Friday, February 4, 2011

Twitter & the Luddite

Change of Time - Josh Ritter (mp3)

When removed from its Christian context, an evangelist is anyone who trumpets the glories and power of an idea -- or object or belief -- with the confidence and stubborn insistence that anything short of full commitment is weakness.

The evolution and progression of civilization requires evangelists. Ideas cannot reach enough ears and eyes without the unwavering passionate commitment from these kinds of people.

I am not an evangelist.

A close relative of the evangelist is the early adopter. They’re the eager guinea pigs of the technology world. These are the goobers who camp out overnight so they can be the first to own an iPhone. They’re the ones who pay attention to when a new version of Photoshop is released. When the Zune debuted, early adopters actually purchased those goofy things. They’re the soldiers at the front of the group in the U-boats from Saving Private Ryan -- you know, the first ones to their brains blown out.

I am not an early adopter.

21st Century progress depends heavily on evangelists and early adopters.

In the world of education, you would be hard-pressed to find a larger collection of passionate evangelists and early adopters than collected in Philadelphia in January at a sold-out convention known affectionately as EduCon 2.3. These people drank so much of the Kool-Aid that the damn thing was sold out roughly eight years ago.

I wasn’t there, so everything I say now about EduCon is pure speculation based solely on reading the Tweets and follow-up blogs of many who did attend.

EduCon is the Jesus Camp of teachers who are early adopters and evangelists. They all pack into a finite space, work one another into a fervent lather, speak in techno-tongues, and then disperse with a fiery passion powerful enough to stay lit for days if not a whole week in the face of the pitiful skeptics and realists who were stuck in their classrooms back on the home front.

I mock them because I love them, these wild-eyed iPad-toting preachers who use words like “wiki” and “ning” and “hashtag” and “techno-pedagogy.” Watching them get all wide-eyed and teenage-girl-giddy when talking about something like Pixton is to see the embodiment of hope and conviction and optimism and urgency. Sure, it comes with a dose of negative scary cult vibe, but that’s the price of human nature.

My role in the process is equally essential. My type weighs costs and benefits. We consider risks and rewards. We observe the plights and trevails, the glories and successes of the early adopters. We talk to them. We challenge them. And, over time, we allow them the possibility of convincing us to get on the boat with them.

Our pushback hones an evangelist’s message. It shaves down the brainwashing and forces them to prove their claims. We don’t make the products and beliefs you buy; we make the products and beliefs you buy better.

You know who I don’t love? You know who I don’t understand? Luddites.

Luddites are the Amish. They are anyone who, at any point in time, drew a line and determined that all technology and modernization up to said point was acceptable while all of it beyond said point was evil, deplorable, of the devil, whatever. They are people who bury their head in the sand and wish new things would just go away.

Case in point. Our IT director sent out what was intended as an innocent email. Our school needs to figure out how to use text messaging to reach students, and she was curious as to how many teachers and coaches and dormitory advisors were already doing this. How, what software or program, et cetera.

Three of the emails she received back were sent solely to decry the horror of a school that would discuss using text messages. The level of cleverness and degree of indignation varied, but the theme was constant: “F**k Text Messages and the iPhone they rode in on!”

The goal of the Luddite is merely to freeze time, freeze assumptions, freeze change. And they seethe and growl at those who attempt to move things forward.

The Republicans I struggle most to like are those who seem not to argue for a cause so much as for a bygone era. They romanticize an earlier America and long for us to return to it. They refuse to discuss social change because if it wasn’t like grandma used to make, they want nothing of it. Period.

Ironically, in the world of education, the Luddites tend to be very liberal politically. They don’t mind social change, but they fear anything that threatens the 1955 nature of their authoritarian classroom. Like grandma used to teach it. Of course I’m being overly simplistic, but it feels far more accurate than not.

Text messages, Facebook and XBox are not the enemy. They’re not the devil anymore than automobiles or rotary-dial telephones or the Gutenberg press. They are merely vehicles, means by which and through which both good and evil can be accomplished... albeit usually at a much more efficient pace. Anyone paying sufficient attention to the revolution in Egypt should not so quickly dismiss Twitter as child’s play. It seems 140 characters can play an astonishing Best Supporting Actor role in history.

Educational evolution (or revolution) need not be lightning fast. It need not be dictated and forced through by evangelists. But the longer the Luddites are allowed to stay at the table and scream out their own edu-Palinisms, the sooner it feels an edu-Armageddon is inevitable.


Bob said...

I could not agree more. A friend and I were talking last night about how difficult it's getting to keep up with technology, but, for God's sake, don't quit. Ask for help. Enjoy the new. Try it out.

Much as people might make fun of Facebook, my wife, who takes it very seriously, has not only reignited some friendships, but has also brought parts of her own family back together. The path to those accomplishments without using the technology right in front of us would have been quite ponderous and probably less successful.

Steve Ransom said...

Wow, although I understand the essence of your post, you really mischaracterized Educon and the folks that attend. Yes, most are highly fluent with current cultural tools of learning and communication, and, many, myself included, really love using technology and being playful with it. However, that is NOT why we gathered there. It was NOT a love fest of technology. At its core were meaningful discussions about learning. No one used a SMART board. If computers were used at all, they were used to facilitate problem-solving, discussion, communication, sharing, and networking. If you like the analogy of a "Jesus Camp", then it was a "Jesus Camp" of... learning. (Disclaimer: I did see one laser pointer used) As you point out in the latter half of your post, learning shouldn't be divorced from relevant tools of learning.

You should come sometime. It's not hard at all to register if you avoid waiting until the last minute.

Billy said...

Hey Steve - Thanks for pitching in. If I can convince my superiors that a PR guy needs to attend this conference (and believe me, I'm gonna try) next year, even if it means I have to foot part of the bill my dang self, I will be there in a heartbeat.

And trust me, I don't offer to foot many bills. So I'm vastly more impressed with EduCon than I let on. But I don't want it going to EduCon's head; I know what too much adulation did to Lindsay Lohan.

Steve Ransom said...

Bill, there has actually been much discussion around that very thought. Thank goodness the caliber of folks surrounding Educon is nothing like that of Lohan.

Hope you can swing it.

cinderkeys said...

The Amish are, strictly speaking, not Luddites. They reject most modern technology, but accept some. Their starting point is, "How will this technology affect us? Can we use it in a way that's consistent with our way of life?"

cinderkeys said...

On another note, I wonder how many Luddites are really just phobic. How many don't hate how new tech changes our culture so much as they don't know how to use it?

One client of the company I work for was terrified of e-mail attachments. He would call me up saying, "I got this attachment. What should I doooo?" I pointed out that he used to be a surgeon, where mistakes were literally a matter of life and death. If he did something wrong on his computer, nobody was gonna die. My argument failed to move him.

rodle said...

You've got the Luddites, the Early Adopters, etc. And then you have the guy that welcomes all of the new technology, but largely to watch and critique the way others use it. Speaking of that guy and his damn opinions...please don't use the term U-boat in reference to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Those were Landing Craft. A U-boat is a submarine.

Billy said...

Thanks for the correction, rodle. I swear I'd intended to change that from "U-Boat" to "Boat Thingies" so it would be clear I didn't know WTF I was talking about, but I guess I forgot.