Tech Tidbit #1: Egocasting

In an effort to raise the level of conceptual conversation in my school district, Jeff Moore, Administrative Supervisor for Curriculum & Instruction/ Technology (aka my tech boss), has recently begun sharing some of his thoughts about technology & education.

So that we can spread the conversation, he has graciously agreed to let me post them here as they come- Thanks Jeff!

I feel really strongly that we’re not going see technology use by teachers become routine, as opposed to EVENT-based, unless we can raise the level of conceptual conversation. So….my Christmas wish this year is that my fellow DEN members all make a New Year’s resolution to read the tidbits & participate in the discussion (please 🙂 )

Here’s the 1st tidbit:

“Good morning, everyone.

The recent realization that my children (2, aged 4yrs and 13 months) will not know a world without TiVo brought me back to an article that, although a couple of years deep in my pile of articles, discusses ideas that still influence a lot of current thinking on how “millenials” approach technology. They’re in control of their stimuli to a degree that is unprecedented in human history. The interesting question to have in the back of your head as you read this is: where does my lesson plan fit into this?

The article’s a little long, but worth a read. Here’s the best part, though:

What ties all these technologies together is the stroking of the ego. When cable television channels began to proliferate in the 1980s, a new type of broadcasting, called “narrowcasting,” emerged—with networks like MTV, CNN, and Court TV catering to specific interests. With the advent of TiVo and iPod, however, we have moved beyond narrowcasting into “egocasting”—a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear. We can consciously avoid ideas, sounds, and images that we don’t agree with or don’t enjoy. As sociologists Walker and Bellamy have noted, “media audiences are seen as frequently selecting material that confirms their beliefs, values, and attitudes, while rejecting media content that conflicts with these cognitions.” Technologies like TiVo and iPod enable unprecedented degrees of selective avoidance. The more control we can exercise over what we see and hear, the less prepared we are to be surprised.

TiVo, iPod, and other technologies of personalization are conditioning us to be the kind of consumers who are, as Joseph Wood Krutch warned long ago, “incapable of anything except habit and prejudice,” with our needs always preemptively satisfied. But it is worth asking how forceful we want this divining of our tastes to become. Already, you cannot order a book from without a half-dozen DVD, appliance, and CD recommendations fan-dancing before you. And as our technologies become more perceptive about our tastes, the products we are encouraged to consume change as well. A story in the Wall Street Journal recently noted that broadcasting companies such as Viacom are branching out into book publishing. A spokesman for Viacom’s imprint, which targets 18-34 year olds, told the Journal, “Our readers are addicted to at least one reality TV show, they own one iPod, and they are in love with their TiVo.” Companies are capitalizing on this knowledge by merging their products. Viacom’s contribution to literature are books that spin off of television shows: He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys, written by a former Sex and the City writer, and America (The Book), by The Daily Show’s faux-naïf anchorman, Jon Stewart, for example.

University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein engaged this dilemma in his book, Sunstein argues that our technologies—especially the Internet—are encouraging group polarization: “As the customization of our communications universe increases, society is in danger of fragmenting, shared communities in danger of dissolving.” Borrowing the idea of “the daily me” from M.I.T. technologist Nicholas Negroponte, Sunstein describes a world where “you need not come across topics and views that you have not sought out. Without any difficulty, you are able to see exactly what you want to see, no more and no less.” Sunstein is concerned about the possible negative effects this will have on deliberative democratic discourse, and he urges websites to include links to sites that carry alternative views. Although his solutions bear a trace of impractical ivory tower earnestness—you can lead a rabid partisan to water, after all, but you can’t make him drink—his diagnosis of the problem is compelling. “People should be exposed to materials that they would not have chosen in advance,” he notes. “Unplanned, unanticipated encounters are central to democracy itself.”

Sunstein’s insights have lessons beyond politics. If these technologies facilitate polarization in politics, what influence are they exerting over art, literature, and music? In our haste to find the quickest, most convenient, and most easily individualized way of getting what we want, are we creating eclectic personal theaters or sophisticated echo chambers? Are we promoting a creative individualism or a narrow individualism? An expansion of choices or a deadening of taste?”


What do you think?

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