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My New Love...

Stephen Swanson

Stephen and Henry Thanks to my participation in a faculty new media seminar, I have received a wonderful tool, a valuable gift to broaden my mind, an iPad. While I could write a great deal about how I benefit from the longer battery life and minimized weight, these traits do not approach the central question of the role of technology in our world and what would make me more able to provide a contribution to my communities, both large and small.

This reading for this week deals with the possibilities of rethinking how education looks and feels in the future. I know that Relief is not an education or technology venue, but as I think about the roles of writing and reading, I cannot but help to think about the impacts of these acts on those participating with informal education versus my students who engage in formal education towards unclear ends. The lack of motivation and direction of the "youth" has long been decried, but are things different now? Are there significant problems with the next generation of learning and learners, and if so, then what?

Well, in theory, the hope lies, for some, in technology, like online education, open universities, nontraditional education, and iPads, but the fears of thinkers like Jacques Ellul come to mind about the changes that the technologies work on us as we leave a "natural world" and more frequently inhabit a technological world of their own creation.

At least according to Ellul, this has a tendency to push us away from faith and spirituality, a connection to the transcendent because we become more connected with the Technique. I think that, to me, this becomes obvious in my use of the iPad. Sure, there are a lot of useful things that I do with it, including writing this post, but it tethers me while promising mobility.

I have an app for finding free Wifi spots wherever I am. We Rule and We Farm tether me in time and space as I ask, "Will I be able to harvest my eggplants and pet my llama?". I grow more and more "docked" with the technology, even as it promises freedom.

This week in my Graphic Novels as Literature class, we are discussing the graphic novel adaptation of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and what it is saying about consumption of media and the relationship between form, content, and the effect on the people engaged with form and content. This seemed, to me, to grow directly from the discussion we'd been having since we read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics at the beginning of term.

However, this is not what happened. The idea that form, content, and meaning might influence each other appeared anathema to them. "There's nothing wrong with Michael Bay films! I love them." "Yes," I answer, "There is nothing wrong with Bay as a singularity, but Bradbury is arguing about what happens when that's all there is, reaction and not contemplation." "But, what about Harry Potter?"

The fact that they struggle so much stems, to me, not so much from the ideas themselves but from the process of thought itself, and this lack of familiarity with depth, texture, and what Faber, in Fahrenheit 451, calls the "pores" in life comes from, at least in part, the technology and our assumptions about it. It will teach us, connect us, warm us, cool us, protect us, and solve our problems eventually in some lab somewhere. It's easy to see where Bradbury and Ellul might see this type of relationship between people and technology as a replacement of meaning, depth, and faith.

But, look at how cool my iPad looks on my desk with my monitor and laptop,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Stephen Swanson teaches as an assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College. Aside from guiding students through the pitfalls of college writing and literature, he spends most of his time trying to remain  aware of popular culture, cooking, and enjoying time with his wife and son. He holds degrees in Communications (Calvin College), Film Studies (Central Michigan University), and Media and American Culture Studies (Bowling Green State University. In addition to editing a collection, Battleground States: Scholarship in Contemporary America, he has forthcoming projects on Johnny Cash and depiction of ethics in detective narratives.