From stone slate to silicon tablet and the importance of getting over a widespread platonic fear of making your ‘digital mark’
so happens that the generational progression in my family means that whilst my granddad started school in March 1879 in the first state school in his rural district, my youngest has yet to start his formal education. So there’s 130 years between my son and my granddad’s first days at school.
This is not as exceptional as you might think. All that’s happened is that my granddad, my dad and myself all had children into our forties. The result is a generational span that encompasses common or garden literacy to the common man and the emerging demands of autonomous learners and the increasingly autonomous publics they are giving rise to.
In an op ed for the Irish Times today, I’ve highlighted a critical shift that’s taken place in the production of both knowledge and social authority in the long period described by the young lives of two of my closest relatives:
In the spring of 1879, aged seven, he was part of the first generation of Irish kids to attend national school in Fanad, Co Donegal. It was his first lengthy engagement with the English language; and it’s likely that the main technology he used during the six years of his formal education was a stone slate.
Three generations – and 120 years or so – later and, at half that age, his great grandson’s favourite educative tool is already an iPad. He has no teacher, and bobs randomly through various games and puzzles, constantly moving and charting his own individual paths of learning.
This self-directed learning is a microcosm of the way audiences are grazing the new commons of the Internet. The juice that drives this hyper-connected machine is the social bonds of trust that arise from a new digital definition of ‘locality’, (h/t Paul on Twitter for the conversation) and one of its first victims has been the kinds of linear narrative that have dominated the world since Plato took his courage in his hands noted down the wisdom of Socrates.
I’ve tried to synthese the worlds of media, politics and, crucially in my view, education. It’s in education we see the starkest examples of social expertise outgunning embedded knowledge. We cannot talk authoritatively about changes that effect wider society if we miss out how learning as a process now fundamentally rewires the power relations between teacher and learner.
I’m also indebted to +John Pollock of Technology Review for one of the most insightful pieces on what value can derive from citizens actively stressing these tools and sweating real social value from them when the state first abandons and then turns on its own citizens.
This blog was first published my business/consulting blog…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty