The Internet is the great global connector and often that’s good, but it sure is hard to be sarcastic enough anymore. When I’m in class, often I’ll dance a little jig at certain climactic moments. If you know me, all six feet four inches of me, and my glorious white lankiness, you can imagine that my little jigs are scary. You’re right. After the steppity-steps which might or might not culminate in jazz hands, I used to say things like, “I’m sooo sorry about that amigos, I know that you can’t ever un-see that." I don’t say that anymore, because usually, someone already beat me to some snide sarcastic remark, like, “I actually want cataracts now" or “that dance actually gave me conjunctivitis". The Internet and it’s far-reaching sarcastic zingers has infected us all with a dry sarcasm that even the most dull among us can pull off with aesthetic wit. Even the British are starting to concede that Americans, after all, do have a sense of humor. I don’t do jigs much at all anymore. It’s sad. The Internet, with its widespread blanketing sarcasm, has made almost everything I used say hackneyed.
It’s so strange. The Internet has this uncanny and unprecedented ability to create swirling virality tornadoes of trends, jokes, dance steps, health foods, craft ideas, (etc., etc., etc.) that are literally here today and gone tomorrow. There are micro-climates of trendiness that, like the weather, blow into and out of town just that quickly. It used to take years, at times, for trends to be disseminated, so, often, you might feel connected for a few years, hip, “today". Now, everyone becomes aware of trends in 1/10th the time and so, trends ship out just as fast, like a trendiness monsoon showing up at lunch, but gone by the time your Pop-tart is out of the toaster. It’s a sad way to live.
We live in a time where most of our lives are experienced first virtually, digested digitally, and then discarded before they ever really take hold in the real world. Of course this is a problem with your riding boots and your scarves and your business suits, but now it’s even a problem with people. The website that traffics in hawking not wares, but lives, Facebook, has made a fortune on the backs of making real-life interactions yesterday’s news. You don’t have to catch up with people at your cousin’s wedding, because you’ve already followed the whole scandal enough online to realize that the bride definitely should not be wearing white, and so, you see people and you avert your eyes. You don’t want to talk to those long lost family members, because you already know everything about them and you’re not sure if they really know how much you already know, and keeping track of what you should and shouldn’t really know is going to be complicated. So, you just hang out by the punch bowl and Instagram photos of aunt Linda showing everyone her hidden tattoos after too much bourbon. Our real lives have become cliché and hackneyed because your brother is a post-a-holic and your dirty laundry is already aired for all to see. Imagine two sisters at that wedding again, trying to find someone of substance with whom to sit and chat:
Sister one: “Oh, here comes John! Don’t look at him, you know he’s just going to use the conversation to rub it in your face that he’s already senior partner at his firm and you’re not. It’s all over his Facebook page."
Sister two: “Okay, let’s go talk to Reina, then. I love Reina."
Sister one: “No, no, no. Abort! Don’t talk to Reina. Didn’t you see her post last night? She’s going into rehab again on Monday."
Sister two: “Oh no! Really? I didn’t see that. If that’s true, we definitely don’t want to talk with her. She’s probably going out tonight with a bang and she’s a vindictive little thing when she’s drinking. She’ll bring up Jeff again, probably in front of Mom."
Sister one: “Oh sis, I’m so sorry. I saw your post about him last night. Let’s not talk about that two-faced rat".
Sister two: “In fact, let’s not talk about anything. Let’s just sit here in silence, pull out our phones and let ourselves fall blissfully into Facebook numbness."
Sister one: “I’ve been dying to pull out my phone for the last five minutes. I’ll be right here at the end of the table Instagramming. Text me if you need me okay?"
With our lives publicly displayed online, in our social circles, even the least of us become celebrities and like celebrities, our real-life, in-person, airbrush-free lives, are so much less exciting than our souped-up online lives. Our real selves seem boring in comparison. We can’t possibly be, in person, what that perfectly crafted pouty faced selfie was online, because that perfect selfie took 25 shots in front of the mirror with your glam makeup on before it was deemed acceptable to grace your profile page. We can’t live up to our own hype and so, when we’re live, with the auto-tune gone, we seem boring. Just like when you meet a celebrity in person for the first time, after years of following her movies and making a hero out of her in your mind, you’re crushed when she acts like a snob, or a jerk in person.
Pinterest is the worst. My wife used to walk into someone’s house and say, “Wow, I love that color scheme" or “that craft display". Now she says, “I saw that pumpkin photo tree on Pinterest too. I made the same one for my bathroom". Take that, ostentatious dinner host! You’ve just had your life clichéd by Pinterest.
But, it’s not just Pinterest, it’s everything! The impossibly beautiful versions of your girlfriend on Instagram make dates with her, in the raw, seem boring. A quick YouTube search for “people are awesome" eclipses all of your heroic descriptions of your brush with death when parasailing in México. Even your best and funniest stories about little known Disney facts that always kill at parties are debunked by a bratty little iPhone user with the Snopes app.
So, what am I getting at here? And how does this relate to this writing challenge. Well, if you think real life people are boring, then what are teachers? Students can go online and not only get all of my content off of the Internet for free from Kahn Academy and YouTube, they can also get it from a really interesting looking 24-year-old who wears a striking sombrero and sings with a ukulele. Is that fair? How can I compete with that?
The point is, teachers have always been trite. So are their subject matters, but now, we are “like so uber-over-the top" trite. No wonder students are bored in our classes and never watch the video lectures that we create for our online sections. Students have seen it all before. Or, at least, they think they have. And whether they have or they haven’t their boredom is real, one way or the other, and this boredom is a major learning impediment. You know what’s never boring though? Creating! We used to worry about fast downloading speeds for Internet. Internet download speeds were much faster than upload speeds, but now, consumers are, more and more, creators. We want fast upload speeds. We want to interact with other people online and be not just consumers of knowledge, but creators. We want to contribute to the conversation, not just passively digest it. If we want to be connected, hip, “today" we have to create something new, hip, connected and “today" and we have to encourage our students to do the same. So our role changes now. In today’s educational revolution, we are no longer pontificants, spouting-off information that we have produced ourselves or just consumed from other researchers, we have to encourage our students to take our lessons down off the shelf, manipulate, change, add to, and re-post them for the benefit of others. Are students ready for this? No. Maybe not at first, but our new teaching role is to make them ready. We help them in the higher order process of creating knowledge, not just consuming.
I read an article about break dancing not long ago. It was talking about how the genre of break dancing had stayed quite stable (cliché maybe) for a number of years. That is, until the advent of YouTube. Suddenly, interested young people the world over had access to a vast database of dancers from every style and every country who were trying their hand at break and posting their attempts online. A viral niche community formed. American students of break interacted through videos with Korean break dancers and meticulously began incorporating their unique styles and moves, to which they never before had access. The community was active. The instruction was ample. The practice time was intense and the feedback was frequent and timely. Their bodies spoke through the universal language of movement and in a very short time the genre of break dancing advanced further in just a few short years than it had in twenty.
This is the model of tomorrow’s education. Like the dancers, we use what’s out there, we learn, but then, we must push students to create, manipulate, modify and expand. We push the limits of what’s out there and through an awful lot of guidance and scaffolding on our part, we forge new territories. Since what students create is theirs, it has more meaning for them. They are emotionally connected and these deeper ties make their new knowledge much more resistant to forgetting. They’ve made it their own. We have to stop giving and start guiding. Like the dancers, they’ll need to work hard, practice like locos and get lots of feedback and guidance from us along the way, but what results will constitute a learning revolution, and a burst of new knowledge creation that will grow exponentially, provided that we post enough status updates about our findings. As teachers, we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hid. We should not light a candle and put it under a bushel (or under a stack of other student work that will never see the light of day) but on a candle stick and posted to Facebook (Matthew 5:14-15)! Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development called not for MCC (more capable computers) but for MCP (more capable peers) to guide the learning process through dialectical interactions, feedback, scaffolding and lots of experimentation.
I have enjoyed the 9X9X25 challenge. As I go online to our community of educational break dancers on the Telswebletter and interact and rub shoulders with my YC “more capable pears", I learn and grow and I produce better and more enlightened work for my trouble. I like what this challenge does for me, both last year and this. The challenge to write helps me break-out, be less cliché, think deeper and begin to look, every day, for deeper connections and then write about them. It’s the looking for something to write about each week that has made me go to the break dancer level and not just the fact regurgitation level. I like the other me, but I love the 9X9X25 me!