Samuel Webster

November 17, 2011 Catching Up: Education as the tail end of the digital revolution Posted In: Writing

The creation and development of information is based upon processes of interaction between publishers and their audience. In the digital world, as interaction becomes more and more important, we can see a progression across three interrelated stages – reception (which involves receiving or reading information), expression (transmitting information and, in the process, forging identity), and interception (the disruption of understanding through peer review and direct opposition). Traditional forms of media have retained rigid barriers between creation and reception of information – one party engages in the dynamic process of creation, whilst the other in the passive process of reception. However, in the development of modern social media, the line between creator and receiver are in constant transience. The average internet user now enjoys a myriad of roles in the virtual world – from the active blogger to the mere observer, but in order to make the most of this engagement in the education field, we must take the existing levels of interaction and extend them into the area of community interception, where they can be challenged rigorously and strengthened as a result.

In 1938, H. G. Wells criticized the knowledge organization and access of the time as ‘“extremely ineffective” and better suited to “the horse and coaches phase of development rather than … the phase of the automobile and the aeroplane”. Universities, schools and libraries, he said, “do not enlarge their scope to anything like the urgent demands of this troubled and dangerous age. They do not perform the task nor exercise the authority that might reasonably be attributed to the thought and knowledge organization of the world” (Wells 1938, 84). He proposed a new type of “permanent world encyclopedia” or “world brain” that would link the collections of all the major libraries and universities into a worldwide network ” (Lievrouw, L. A. 2010: 222)

The first stage of online interaction is one which arrived, as expected, quite naturally. The system which H.G. Wells had wished for was not a system which defied any of the conventional means of sharing information, it merely existed on a larger scale and was internationally accessible. Though Wells believed quite strongly that open access to information would bring world peace – and he is certainly noble for such optimistic thought – his prediction was one which was limited by the time in which it was presented. It engaged with all of the traditional notions but carried none of the extended considerations which the digital age brought about. Of course, he can’t be faulted for proposing a model which stopped at the Reception stage of global learning, but his shortcomings in regards to the grander possibilities should be addressed.

H.G. Wells believed that if all human knowledge were made available in a grand vault, that the multiplicity of truth would create world peace through universal understanding. The problem with this model, which we have since discovered, is that without a method of antithesis, ideas remain in opposition with each other, judged by their exponents as true, yet never evolving through conscious debate. That is, ideas without exposure to antithesis remain as they enter, and like the public libraries of today, are merely left without update to grow stale and antiquated. The reception level must be seen as the foray into idea generation, realising that if it is considered as the only method of education, it is easily antiquated by the technology on which it is stored.

The level of interaction which builds upon the reception model is that of individual expression. In the 21st century, it may seem odd to refer to individuality as a ‘new’ form of educational technique, but we must consider it anew, due to the repetition which the birth of new technology creates. Historically, we can see other mediums which lacked the latitude for such an expansion. Two-way telephony promoted conversation, but was not a broadcast medium. Though television increased the audience for public broadcast, it was not available to the common man for such a use. With the advent of the Internet, for the first time, users had access to a potential publishing platform. Additionally, digital media has introduced the factor of anonymity to further complicate the idea of authorship and identity.

With the advent of such user based interfaces as Facebook and Twitter, publishing platforms have become commonplace and have allowed users of online resources to enjoy dual roles of producing and consuming online media. It has been observed that “The idea that Web 2.0 has blurred the lines between the producers and consumers of information, enabling any Internet user to create and share content with anyone else, has already become something of a cliché́. What may be more significant for scientific and scholarly communication, however, is that the turn to new collaborative platforms, interfaces and applications has also blurred familiar distinctions between documents and interaction. Wikis, blogs, social network sites and computer-linked research collaboratories,1 tagging and bookmarking, forums, gateways, and real-time conferencing and chat are being employed in ways that may have important consequences for scientific and scholarly communication, transforming it from a relatively straightforward process of gatekeeping, publishing, and targeted search and retrieval, into a multilayered, thoroughly socialized arena of commentary, amendment, collaboration, critique, argumentation, recombination, and recommendation (Furner 2002). In a very real sense, social media are helping to change people’s expectations about the sources, availability, and uses of information in all its forms, both in society at large and in the practice of science.” (Lievrouw, L. A. 2010: 220). It is perhaps this development that has been the most crucial in the online world – the acknowledgement that the internet is now no longer a domain where one must merely ‘receive’, but rather, it is based upon user contribution and expansion of available information. Importantly, the breadth and diversity of such information has also progressed exponentially though it was an initially slow uptake.

Though personal websites and blogs have been around for nearly fifteen years now, it is only now considered a normal pastime to engage in such methods of transmission. The term “Web 2.0” is becoming antiquated at the very moment that it is achieving normalcy. The egalitarian flexibility of publishing on the web is enticing to those who find themselves without a voice in other scenarios and through the use of social media, we have seen the seeds of great political change sowed. On a more personal level, it has been shown that those with self-esteem deficiencies (of all magnitudes) find solace in media interaction, through para-social interaction. For example, the effect of music media upon adolescent development and perception of self has been well noted, and its impact is bittersweet. Kistler et al observe that “Music media consumption was positively associated with adolescents’ involvement with media focusing on music personae. Higher involvement was associated with perceiving the self as less physically attractive and having lower overall self-worth. Music media consumption was directly related to adolescents’ evaluations of their own romantic appeal. Results suggest that through involvement processes with music media characters, adolescents may use music media as a venue for social comparison against which they evaluate their own physical attractiveness and self-worth.” (Kistler, Rodgers, Power, Austin & Hill 2010: 616)

There are many comparisons to be made between music media consumption and social media, due to the prevalence of accessible identity in both. Interaction with these identities, however superficial, is what Kistler et al (2010) call “Para-social interaction” – interaction which lacks many of the common traits of face-to-face connection but engages with many of its pitfalls – social pressure, personal comparison and obsession.

Parasocial interaction describes a “felt interpersonal relationship with media characters that can take place during or outside the viewing episode and is related to, yet is conceptually distinct from, wishful identification and liking […] Each of these components of involvement with characters (wishful identification, parasocial interaction, and liking) are cognitive processes associated with the interpretation of selected media content, and the presence and magnitude of each will vary with the individual and with media type. Perceiving music artists to be attractive or desirable—that is, ‘‘liking’’ the characters, is an attentional process; wanting to be like the artist (wishful identification) and feeling social connection with music or music artists (parasocial interaction) are retentional processes.” (Kistler, Rodgers, Power, Austin & Hill 2010: 619)

Indeed, the advent of social networking website, Twitter, has caused many to consider the role of narcissism in online interaction. Narcissism is the potential downside to an ultimately positive freedom – affording the individual an elevated voice and an independent pedestal. Furthermore, it has even been argued that social networking means have functioned to accentuate and intensify the broad spectrum of human qualities and characteristics – both for the better and for the worst. “The Internet reflects some of our best qualities: irreverence, vitality, excitement, and youthfulness, for instance. but Keen suggests that it also reflects many of the worst developments in modern cultural life—in particular, what he calls digital narcissism, the embrace of the self. Time magazine’s person of the year for last year was “you,” and Keen thinks that “you” is not a good person. He does not believe that the key to citizenship is personal self-expression. For him, the key to citizenship means listening and reading and consuming high-quality information and entertainment. In Keen’s view, the most corrosive element of today’s Internet is the anonymity that creates an uncivil world. We don’t behave properly and we have uncivil conversations and other unpleasantness because we don’t reveal who we are.” (Junco & Chickering 2010: 15) Despite Keen’s aggressive stance upon anonymity, interaction via Twitter seems to have evolved beyond the narcissistic. As Gayo-Avello (2011) posits: “Twitter has since evolved into a complex information-dissemination platform, especially during situations of mass convergence.” (Gayo-Avello 2011: 121) Though the abhorrence of narcissism would seem to be a valid claim by those on the outside of social media, it is one which is soon solved within the community itself. Because the users are individuals, narcissism isn’t accepted any more than it would be in regular society and continued egocentric solipsism is discouraged.

While studying the effect of social media upon change in political standpoint amongst Russians, Rimskii (2011) comments that “although communication on the Internet is mediated by technical means, it is carried on between individuals, each of whom has to decide on his membership in the community, accept its values, find his role, determine his similarities and differences, and so on. Otherwise, participation in virtual communication would be problematic; the community would reject the individual who was not able to form an identity appropriate to the community. In exchanging information, Internet users form their identity by internalizing elements that they acquire from the Internet—attitudes, perceptions, stereotypes, judgments, opinions, assessments, priorities, tastes, ways of life, characteristics of activity, and so on. In this regard, the information environment of the Internet shapes certain qualities of identity of each of its users via the procedures by which the information is selected, participation in the formation of values and the exchange of information with others, in commentaries, keeping blogs, diaries, and so on.” (Rimskii 2011: 94) This self-regulation, while ultimately dependent on the group in which the interaction is occurring, ensures that interaction reflects the goals of the overall community.

The pinnacle of the model I would present is Interception, and the term is chosen as a careful step beyond mere interaction. Interception is not simply interaction. Interaction can be garnered purely by the simultaneous connection of users. Interaction does not require solid antithesis, ongoing synthesis or the recreation of new hypothesis, as Hegel would have preferred. Instead, as Alavi and Leidner argue, “If a library can only provide books to readers, then it is just a static knowledge database; but if it can provide readers the opportunities to share and communicate with each other, then it is a dynamic knowledge sharing. With this interaction mechanism, knowledge acquiring and absorbing are not just of one direction. Alavi & Leidner (2001) sorted out some scholars’ viewpoints about knowledge. They thought that knowledge is a process that includes the creation, sharing and spread of it. Simply speaking, knowledge is a sharing process. Nickols (2003) pointed out that the advantage of a community of practice is that it can promote the interaction between members in order to create new knowledge and share out the best practicality experiences. Once the knowledge is built, community members can acquire from it and further enhance their learning activities. The knowledge sharing process can also help members develop their identifications in the community so that they would be more willing to stay. Even if someone leaves the community, the knowledge he/she once provided will not be taken away. As a result, knowledge sharing plays an important role in a library, and it is the community of practice that can provide the knowledge sharing mechanism.” (Huang, Yang, Yueh-Min & Hsiao 2010: 85).

Interception, definitively, carries a denotation of disruption or, in fact, complete interruption. Rather than being a model of collaboration, it is a model of direct ideological clash. This can occur in simple forms (peer review, editing suggestion, feedback systems) or in more complex forms (fiercely debated wiki-contribution, crowd sourced knowledge bases.) What is key to interception as a model as opposed to interaction is that it requires knowledge, not just information. “William James argued that there are two types of knowledge, the acquaintance with and the knowledge about. As he noted, “the less we analyze a thing, and the fewer of its relations we perceive, the less we know about it and the more our familiarity with it as the acquaintance-type.” Later, journalist and sociologist Robert Park extended the notion to suggest that “knowledge about” is a formal knowledge achieved through some degree of exactness and precision. However, Park suggested that news was a form of this “knowledge about” and a type of reification of ideas. I would suggest that the emphasis in our culture on celebrity encourages an acquaintance with issues, events, and people. Without in-depth news and analysis, as we have seen develop over the most recent period of media technology, we lack historical, cultural, and social context. Reading, interpreting, and thinking—what might be called reflective thought—is replaced frequently by Googling, Yahooing, or by some search engine.” (Ferri 2010: 406)

Where interaction asks for response, interception requires proof. Where interaction might be open to uneducated opinion, interception requires fierce speculation and antithesis. “…Social networking helps users locate people with shared interests and thus form CoP. Through these social platforms, collective intelligence is realized. Afterwards, people can bring different CoPs [Communities of Practice] together to form CoIs (Communities of interest) which can provide unique opportunities to bring social creativity alive by transcending individual perspectives.” (Huang, Yang, Yueh-Min & Hsiao 2010: 79) Interaction requires an active audience while Interception requires a diverse, knowledgeable Community of Practice.

It is obvious, as research continues, that there are many social dangers to Internet use amongst adolescents. However, while social media continues to be marginalized by the mainstream media, students all over the world are engaged. As thoughtful and keen educators, we must keep track of the emerging technologies, not purely for our own personal benefit, but so that we might use these tools as active methods of engagement.


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