Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ito and Carr Face Off

You know how, sometimes, rarely, when you read an article or watch a speech given by an academic, you feel this strange, ineffable affinity with the person? You think: "I would have said that (much less articulately) if someone had given ME a microphone!" You think, "if I just ran into this person in a coffee shop, I am 99% sure we would sip our drinks and become instant friends." And sometimes you even wonder: "Is this person my soul mate?"

This phenomenon is strange enough as it is, but it's even stranger when you experience it on the SAME DAY (today, to be exact) with two very different scholars (Mimi Ito and Nicholas Carr), with two very distinct vantage points on the same issue.

Nicholas Carr's "Is Google Making Us Stupid" (in a nutshell): Technologies impact how we read, write, and think. They disable our ability to closely focus, to deeply read, and replace it with a constant drive for fast, efficient, convenient, greedy knowledge-gulping. The more we use computers, the more we think human brains should be MORE like computers. Sure, people always "expect the worst of every new tool or machine" (aka the development of writing or the printing press), but, come on, silent reflection is the essence of understanding.

Mimi Ito's Keynote at the Summer 2010 New Media Consortium (in another, very differently shaped nutshell): New technologies always inspire polarization, one side over-the-top with rosy hopes, and the other raging with fears and panic. Who is right? Both sides, if you subscribe to both simultaneously, that is. We've got all of these ridiculous, limiting boundaries in our heads separating school and entertainment, socializing/hanging out and learning, adult culture and kid culture. But these lines are getting blurred quickly, and it seems the way to enhance the good out of technology-based-learning is by surrounding it with a social wrapper of peer-based-sharing-community. Peer community feedback, then, can serve as these fundamental mechanisms of filter and focus.

Despite my the inarguably schizophrenic nauture of my two academic-crushes, I have to say, these two work pretty well together. Ito acknowledges that Carr has something to his argument, and Carr acknowledges that he's not all that sure he's right. Ito points out that whether or not technology is great or technology is terrible depends, in large part, upon how we choose to use this social wrapper to draw us out of the individualized brain-frying "I've been searching on Google on day by myself in my isolated room" image that Carr presents as technology-based-learning. In fact, I'm beginning to see that it may be a lot more realistic to imagine Carr and Ito meeting up in a coffee shop and becoming fast friends over some biscotti and caffeine.

Ah well . . . at least a girl can dream . . .

1 comment:

  1. Funny, I had the same reaction to these two. I knew Nicholas Carr's tempered attitude toward technology use made sense to me, so when Mimi Ito oriented herself in opposition to his new book, I was ready to totally disagree with her...and then she kept talking about 30 seconds more. Suddenly, her argument for wrapping learning in a social package to harness the incredible energy out there for educational purposes clicked as well! Maybe what threw me was how she said she was against Carr...but as you articulated so well, I think they're secret friends. Well-said!