Category Archives: Media Ecology

Think Piece: Fahrenheit 451

Fire

I have begun teaching Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to my ninth grade high school students. It is interesting teaching this book realizing that all of the students in the room (from varying international backgrounds) have been raised with more advanced and “faster” communication technologies than I could have dreamed of when I was their age. Granted I am not that “old,” but do remember the day when a large satellite television dish was planted in what used to be a garden in our yard. The black monolith, which connected me with other virtual worlds, which greatly shaped my imaginative development.

It is difficult for some of them to relate to the overarching themes of a society obsessed with amusement and speed. Could this be due to the ways in which technology and amusements have already infiltrated their minds? And, am I, as their “teacher,” immune from the consequences of an over reliance on the various gadgets that make my life easier? Should the role of the teacher of a book like “Fahrenheit 451” be one who has become like the character Clarisse, “insane” to the eyes of an out-of-control society as described in the book? If so, wouldn’t, in the teaching of this book, it make more sense to conduct the class while sitting on grass, away from the technological pull of the city? More importantly, does this book resonate with the students in the ways in which Bradbury intended? What kind of student would it take to “take arms against a sea of amusements (Postman)”? What kind of research would be most applicable? What kinds of secondary texts would fill in the gaps?

In order for this book to achieve its own purposes as a so-called “novel of ideas,” it would seem necessary to me to foster an inquisitive classroom environment from which students could gain the capacity to critically and curiously question the technological devices and media influences in their lives that they are exposed to and that they expose themselves to on an hourly basis. The development of these capacities would be for the purpose of having them re-experience those devices and interfaces that shape the virtual landscapes of planet “my life.” What questions would one need to ask to enable students to ask the right questions to themselves about their connections to technology and what that technology could mean? Would this way of teaching (inquistive) make for the proper atmosphere of presenting the novel’s ideas?

At the end of a few lessons, I began thinking about how this book will influence and hopefully develop their ability to examine contemporary culture. For example, the character Clarisse says, “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly.” This observation, which I felt captured a potent insight into culture didn’t seem to resonate with students, even though our location (Beijing) is a city of vehicles, an overpopulation of vehicles. None of the students walk to and from school and judging from their reactions to the idea of “walking for pleasure,” none of them see walking for the sake of walking as a choice by which one’s experience of the world and how one perceives it is enhanced as having any relevance to them whatsoever.

Other than actually taking them on a walk, how does one open up this idea and make it relevant? How can we teach students to regain the simplicity of life if they don’t want to learn it?

Thank you for reading. I hope that this edited yet stream-of-consciousness “think piece” is of use to you.

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Contemplating the “Indirect Path” (Execupundit)

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Michael Wade over at Execupundit recently posted two provocative questions under the title, “Indirect Path.” His two questions are as follows, “Is happiness something that is captured or achieved?” and “Or is it more likely that happiness will climb our steps when we are not in active pursuit?”

What I would like to do here is to simply open up these questions and in doing so hopefully give readers of this blog and his, some food for thought in the contemplation of these matters.

First, if happiness is something that is “captured,” from where do we capture it? How does one “find” it? Could it even be possible that happiness exists apart from our attitudes toward what we do and how we experience life? Or, does one, as Herzog might say, “wrestle it from the Devil’s hands?” If happiness is achieved, then what does that tell us about such things as perseverance, effort, accountability and responsibility? Could it be that the pursuit of these leads one to a “happier” life because they align one with one’s purpose? How caught up are happiness and purpose?

And, to address Wade’s second question, does the direct contemplation of happiness somehow eliminate its manifestation? Any student of David K. Reynolds’ “Constructive Living” should be familiar with the adage that one cannot will oneself to be happy. Or, is it that happiness is a performable feeling that one can actually will into existence by the performance of that feeling? Also, does the direct desire to be “happy” have any meaning whatsoever? Is there a state of happiness apart from one’s own unique life circumstance in which that term “happiness” takes on whatever relevance it may have to that person in that circumstance? How has your understanding of happiness changed over the years? Is it the happiness that changed or your own changes in how you interpret things?

Additionally, how is happiness discussed through mediums such as television, radio, film, books and the Internet? Which medium would be most useful a platform for learning more about what happiness could be and how it manifests itself in our lives? Which “stories” that you may live by most influence your understanding of happiness? Does it matter which story we use as long as it “works” for us?

Somehow, for me, in the thinking of these questions, some kind of internal calm overcomes me and I daresay I feel…happiness? I’m not sure. Perhaps this tells us something. But what? Is it that the right questions somehow guide us closer to a more lucid understanding? But without a purpose in mind how do we know what to ask? Why is happiness so sought after?

10 (+) Articles for Improving Your Mental Hygiene (Vol. 1.0)

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A list of ten articles dealing with topics such as: leading, following, awareness, mindfulness, constructive living, esoteric thought, greatness, media ecology, critical thinking, and existence.

1. Lee Thayer: There is Only One Way to Achieve Greatness
2. Mindfulness: Finding Our Own Paths: Entering Awareness
3. RAWilson: Robert Anton Wilson: Thoughts
4. Lee Thayer: Excerpt from “The Elusive Laws of Communication”
5. Lance Strate: The Creative Power of Media Ecology
6. Copyblogger: How Good are your Critical Thinking Skills?
7. Constructive Living: Constructive Living Basics
8. Walker Percy: Walker Percy WikiQuote
9. Dr. Zoltan: Dr. Zoltan’s Ideas on Creative Career
10. Mindfulness: The Leader is a Virtuoso Question Asker

What articles or blogs do you recommend for improving mental hygiene? I look forward to learning from you.

EDIT:

11. Dr. Corey Anton: Freedom, Thought, World

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A History of the Future of Narrative: Robert Coover (Vimeo)

The post prior to this one included a link to an hour long Robert Coover reading from 2005. After posting said article, in a moment of serendipitous joy, I found a forty minute long video of Robert Coover (thank you Google Blog Search).

Information on this video, from the Vimeo source: “Novelist Robert Coover’s keynote address at the Electronic Literature in Europe seminar (elitineurope.net), September 13th, 2008. Introduced by Scott Rettberg. Videography by Martin Arvebro.”

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Perception Change

Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book “Teaching as a Subjective Activity,” present the following for our contemplation: “The ability to learn turns out to be a function of the extent to which one is capable of perception change (21).” What this means is that your learning something is dependent upon your capacity for imagining yourself to be other than you are or aiming to properly imagine yourself into the situation that you are faced with. How many times have our perceptions of ourself stifled our potential for taking action or for challenging ourselves in new ways?

Or, said otherwise, when approaching a situation, are you capable of opening yourself to the potentialities of the situation? This seems to follow along the lines of living a great life and being the person that you want to be, becoming the person that you want to be. I remember a meeting with a respectable person, a person whose work I had studied for years prior. When that person told me that, “yes, we could meet tomorrow,” I was overcome with anxiety and fear. However, luckily, I was able to push the fear aside and take the risk of meeting this respectable person. In this kind of situation, what is the nature of the fear? What triggers the panic the could potentially crush the hoped-for situation? In retrospect, it is amazing to find that the panic on my part was severly over-exaggerated. What seemed like a great chasm, was merely a crack in the sidewalk.

It seems that one’s existence is not simply “in one’s head,” but in fact stretched out to the people that one meets and the objects and situations that one is surrounded by. Perhaps we come to know ourselves through the interaction with our environment and with the people in our environment. Our interpretations of how things are are perhaps more important than the things themselves. Perception change can come from wiping off the table or from listening to the wind in the afternoon. However, perception change sometimes does not come easy and it is difficult at times to will ourselves to see things differently. Perhaps, the thinking process returns to an obsessive fear or a hindering shiver of doubt (this is also a mode of perception change). In these times of gloom, it may be necessary to force our body into action, to change our normal routine and to risk “losing face” in order to break the moldy habits that have consumed us. The beautiful thing about a human is that a human is incomplete and in this incomplete existence we can work to change ourselves and to change our lives over and over and over again.

Me.dium: A Real-Time Graphical Browsing Enivronment or “The Voyeuristic Web Experience”

MediumsvgImage from WikipediaIf yesterday I wrote about Zizek‘s interview regarding “hysteria and cyberspace,” today I began using a quite “hysterical” add-on called “Me.dium.” Generally speaking, “me.dium” provides you with the ability to graphically see your browsing activity. It also shows other me.dium users who are on the same website as you (and surrounding websites) and gives you the ability to interact with them, add them as a friend or simply ignore them. Also, there is a small forum built into the add-on, which allows one to freely post a topic regarding a website or event that one wishes to talk about. One can also peruse the small forum to see what other me.dium users are discussing. Thus, other users, while surfing can post comments in real time and view where other users are in relation to oneself. Moreover, me.dium provides what they deem “relevant” pages that revolve around what page one is currently on, although thus far I am yet to discover a new interesting page or in general to find much traffic at all in the me.dium world. However…

What I like about me.dium is the idea of “responsible browsing”. That is, while privacy is usually the mainstay on the internet, this map allows others to track where you are on the net and click there to join you. Upon clicking, you can see their icon as being on the same page as you. I can see this as being very useful for some work-related project with members located in various offices or even in different countries. Similarly, it can be useful for those who wish to join the bandwagon and see what websites others are using. Otherwise, it can be a bit mesmerizing to watch your icon as you float from one website to another: the self transformed into an orange silhouette.

It seems that me.dium is still in its developmental stages, but if this mapping/interactive function takes off, it could provide an interesting twist in web hysteria. From a Zizekian standpoint, there may be something terrifying about the unknown other being able to follow one’s web activity in real-time (what does the other want from me? Why are they on the same page as me?). Also, it may curb what websites one finds oneself on in relation to how one wants others to perceive him or herself. That is, searching an obscene website knowing that one is openly exposing oneself to it, is visible, may prove quite an uncomfortable experience.

Neil Postman asked the question: “To what problem is this new technology the solution?” So, one could ask the question: “To what problem is me.dium the solution?” Well, it seems that me.dium is working to combat the alienation of the internet, the internet as a private (and perhaps lonely) experience and bringing out the idea of “you are not alone while browsing.” That is to say, it seems to function as a social networking site based not on a flashy profile, but on browsing interests. However, one can also see the business sense in this. Of course, it could become easy, once enough people begin using this function, to track what websites are popular and thus where to advertise. It is also possible to imagine virtual bots used by a company, programmed to converge on a site (perhaps pushing a new product) and thus creating the illusion of their actually “being there.” Also, it should be noted that the sites that appear in relation to your own are not controllable by you, which has its positive points for being able to discover new web content. Postman’s second question: “Whose problem is this actually?” Well, again, it seems that me.dium appeals to those wishing to connect with others knowingly exposing their surfing habits and vice versa those who wish to view others’ pages, the voyeuristic web experience. Moreover, the business person looking to find how people go from one website to the next could take interest in following web habits to determine what is relevant to other people. Postman’s final question: “What does technologies does this new technology obsolesce?” It seems that me.dium is pushing the increasingly popular “visualized” web interface and with the advent of new visualized browsers (such as touchgraph, spacetime, etc.) the text based browser may wither. Also, in creating a real-time graphical browsing environment, me.dium has the capacity to create an interactive and communal browsing experience, which may again affect linear text based search engines.

At its current stage, me.dium is still rather small, but it seems that given the chance and time to grow, perhaps some beautiful things could blossom out of me.dium. Imagine a group of scholars separated by location, converging on me.dium, engaging in chat, while researching some topic of interest. If me.dium were able to set up private spaces for groups to converge and research and chat while viewing the topology of where the others are, then this could benefit the said party, or at least provide an interesting space for discussion and discovery.