When all your readers are rapidly becoming self directed autodidacts?

From stone slate to silicon tablet and the importance of getting over a widespread platonic fear of making your ‘digital mark’

Writing slate 280_tcm4-560771 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

, , ,

  • Christmas 2012: watching a quite-severely autistic six-year-old accessing URLs on his iPad, at fiendish speed.


    His great-great grandmother’s wedding lines show she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) write her own name.

  • Ruarai

    Mick, super stuff, really enjoyed that.

    For my tastes, it’s was a little too polite and patient in places when addressing those dying in old media while spitting “heresy!” at new media. (D’ya know what heresy means? Choice. Not wrong choice, just choice. How fitting.)

    Fuck those guys. Talk right past them, not to them. Irrelevant, ignorant, exposed bores, almost all. Their unexamined consensuses have wrecked so much. Good riddance to that old culture, it can’t collapse quickly enough.

    Anyways, David Brooks covered a similar theme from a different angle this week. Reflecting on the stark contrast on the increasingly atomized I-Pad armed individuals who make up today’s modern societies with the highly communal tribes in tradition societies, he had this to say:

    We live in codified, impersonal ­societies. They live in uncodified but more personal societies. When we have a dispute over a traffic accident, we settle it in court and the goal is to arrive at some “just” solution, based on the degree of fault and so on. When people in traditional societies have an accident there is a series of ritualistic face-to-face meetings. The goal is not so much to find fault, but to restore the relationship that has been marred by the accident.

    The point Brooks missed that you captured is the communal nature of new media. It’s turning knowledge-gathering back into a dialogue. Bluffers get caught-out and laughed away faster than ever before.

    The technology we should fear ain’t Driods, it’s Drones. Because the msm is so far up its own backside its failing miserably in its duty to examine this development. It’s telling that more ink (they still use ink ffs!) is splattered in fear of the Driod-users and the Drone users.

  • Cric

    I think I’m from a more typical Irish family, my mother is 47 and my oldest child is 8 years old…

    Devices such as the Amazon Kindle will change the way we learn – already Amazon are reporting that Kindle users purchase 5 times as many books as traditional reader – and the ‘killer’ Kindle function for me is the ability to highlight passages of text you find interesting and then review them later on Amazon (https://kindle.amazon.com/ for anyone who hasn’t found this subsite yet, they don’t advertise it much). It’s allowing me to keep my memory in the cloud – no longer do you have to read a book three times to memorise the more salient points, you just flick to Amazon and everything you found great about a publication is saved for you. Great stuff.

    Mind, the single most depressing thing about the Kindle is when you flick on to the likes of the ‘Non Fiction’ section the top sellers list is about 100 strong with human interest stories…

  • Bishops Finger

    already Amazon are reporting that Kindle users purchase 5 times as many books as traditional read

    Probably because traditional readers buy second hand as well as new, something Kindle don’t offer, and Oxfam can’t.

  • Bishops Finger @ 9:05 pm:

    Superb beer (especially on draught), but dodgy last clause.

    I’m with you much of the way: I prefer to read off-page on reflected light, and cannot cope with text on iPad or Kindle. But …

    I can assure you that Oxfam Books at Highgate, near the British Museum and at Muswell Hill offer a ripe supply of cheap s/h texts. Just keep looking.

    Where else would I have acquired recently histories of Fine Gael, Alexander III of Scotland, the Dutch ‘secret’ discovery of Australia … and so much more.

    Sow as you would reap. And I’ll bet my dead-tree library (generated over at least three centuries) will posthumously raise a lot more than anything electronic.

  • Zig70

    I worry my kids aren’t having any meaningful conversations, lots of noise and 3letter cursory responses. Can’t believe at 12 lying watching clouds go by is less attractive than dull Facebook videos. Those kids who aren’t natural communicators will fair poorly in the real world unless someone guides them.