Trending at the Speed of Capital

So 2006!

I’m not the most technologically adept person on the planet, but I do okay. I’ve been incorporating different media and production exercises into my teaching for the past ten years or so, when it suits the content and purpose of the class. For the past few years, though, the rise of social and mobile media seems to have manufactured an oppressive obligation to technologize the classroom. The technology exists, the kids are using it, it’s rewired their brains, and we need to use it, too, or risk losing them…and becoming irrelevant ourselves. Or so the thinking goes.

My issues with Digital Pedagogy are similar to my gripe (that seems far too harsh a term — maybe “befuddlement”?) with the Digital Humanities. Why do we always need to specify the “digital”? Why not just aim for good pedagogy, or solid, relevant, innovative work in the humanities — and maybe we’ll find that the digital technologies in our toolkits best serve our purposes. If not, we shouldn’t feel compelled to manufacture a need for something high-tech in order to prove our currency.

A lot of conferences and conversations I’ve participated in over the past several years have made me wonder not only about this compulsive technologization — but also why we let commercial tech development determine how we teach. Why do perfectly effective teaching and learning techniques suddenly become outmoded when Apple decides to release a new product? Why should Google’s affairs determine what I do in my classroom? [Within hours of Google Plus's arrival, my RSS reader was filled with posts about "how G+ can revolutionize your fall classes!"] Why should I feel compelled to keep up with development that’s driven by profit — by a value system that’s for the most part separate from the values that drive my work as a teacher?

Why are we trending at the speed of capital? Capital doesn’t dictate what happens in my classroom; in fact, I intentionally create a space where, every now and then, we can see what it feels like to live in a world where money and gadgets don’t get to decide what’s worth thinking and doing.

I want a classroom that can function as a space of exception — a place where people appreciate that there are value systems, epistemologies, ways of being other than the ones that rule the offices where they work and the streets outside. Maybe sitting around a table and talking about a book — without simultaneously updating your FB profile — bears no relevance to the way we spend our time anymore in real life. I say that’s exactly why we should do it. Maybe having to concentrate on the occasional lecture, or having to read a whole book (egad!) for homework, is uncomfortable or annoying. Good. Learning doesn’t always feel good — and it shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a pain to have to attend class when you could just watch the video; or to have to go to the library to pick up a book rather than skim snippets on Google. Boo hoo. “Convenience” isn’t the ultimate aim of education. Inconvenience can be amazingly productive.

I’ll use these technological tools if my students and I find them useful. But I also want us to maintain the freedom not to use them when we feel like it — even if only to imagine a world without compulsive tweets; a world in which some technology isn’t telling us “what we should be doing next.” Perhaps the most “relevant” thing we can do as teachers is remind students that you are not your gadgets — at least not all the time — and the habits of mind and ideologies they embody do not define your existence.


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Trending at the Speed of Capital by Shannon Mattern, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.