries.  This affordance could be especially valuable for third world countries or poor neighborhoods, which may not have the same educational wealth; yet through digital technologies and effective outreach initiatives could leverage on the ability to transport teaching and learning methodologies via new channels of communication.  One organization that explores such opportunities is the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning.

Early in September we examined the globalization phenomenon and technological advance from multiple perspectives. Responding to Deibert (1997) and McClintok’s (2009) text, and reading “Globalization: A Very Short Introduction” (Steger, 2009), I realized that there is more than meets the eye regarding new communication technologies and its effect on human thought.  Although there seemed to be a consensus among classmates that the Internet is the main cause for globalization, I was intrigued to investigate (collaboratively and individually) the meaning of Internet technologies in becoming significant in our daily lives, on a personal, commercial, professional and political level.  How did this change (dependence) come about?  What is the effect of such cultural shifts on abstract thinking and deep discourse?  Examining such changes from the historical, scholarly and critical points of view became a curiosity for me related to my learning experience at the “History of Communications” course, and reflections on my blog posts allowed me to connect ideas to my personal experience and interest.

Our readings, blog postings and class discussions challenged the cultural, social and fragmental engagement in multi-media pieces of web-based interactions.  We read Homer’s Iliad (written version is usually dated to 8th Century BC), and Havelock’s Preface to Plato (1963), discussing the influential tradition of oral poetry in Ancient Greece.  By way of my blog posts I was pondering over questions like what is the meaning of “the truth” in today’s context?  Is there one “truth” (as described by Plato’s cave allegory)?  Should educators support students to acquire information as a quest after their own truth?  Does the transparent display of multiple perspectives of “the truth” mean that there are different fragments of “the truth”, depended on the context and the given moment?

French theorist Bruno Latour added a political layer to people’s perception of “the truth”, claiming that (political) epistemology refers to the integration of politics and scientific validity into everyday life, and that people tend to use Science (the politicization of “the sciences”) as the ultimate explanation of something (Latour, 2004).  Latour’s critique of the Cave allegory, followed by the classroom discussion prompted me to read more of Latour’s recent work, which inspired my blog post, suggesting that Latour’s recent view about globalization and modern technology is that it is utopian and “homeless” (Latour, 2009).

Therefore, on the one hand we examined emerging technology’s strength and value from the historical perspective, suggesting that there is a great benefit for speed and convenience of interaction (Carey, 1989), as to variety of forms and mobility of communication.  On the other hand, such developments create a new arrangement of power and control (Berlinger, 1986).  This means that only those with access to new technologies (i.e. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as discussed on my blog post) will have social power and status, ultimately being accused of monopoly, while increasing the gap between the “have” and “have not”.

Furthermore, the choice we are making as a society to validate and accept the new way of communication could lead us to dig our own grave of submission to Capitalism (Moretti, in class, 2009) and neglecting our sense of self.  The final text by Birkerts (1994) argues that book and literature reading was our “agency for self-making”, inwardness and self-reflection, whereas digital technologies are sacrificing our souls for the sake of “nasty” electronic post-modernity.  As a society, we are accepting and practicing quantity over quality.  There are two sides to the coin.

In summary, it is important to understand the historical, philosophical, critical and sequential process of communication and emerging technology in order to consider the usage of digital communications as a teaching and learning tool.  Educators will often find both benefits and disadvantages, and will have to make a decision according to specific goals and circumstances.  For example, the “History of Communication” professors’ choice for blogging formed a specific structure of interaction within the class.  For me, some of the benefits of blogging as a learner include transparency of the thinking process, peer-pressure of public display that adds to a competitive nature, out-of-classroom dialogue and self-expression (“life is a stage”); access to multiple perspectives and ultimately the enhancement of a classroom community (“imagined community”?), by which people’s blogs exposed their “selves” and their ideas.  The casual tone and richness of personal examples can be regarded either an advantage or disadvantage – on the one hand it creates an eye-level friendly dialogue environment, but on the other hand it neglects a formal and more rigid structure appropriate to scholarly discourse.  Another disadvantage can be the amount of time spent on the computer searching and producing a blog artifact in place of reading and writing.

Finally, the blogging practice relates to my personal goal as a student, which is (among other goals that are more academic in nature) acquiring new media production skills so I could be better prepared for future employment.  As an Ivy-League school Teachers College at Columbia University is preparing me to be one of the future professionals who would carry their knowledge in a 21st Century skills package.  As a result, I would feel empowered by my new capability to produce and maintain a blog, and even accumulate eyeballs and comments to my blog journal.  I already learned how to redirect my own URL (www.PazitLevitan.com) to my blog, and refer to it from other social networks platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.  This will, without a doubt, increase my socio-economic status, and will be regarded as a great benefit on my resume, assuming that most jobs that I will apply for would have appreciation to “cutting-edge new media technology skills”.  Would anyone be hired for a prestigious job in the academia without such digital communication skills?  Without intending to do so, another Capitalist is being produced through the choice to conduct a blogging-centered classroom.  Having said that, I assure my blog readers that your servant blogger cares about the “have not”, and with my newly acquired digital media literacy I will seek the education, empowerment and improvement of the lives of the less fortunate – those who did not have the academic opportunity to be trained with new media competence.

December 17, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate, Family. Leave a comment.

“All advertising advertises advertising” (Marshall McLuhan, 1964)

I wonder if McLuhan’s media theories would have been as controversial had it been introduced today.  Published 45 years ago, McLuhan’s book “Understanding Media: The Extension of Man” (1964) displays original and thought-provoking ideas about media consumption and its cultural, social and political implications, focusing on the medium (and type of information delivery), rather than the content.

The advertising industry leveraged on the idea that “the medium is the message” before other industries, and paid McLuhan top dollar to consult on matching specific content with a specific medium according to an advertising goal.  For example, according to McLuhan’s distiction between hot and cold media the television, as a cold medium is “above all a medium that demands a creatively participant response” (p. 445).  This means that the most appropriate personality for television would be a person “who looks as if he might be a teacher, a doctor, a buisessman, or any of a dozen other things all at the same time is right for TV… the cool TV medium cannot abide the typical because it leaves the viewer frustrated of his job of ‘closure’ or completion of image” (p. 438).  Ideal type of television display would be a relatively short, non-scripted conversation between individuals, where the televised display takes into consideration the high degree of participation required from the viewer, and could therefore present complicated situations, consisting of some process to be completed.  The ideal televised personality would know how to improvise, and be aware her/his gestures, verbal details and posture, in order to sustain intimacy with the viewer.

On the other hand, cinema or a stage production is a hot medium, requiring much less participation on behalf of the viewer.  The cinematic medium can afford to be longer, incorporate a script, and engage in a close-up cinematography.  The difference in the medium could be one of the reasons that I would feel more compelled to see a movie on a wide screen, in a dark theater, rather than on television; I am more easily immersed in the participation experience, perhaps due to the “hotness” of the medium.

Three ideas of McLuhan’s text provoked an internal discussion about new technology and education:

1. How would McLuhan define internet technologies today?  A decade ago McLuhan already suggested the new technologies aim for “total participation” on behalf of the user.  Therefore, my guess is that McLuhan would have defined web communications as a cool medium. His statement “today each one of us lives several hundred years in a decade” suggests that the speed of information transport, combined with new types of media create a more condensed and fragmented communication systems, which are defined by the medium.  This goes hand-in-hand with the notion that young children today interact very differently than myself, and I interact differently than my parents.

2. McLuhan coins the term “a global village”, which foresees the cultural shift in society, deriving from developing technologies and a ‘shrunken’ globe.  He focuses on the fact that the speed of information delivery and accessibility to multi-geographical sources of information is changing the way people communicate and exchange information, and therefore (without the bureaucratic approval) creates a new professional and social culture, breaking old boundaries and creating new conventions.

3. McLuhan’s view of education is interesting.  He suggests that productive learning is an experience and the interaction between teachers and students can be inspired by the interactions among “hot” and “cold” media.  For example, television is more suitable for a learning situation than a book (or even a classroom: “Television is teaching all the time. It does more educating than all the schools and all the institutions of higher learning.”), since it presents situations which consist of some process to be completed.

While I agree with McLuhan that “you are the medium” and through communication processes, participation levels and types of learning experience there would be different level of engagement and outcome, I also believe that by analyzing the television as a cold medium and relating it to an educational setting, a student could get disengaged after a short period of time.  Therefore, the educational system should re-evaluate the “lecture-style” information delivery typical to some classrooms, and create a more participatory (yet thoughtfully fragmented) experience, which facilitates the student in “being the medium”.

December 14, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.

The Control Revolution by Beniger

“Because technology defines the limits on what a society can do, technological innovation might be expected to be a major impetus to social change in the Control Revolution no less than in the earlier societal transformations accorded the status of revolutions.” (Beniger, 1986, p. 9).

Meet Bill Gates, a software wizard who, through his innovative technological skills and determination to allocate a new political and social power structure for source code writers (publically commencing with the “Open Letter to Hobbyists“, 1976), had become a very powerful man.  As he developed as one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, he was also accused of practicing monopoly as the Co-Founder and CEO of Microsoft, ultimately making Mr. Gates a controversial person.

Meet Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history, who collaborates with Bill Gates on investing in American technology companies and in philanthropy, contributing to making the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation be the world’s largest foundation (controlling about $37 billion).  Together with Mrs. Melinda Gates the philanthropists direct their fortune toward three broad issues: global health, global development and programs in the United States that largely have to do with improving education.

Gate’s digital revolutionary products, the dynamics between these technologies, the government and the mass, followed by Buffett’s economic support to it (making it a new system of control technology) would go hand in hand with USC Professor of Communication James Beniger’s original thesis (“The Control Revolution“, 1986) that the Industrial Revolution made it necessary to control processes at a faster pace and in a more complex way, leading to a long standing global information society with a new distribution of power. By the chronology and analysis of new communications technologies that emerged in the 19th century (photography, telegraphy, printing, motion pictures, wireless telegraphy, and magnetic tape recording), followed by early 20th century communication technologies (radio, television and computers), Beniger argues that governments and businesses gain control and authority, as they support such technologies in various ways.

Beniger’s text is more of a historical description of the origin of the information society, and less of a critique.  Much like Mr. and Mrs. Gates who dedicate the remainder of their lives to philanthropy, publicly committing that 90% of their fortune will continue to be allocated for humanistic causes even after their passing (CNBC, 2009), there is still a critical controversy about how they gained their fortune in the first place.  Ultimately, if you believe in Capitalism you would admire the bunch and be grateful that they are using most of their fortune for meaningful philanthropy.

Finally, an interesting question came up at the beginning of the Q&A video clip that I posted above (April, 2009). A finance student asked “how do you instill ethical leadership through your organization?”  I found Buffett’s answer to reflect on the importance of the public display, suggesting to pay close attention to “new journalistic” possibilities afforded by today’s communication technologies:  “We can afford to lose money but not a shred of reputation, and therefore I ask managers to judge every action they take…by the journalism test. How would they feel about any given action if they knew it was to be written up… by a smart but unfriendly reporter?”

And I thought to myself, although it seems that the new journalistic style (i.e. via social networks like facebook) has a public display that is self-articulated and presented only to a group of friends, one must be careful of lack of privacy (for example, the White House party crashers were revealed through their facebook photo display).  Moreover, once again the concept of “public reputation” has a new meaning through new technologies, requiring the individual to construct their identity (identities) extremely carefully and in a web-culture-savvy manner using new technologies.  This goes back to an argument that I am touching on via my blog – new media communication literacy is forming itself as the new tool to gain social and political power.

December 7, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate. 2 comments.