Several weeks ago I had the privilige of attending the Virtual Worlds: Museums, Libraries and Educators conference held in the virtual world of Second Life. One of the sessions I attended was “Cyborg Learning: How to Engage Young Minds” by Dallas McPheeters, Instructional Technology Liaison for Tucson Unified School District. Because there were hearing-impaired attendees at the conference, many sessions also had full transcripts available. I cherry-picked some of the salient bits from his presentation and saved some here. Interesting stuff and applicable to library culture.
The present generation is disengaged and education has become a game to win by navigating and maneuvering within the system. There is a disconnect between learning and learners. We want to engage young minds or we wouldn’t be here. What impact is technology having on education in the 21st century and can we engage the minds of the next generation? This question has been the subject of much study during the past three decades, both in the United States and Europe.
The focus of these studies falls mainly in one of two schools of thought. The first school of thought will be labeled the Technofascists who view technology a wonderful tool to use in the education process and therefore promote its spread by way of legislative control. The second school of thought will be labeled the Technophobes who fear the rapid spread of the use of technology in education and therefore try to slow its spread by way of legislative control. Notice that both sides wish to control technology but for different reasons. And both sides view technology as other, alien, and something to be governed or controlled.
But a third view has emerged among the new generation of technology natives that does not view technology as “other. ” This new generation sees technology as an extension of human identity; hence, the label “Cyborg” is applied indicating a kind of hybrid of human and technology – a Cybernetic Organism. Rather than technology being applied to human identity, technology actually becomes part of the human expression itself. Thus the clear boundary between man and machine is being blurred by the technological revolution and to legislate such a revolution becomes irrelevant in the view of Cyborg culture.
The two traditional schools of thought among the technology immigrants react differently to the blurring of cultural boundaries caused by the technological revolution of the postmodern – and posthuman as Cyborgs believe – world in which we live. And as we continue to spin toward an unknown future, the older generations of technology immigrants seem to be frantically racing to define what may be beyond definition; even bigger than the whole itself.
We are living in a conundrum whose solution is not possible with the old formulas. Today we are living in what has been described as a “culture of uncertainty” with each domain of knowledge increasing faster than we can learn it.
Children today – as natives to technology – are growing up in a world where boundaries are blurred. Within the present and politically-correct society, gender distinctions are in question. We understand that Race no longer has a scientific basis. The corporate hierarchy and rank that industrialized the world is being replaced by project oriented, team playing personnel whose “roles are ill-defined and shifting.” Even our physical human identity is blurred by the introduction of virtual worlds enabling participants to engage in multiple realities both physical and imagined. Clearly delineated time boundaries are blurred by asynchronous communication tools. The Internet brings information to us that is no longer boxed in by time and space.
And according to Thomas Friedman, author of New York Times bestselling book, The World is Flat, says we are at the “end of the beginning.” Friedman believes we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg compared to what lies before us. According to Friedman’s research, we are embarking on a shift of a magnitude that boundary-restricted minds are unable to conceive or manage.
Those insisting on going back to the good ole’ days of clearly defined boundaries (we could call this group the fence builders) see the coming changes as other and therefore uncomfortable and difficult to navigate with the customary tools of the modern age they thought they knew. These technophobes perceive technology as outside, apart, and foreign to human existence (though some acknowledge technology’s added convenience). Technophobes don’t mind progress as long as it fits in a box and can be taught in the traditional way. Yet even the technofascists differ little in their final assessment despite their desire to increase technology’s use in education. Technofascists still seek control in order to manage or ‘box in’ the increased use and usefulness of new technologies.
Technofascists embrace technology. Technophobes would slow technology. Yet neither is relevant because both seek to box technology in. However, within the technology sphere, a third view is emerging among the natives of today’s cyberculture. These Cyborgs will not accept our three dimensional, spatial/temporal existence as an end in itself. Only the posthuman, neo-native Cyborg can adequately express the new technology-based hybrid identity and educators must facilitate the Cyborg’s introduction into this boundary-less realm.