Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Underlying Philosophy

Underlying philosophy

Media Literacy- If media can be understood as an extension of man, then to be media literate is to understand ourselves the human.

Citizenship and how the citizen is defined is crucial to the development of any society. In an age where digital convergence seems to be changing the national landscape and reshaping the bounds of what we define as our society, it can be difficult to assess how we will identify citizenship and how we will teach it. Is citizenship a national, or international concept? Should we be preparing students to be not only citizens of a country, but citizens of a continental, or even a global society? How should the education of civics be approached?
From a digitally convergent perspective, one can observe that, where ethics are concerned there is a growing focus on placing responsibility into the hands of the user. If this is so then there is a need to educate digital citizens to be as capable and competent as possible, but also, to ensure that they are aware of their own power in creating the rules and systems that will eventually decide how they interact with technology. (That is to say that, a well informed and educated public will be able to act as a democratic body placing pressure as a collective on organizations and individuals in positions of power to make rules and policy.) A well function democracy hinges on the education of its people, how well informed they are of facts and how aware they are of their own ability to wield power and create change as individuals and as a collective. If the digital world is to maintain a status of democracy those using it- its citizens must be educated in order to ensure their participation.

The question this subsequently prompts is, how do we educate about responsible use of digital technology? The digital is not just changing how technology works, it is also changing how people think. It is non-linear, mutable and reaches across fields and disciplines, jobs and ideas and converges in strange and unexpected ways. It seems clear from this that an inter-disciplinary approach is necessary.

If education is to truly prepare its citizens for a digital world, it will need to create a space to understand and interact with what is digital. It seems clear that there is a need for a new educational philosophy to embrace this. This project is a micro model of what education could look like in the digital age; a model of student centered learning encouraging differentiated instruction, relevancy to life and new and creative ways of thinking about the world. In a democracy where responsibility is the citizen’s it seems important to encourage students to take as active a part in their own education as they would in their own democracy.

Perhaps the main difficulty is the lack of an over arching philosophy about digital education. Convergence puts the user in the center of a created world. This is not the view of the common classroom and thus the two sit at dissonance with one another. (a linear structure of seating, a predictable pattern of sequential day, a lesson dictated by the teacher instead of the student all contribute to a hidden curriculum which is at odds with a digital world and therefore fails to produce citizens who feel confident living in a digital society.)

To explore the ways in which one might approach digital civics, I explore different aspects of the human and how these aspects might be impacted by digital technology with a view to understanding how best to educate citizenry for the most ideal outcomes (where an ideal outcome is defined as a citizenry which is happy, highly developed both collectively and individually, and in which all citizens work toward achieving their personal best.)

The five aspects which have been included here are; the physical, emotional, spiritual, social and intellectual and the various ways in which they interact with digital technologies thereby affecting a citizens happiness and development provide an opportunity to examine the potential ways in which digital civic education may be approached.

The physical ways in which digital technology affects us- and therefore the things about which one may be concerned when educating about digital civics include such aspects as the physicality (or indeed lack of physicality) of the digital world. How do we appreciate the nature of digital products when it is not possible to hold them in our hands as existent objects? Is this one reason why digital piracy seems so acceptable? How does the technology react with or change our own physiology? As most digital technologies are accessible or communicated as forms of light media, we should examine light, and its interactions with the human body to fully understand our relationship to digital media. What effect does such light technology have on the pineal gland? How does it alter our brain function, and consequently, our happiness and long term productivity?

The emotional interactions between the human and technology are also important to consider- particularly if one recognises happiness as a key factor in citizenship. How is happiness to be achieved if we are not cogniscent of the implications of digital technology on our emotional well being? Both in terms of how it physiologically affects our brain chemistry and over all feelings of happiness and well-being due to its serotonin impact, but also the emotional attachments that are formed- such as in the case of mobile phones, where teenagers can become extremely dependent and attached to their technology.

The spiritual, or ethical ways in which digital technologies are viewed can perhaps best be summed up in the ways in which we view technology through our own personal philosophies: the questions that we pose about what it means to be human, and how our relationship with technology can be defined and understood. What is real? What is virtual? And how do we distinguish? Should we distinguish? It also encompasses the ways in which we practise our philosophies when we make decisions based on new situations. With new technologies presenting new ethical dilemmas and situations is it important for citizens to have the tools within themselves to know how they will best make these decisions.

The social aspects of a digital citizen can be shown best through the ways in which people put their personal philosophies into action in the real world. How do we interact with one another and what do we base this on? How do other people’s personal philosophies interact with our own? How do we decide how to use digital technology and live in a digital society? What do our interactions with the digital tell us about the ways in which we live and how do we best navigate these interactions, and not simply on a global scale, but in a microcosm of society as well such as cyber-bullying in schools.

Finally, the intellectual ways in which we interact with technology include the ways in which we understand technology based on all of the available evidence and data. It is where we truly become digitally media literate in that it is where we come to fully understand our own relationship with the digital; can form strong and well balanced opinions and views based on the knowledge of self and the knowledge of technology; and can communicate our ideas fully with others in society.

Thoughts on Naïveté & Awareness- An opinion piece

We haven’t really reconciled any of these. If the questions have been raised, they haven’t been dealt with. There seems to be great reluctance (often under that guise of being more liberal minded or forward thinking) to face several of these issues or to consider data that is unpopular because it questions the infallibility of technology. This is somewhat in response to the recent facebook conference, but also in response to several statements I have heard whilst in study, at conferences, and working as a teacher. I’ll preface this by saying it is an opinion piece.Naevite and technology and the reluctance to deal with these questions seems to have become characteristic of this time in history. We don’t fully appreciate the various ways in which people can be manipulated through various media. This is raised in Potter’s article about the need for a cognitive understanding of media literacy and digital media. He makes the point that we can’t really create meaningful educational experiences because we don’t fully understand how media impacts the brain. And this is perhaps why there is tremendous ease with dismissing concerns around technology because we don’t fully understand the ramifications of the multi-media experience and the digital media experience.What I think we need to look to are other studys and presentations of source information that make it clear that the media has a tremendous opportunity (whether or not it is use) to manipulate the data that it presents.Any hypnotist, for example can tell you how media can be used to create opportunities for hypnotic suggestion. One exmples is video games. A the beat of a human heart can create a pre-hynotic state of suggestionability, the music in video games is often set to the beat of a human heart.Things that are violent, corporately interested, or addiction to the game (in some instances, games are fiscal enterprises in themselves requiring users to pay for their online world) can be presented as completely acceptable concepts. The point here is the potential malleability of the user- in a way that they are unaware.This in itself is information that is extremely important and if we are unaware of the potential consequences we can not be said to be responsible (I am not saying we are not culpable, but I am saying we are not behaving in a way in which we are taking responsibility for our actions because we are making uniformed choices). I’m not saying that video games are dangerous, rather that unless we are aware of the various ways in which the material can be used to manipulate us, we potentially face some serious difficulties.Concerns here can also be seen around television. I have heard countless times various individuals state “Media literacy isn’t brain surgery or rocket science,” but it is, unless you’re aware of the various way in which media can be used to manipulate information. A tv broadcast can easily alter information with a couple of edits and some B roll. Someone can completely alter what is being said. So they can present something entirely the opposite of what has been said. Most people don’t know what B roll is, let alone how it is being used in their daily lives.We trust the media to discern on our behalf (for the sake of time), then we place our trust in certain sources (public or private broadcasters, but if we are not aware of their biases, can we trust their materials? This is a question of basic media literacy skills).The other thing that I find surprising, particularly at the facebook – was how people feel that it isn’t important to protect privacy information because there was so much available that no one would look at it, that the more information posted the better because cybercriminals would be overwhelmed with too much personal information, it was too obvious that the information was stored so criminals wouldn’t bother, and that people understood that what they posted on the internet is what they are responsible for.I would argue that there is a difference between knowing and understanding, that being, a level of personal engagement. Perhaps we know that we are responsible for what we place on the internet into the public domain, but we do not understand the implications of that or how it affects us.Unless you can fully prepare someone for the ramifications of their actions and you can make that clear, then people don’t fully understand.It should be noted that the front page of the metro only 4 days after the conference reported a new kind of cybercrime which utilised SNS in order to obtain personal information to perpetrate identity theft and fraud, particularly with banks.The concept of anonymity is an interesting one- anonymity in warfare for example, has removed the face to face element of fighting- and so we have removed the human element, we don’t feel like we are blowing up a human, we feel like we are blowing up a target. We don’t feel like we are perpetrating a crime again a human, we are perpetrating a crime against a target. We lack introduction and understanding of people that we might harm, so a psychological study is required here into the behavioural uses of the internet and those studies need to be employed in media literacy to understand people’s behaviours and motivations in dealing with new technology, so we can create better educational understandings and experiences, so that we can create better citizens who understand and are aware fully of the implications of their digital actions. And so that we can ensure that everyone’s best interests are being served.

Back to Spirituality & Ethics

I sort of fear getting into this topic again but… The way in which spiritual development (that is our overall system of ethical and moral development and our personal system of belief, our concept in faith (important in that it is a factor in how we view our place in the world and our ideas around control and will) and indeed the attitude with which we face the world. (Obviously all the previous factors- physical, emotional and intellectual contribute to this together- for example our attitude can be positive because of our beliefs but it could be impacted by negative emotions based in physical neurotransmitter imbalance.) Further, our personal philosophies and beliefs can have great impact on how we interact with one another and what we can achieve (for example the concepts of positive thinking and self-fulfilling prophesy)As Bertrand Russell observes and I shall paraphrase, although religion has problems due to its dogmas, there are parts of religion that are desirable such as our interest in the well being of humanity.Such issues of civic in nature and so questions of citizenship fall naturally into this category (which is where Silverstone places them).Considering the issues between digital technology and spirituality are really at the heart of my second entry and the relationship seems to be defined by its long history I suppose the best way of addressing this question is to reconsider the issues that are raised in reconciling spirituality and digital technology with reference to educational settings.The first being of course that spirituality is an immensely personal thing, and that in the Irish context particularly we have difficulty in defining where the role of the formal learning environment should be, given the mixed feelings of spirituality in schools left by the legacy of religious involvement in education. Secondly of course, attempting to address any sort of personal development in schools can be tricky in that It is not something which can be assessed (not unlike emotional development) and therefore falls under a category of learning which- although most people can agree is important is assigned less value in the informal or “hidden” curriculum due to this and therefore is little addressed and less concerning for students already under numerous stresses.Further, the difficulty in addressing the reconciliation of technology and spirituality is increasingly complicated by our long held (enlightenment period) historical belief that man is mechanistic and therefore traditional education has rather overlooked the need to deal with how humanity deals and interacts with technology. In fact, the view that technology (particularly the cutting edge of technology) and spiritual ideas seem like such complete opposites that they have no place with one another is a major obstacle to exploring the two concepts. Thus, I think it is fair to assert that research into the civic and ethical development of students as pertains to technology is extremely understudied, and Silverstone seems to call strongly for more research in this direction.I also think it important to make the point that this reconciliation of the spiritual/ethical/moral side of man to the mechanistic/rational/scientific side of man is fundamental to the discussion of what it is to be human, and critical analysis of the human condition. So I think it can be argued that these ‘spiritual’ issues are important and that they are overlooked. I think further study of this topic might come from posing the questions “where do our ideas about our interactions with technology come from, and how do we reconcile the human dichotomy between spirit and machine?

Intellectual Issues & Technology

The question of the impact of digital technologies and convergence on the intellect, and does technology serve us best in this endeavour is not something I want to spend a great deal of time on, because I do feel that it is a question that is getting a little more exposure in the literature. Potentially owing chiefly to fact there have been a large number of high profile arguments or discussions on the topic, and that many people have taken quite personally comments that material created and posted on the internet is of poor quality. At the forefront of such controversy sits Andrew Keen, who’s book, the ‘The Cult of the Amateur’ discusses how new technology and the apparent ease of online publication is literally destroying culture and there are insufficient means of fact checking the data available on the internet. A recent debate between he, and the executive of wikipedia raised the debate in full.Further to this, arguments regarding media literacy often focus on the question of how we address and access content, the actual matter that is presented and how we critically analyse it, and thus how we build our intellectual skill when dealing with new technologies. This, I feel is where most research is conducted in media literacy, other areas (such as the physical, emotional and spiritual implications) being largely un- or under-explored.To sum up the discussion of the impact of digital technologies on intellect I was pose the question: What is best for the community and have we made adequate provisions for our cultural legacy in the digital age?Can we argue that the intellectual issues of digital technology are adequately dealt with? Absolutely not, the focus of the united nations (under the Grunwald declaration), the repeated calling of academics (such as Buckingham, Livingstone, Hobbs and many others) of the need for further research and increased attention in the educational curriculum and informal learning environments confirms this.

Emotional Issues and Technology

Emotional Issues and technology
Emotional implications haven’t been fully studied, but emerging research deals with SNS (Social Networking Sites, such as facebook) and personal life, which certainly impacts our emotional health. Whether this is in a positive or negative manner has not been ascertained. There are issues of unclear expectation (while some people live by their facebook pages, others do not and this inability for people to reconcile with each other the difference between their online and offline world, or if there is such a distinction or why some friends can function solely within a digital environment, other ill at ease with the technology find themselves left out of social situations and vice versa) which are certainly capable of causing distress, but this is most likely due to the need to create boundaries and potentially a short lived phenomena. Further, the blurring of formerly distinct boundaries (work life and social life) can create some emotional and psychological difficulty in adapting to expectations.Further, we must consider that, there is a long set precedent for hysteria and the adoption of new technologies. (From Classical Athens and Socrates story of Atlantis to the industrial revolution and the terrors of ‘railway spine’.) Whether or not this can be allayed is a matter of whether or not we can address the emotional requirements of humans in order to create boundaries, expectations, and help people feel confident in their relationship with digital technologies. Certainly the lack of a cognitive understanding of digital behaviour makes such a job difficult (see reference below)Further, the link between the physical and emotional well-being of any human creates further implications, as stated before, issues of depression can be linked to serotonin depletion (consequent of pineal gland suppression of melatonin release). And of course, the emotional consequences of burn out by potentially being constantly reachable by your office (particularly in high pressure, high profile careers). This is before one even addresses the issue of technology dependence on emotional well-being.Have the emotional factors of digital technology been adequately explored? I would argue that they have not owing to a lack of cognitive understanding as outlined by Potter (2004) and as he points out, we are incapable of creating meaningful educational experiences until such research has been conducted.

Physical Issues and Technology

In the great tradition of philosophers like Plato and Bertrand Russell, I’d like to explore the concept of happiness, or how we, as a society, need to be aware and teach to have citizens who are happy. (I recognise that education has taken on other roles, that of training for the corporate world, or providing information for use on standardised tests, but I still believe that educations chief role should be in how it prepares citizens to live their lives and interact with the world around them in a way that will be of greatest benefit to all.) To do this, I’d like to spend a few entries examining the various parts of man, and how digital technology might interact with people and affect their happiness so that we have issues we might be aware of, and so that we can classify these issues as belonging to a certain area in the life of man.To begin, I’d like to look at some of the issues, or barriers to happiness, that might be faced in the physical well-being of man. (I choose to look at the obstructions to happiness not to attack the technology, but rather to observe ways in which it might improve to serve humanity best.)I would pose the question: Do we understand (or, are we fully aware) of the impact of digital technology on our health?I will begin by discussing the concept of light as an example regarding our knowledge, or potential lack thereof, of the implications of new technology on health.New research has shown that light has a vast impact on health and new media and digital technologies are often light based mediums, in that if you use computers you are staring into a light source. This brightness is a contributing factor in keeping people awake because they are receiving mass doses of bright light at times of the day which are potentially unhealthy. This is due to their ability to suppress the pineal gland’s release of melatonin. (the chemical which makes us drowsy, which helps us sleep in turn allowing us to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for, among many processes, happiness and appetite control.) A large number of studies are still delving into the implications of artificial light, but they have now been linked to pineal glad suppression of melatonin release (reference below) interfering with sleep cycles and therefore at least partially serotonin disorders such as depression and stress disorders; and also certain cancers such as breast cancer. (reference below)If we cannot fully appreciate the impact of an invention made in the time of Edison (artificial light) and how it has changed our sleep cycles, how can we be confident, or even satisfied that we have answered, or even suitably addressed the question regarding whether technology best serves us physically?It has taken from the invention of the light bulb til now to build a rudimentary understanding of the importance of artificial light impact on health (for melatonin release serotonin production). We must be forced to question the confidence with which we feel technology is physically safe. (This of course is one portion of a major question, which is how do we treat new technologies, are we hysterical, or are we not aware enough? And that I shall deal with in another blog entry.)What I feel strongly is required is more scientific study into the impact of light based digital technologies on health, and given our lack of understanding of such a longstanding technology as the light bulb, it does beg the question:Do we actually understand the implications of old technologies on our lives, let alone new technologies?Further to light, Magnetic field exposure is also being studied in the suppression of pineal gland function. (see reference below). So we must admit that if scientists are not even aware fully of the implications of technology, than we cannot confidently make assumptions either.I am not suggesting we get rid of the computer or digital devices, merely of making the technology serve our best interest instead of us serving the technology (or potentially, the companies creating the technology, who currently have no reason to adapt their technology as light pollution is not legislated against).If it is unhealthy for us to be staring into these mammoth light sources at a time when the light should be dimming, then could we not find a way to brighten and dim the light on a computer in accordance with natural light cycles in the day and melatonin release?One further point I would make, is that, in our mechanical view of humanity, we tend to treat people less individually; which means that some people may be more sensitive to the effects of various characteristics of digital media than others. In a growing market which claims to be able to offer solutions to individuals everyone should, ideally, be able to find the best solution for them. One wonders if this is the case.If we are unaware of the health risks then how can we confidently educate our future generations on the responsible and best use of these technologies? It is a case of the blind leaving the blind. And to not ask such questions is, I believe, irresponsible.Night Shift Work, Light at Night, and Risk of Breast Cancer, Scott Davis, Dana K. Mirick, Richard G. Stevens, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 93, No. 20, 1557-1562, October 17, 2001Light in the Built Environment: Potential role of Circadian Disruption in Endocrine Disruption and Breast Cancer, Richard G. Stevens and Mark S. Rea, Journal Cancer Causes and Control, Vol. 12, No. 3, 279-287, April, 2001.Changes in human plasma melatonin profiles in response to 50 Hz magnetic field exposure, A. W. Wood, S. M. Armstrong, Ml. Sait , L. Devine, M. J. Martin,

Reconciling Technology and Spirituality

So I begin my look at digital media literacy by trying to place technology, and man’s relationship with it, into some sort of context. How do we reconcile our ethical development (or as Silverstone identifies all these human questions as our spirituality) with technology?Looking back, I realise this is a topic that I have struggled with through most of my post graduate career. Whilst studying the history of medicine, this theme ran through most of my papers. The reconciliation of Spirituality and Scientific Technological development. So I will use some of that knowledge to attempt to piece together a historical understanding man’s relationship to technology and his spirituality.To start at the roots of Western philosophy (or at least commonly accepted western philosophy, apologies to Martin Bernal), I begin with the ancient Greeks, who indeed have their own god of technology (or techne), Hephaesteus. Interesting points about Haephaesteus are that he is not much worshiped, is heavily associated with shame, and is valued chiefly for the usefulness of what he creates. All in all he has a pretty low position in Olympus- although, he does have the pleasure of being married to the beautiful Aphrodite- goddess of love. (Here is a point of interest: Aphrodite, the representation of love, which is all that is most divine and most spiritual- is married to technology. An interesting reconciliation. Certainly there can be many other arguments, but its my blog, so I’ll make this one.)For the Greeks then, the concept of techne and technology is to serve a function, to serve something else (or someone else, like Zeus), not to be valued as something in its own right worthy of worship.As the Greek view develops, the view of techne changes with it. This is seen in the ideas presented by Socrates whose myth about Atlantis, a society whose technological development outpaces its ethical development, demonstrates concerns surrounding what must have been a topical issue. What I particularly like about the Atlantis myth is that with all their technology, it is the passionate conviction in justice and the truth (the Athenians very spirituality) that wins them the wars against the Atlanteans. Spirituality is worth more than technology.This view, as it moves forward in time to the Romans, shows that technology continues to be important, but is not imbued with its own sense of value for its own sake, rather, that it continues to be useful in how it serves a society, such as its usefulness in building vast structures, creating roads and giving the society a military edge. (although it must be observed that the Roman’s suffer defeat at the hands of lesser technologically developed people who have a more defined sense of spiritedness- such as the Germans and Britons.)Further, I would point out that the prime motivation of Rome is its belief in its divine mission (pax deorum) and that its function is still a moral imperative not a technological one, indeed, this moral and spiritual core is further reflected in the marriage of Rome and Christianity in the Holy Roman Empire under Constantine and as the Roman empire breaks apart, so goes its technology.Under the church and thought the dark ages, new historiography observes that historically the church was interested in pursuing science and certainly had an interest in technology, but again, the role of technology was one of service, subservient to the human spirit.For me, it is the period of the enlightenment which changes this view. As man becomes increasingly “scientific” he seems to block out his relationship with the spirit in favour of his belief in technology (this concept of where he puts his belief being an important one). For me, it is in 1794 when Hunter discovers that the human heart acts like a pump that clinches the belief that man IS a machine that we suddenly find ourselves so completely at ease with technology and our view of it becomes all-accepting.This idea, of man as a machine, with machine-like parts which are inter-changeable and can be replaced to prolong the overall life of the machine as a whole could also be said to be foundational in the concept of blood and organ transplant.Indeed, the harmonious relationship between man and machine can be seen advertised in the many technological attachments people use (from their headphones on mp3 players, to their mobile phones which in many cases people seem completely inseparable from.) Indeed, this relationship between man and machine is no longer to fill any sort of medical deficiency or problem, but rather a relationship based entirely on convenience and, in some cases almost a culture of worship in which people marvel at the newest technological development (a new phone or computer program) without fully understanding its relevancy to their lives, but which they still happily invest in. Technology has become an object of worship.It appears that we have continued on until we are no longer certain of the uses of technology; it is no longer a matter of technology benefiting us, but rather of us finding benefits for technology. In other words, we have now reached a point where technology is no longer serving us, but where we are serving technology.For me, it is as if Hephasteus suddenly took over Olympus and enslaved the other gods to do his bidding.To take this history of the reconciliation of technology and ethics and now apply it to the digital world, we observe that the focus has shifted so far into the mechanistic belief in humanity that we now need to assert effort into answering the ethical questions in order to have a balanced world view and to maintain a relationship with technology in which it serves our best interests (as opposed to humanity serving technology).