The Machine is Changing Us

For those of you with out context I will be talking about the video found here

Wesch is trying to bring forward the new idea of community and how the online interactions we have are changing the way we look at things around us.  The change in online interactions can be viewed as both positive or negative but the point that he brings forward is that most of the online interactions that we see are primarily based around the idea of community and the want to not be anonymous.

The idea of an internet community has always been interesting to me.  When interacting only online it is interesting to see how people can recreate themselves as this anomaly/identity that is more or less related to themselves.  They are allowed to express themselves how ever they want with no censors.   If all else fails they can remake themselves through a different user account.  The community consists of people who are putting forth their ideal selves at every turn, even when they are being self confessional.  This is akin to the sitcom conversations that Wesch references that are always interesting.  The same thing can be said for the responses to those posts.  There isn’t the same immediacy or sometime awkwardness found in a self confessional so while there is opportunity for growth it, there is still a certain amount of distance from the responses.  (I realize there is situations where this is not necessarily the case see the Jessie Slaughter case for one of the most recent examples or the mother that used MySpace as a method to cyber bully a friend of her daughters.

This anonymity allows for interactions which falls mainly into the highly supportive or negative NSFW Language.   Both allow people to give people their perspectives with out actually knowing that person.  That interaction is given with out a lot of the context that comes with getting to know someone so this creates a superficial community based primarily on the ideal/non ideal self.  These interactions would not happen offline with out a certain level of trust, so the interesting thing that happens here is that the people creating the media/responding to it could start viewing this ideal self as their real selves and start behaving completely differently in the classroom/workplace/world.  In kind of a Fight Club style fashion the people you see on the street are completely different people from those that you see in front of the camera on YouTube and you shouldn’t reference that side of them outside of YouTube.  I saw this first hand as my first website was more a self confessional blog more than anything.  I created that site more for my self than anything else and any one who mentioned it to me in person was looked at differently.  Some how that interaction based on my guarded/ideal self was seen as an invasion of my privacy even though I had put it out there.  This was the first time I had experienced fragmentation except for instead of finding stronger voices in the community I had experienced a fragmentation of myself.  That brings up all sorts of interesting questions about the context of your social context affects the way you behave.  This could also be the reason that people feel more comfortable talking about their problems with only a camera involved.  They only have themselves to rely on for social context so they can talk about what they are thinking about.

An art project that followed this phenomena was one called Realspace where the basic premise of MySpace was recreated and people posted their connections and comments on pieces of paper on the wall.  The interesting thing was how the comments were different than what you would find on an actual MySpace page as there is some for of accountability as you tack that piece of paper to the wall and the self confession can be seen by anyone.  This seems different because you can actually watch their reactions and they can come confront your thoughts directly.

Chatroulette was another form of communication that was supposed to help people see just how small the world is.  Before it was taken over by exhibitionists it was a way for people to feel a sense of community with out actually having to participate in a community that lasts.  This allows people the opportunity to reinvent themselves on a whim and again present an ideal self that they can recognize as themselves eventually.

For education what that means is our students are coming forward with all sorts of fragmented thoughts that have been confirmed/not confirmed by their online interactions.  This allows them to be confident either way even though their thoughts might not have much context outside of themselves/the online community they’ve created around themselves.   The fragmentation makes for more extreme behavior because those students want to be remembered in “real space” along with online.  Wesch mentions this need for identity to try and get yourself noticed as an individual.

The really interesting part of all of this is whether we as a teaching community can link into a students online engagement and whether we would want to.  Does the thought of professionalism break down when we are interacting with students beyond the professional bounds?  Does the student gain access to my personal networks so that they can see where I am coming from?  How does the teacher/student relationship change as we are interacting not only in person but with our ideal selves or the people that we would be if we had time to think about our responses?  If this is where the students find out how to be self reflective and interact with people to find themselves does this take away the students ability to find themselves them self or does this increase the need for an audience?

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About mrthejud

I'm a teacher at Greenall High School in Saskatchewan.
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4 Responses to The Machine is Changing Us

  1. Debbie S says:

    It’s the last paragraph of your post that really has me thinking.

    This weekend, one of my daughter’s 3rd grade teachers came to see her in a play she was in (my daughter is now in 4th grade). This was definitely a breaching of “professional” boundaries, but it was HUGE for my 9 year old’s sense of self-esteem. And actually, I think the fact that her FORMER teacher cared enough to attend effects her whole perception of school as a place where she is loved and cared for which impacts her entire attitude about education!

    In many ways, this is where teaching as a profession differs from other “jobs” or even other “careers.” You teachers touch kids’ lives already in a million ways – much like a parent does. And like the parent-child relationship has changed through the decades (kids are no longer expected to be seen, not heard, for example!), I think we are in a time where the teacher-student relationship can morph into something differently but equally meaningful. I think it’s ok – and maybe even desirable – for students to see teachers as people, humans, who LEARN and GROW and MAKE MISTAKES and CHANGE.

  2. Stephen Rahn says:

    You pose some great questions regarding how our professional relationship with students might be evolving as a result of technology. I know there are skeptics out there, but these changes can be positive as long as both parties have the appropriate level of respect for one another.

  3. mrthejud says:

    Thank you for your comments. My issue with including students in my Social Media circles is that then my work and home life start blending more than they already do. And that is assuming that I am voluntarily doing this. If all of a sudden it becomes the expectation that I am supposed to let my students into my Social Media circle where does the line between work and leisure time get drawn?

  4. Lisa M Lane says:

    I don’t apologize for keeping the the work/home (or public/private) parts of my life pretty separate. Before the internet, there were particular students I bonded with, or a small group in an Honors or learning community section where we all went out as part of the class. Online one can’t keep it a small group or individual very well using social media because it’s so….social. If a relationship continues beyond the class, we tend to email or chat as individuals, not part of a clan.

    Separate Facebook accounts, separate email accounts, and very few people cross over. And like you say, it’s not so much about respect, but about ones own life, and how I want to be able to move voluntarily away from one aspect and toward another without feeling like I’m being dragged.

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