disconnect/ reconnect: my comm project.

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For my Spring COMM project, I wanted to look into the idea of disconnecting from the network: how network disconnection is different from mass media disconnection, why we desire to disconnect, if it’s a feasible option in today’s world and what other solutions can mitigate this need.

I changed direction about two weeks ago, but am very pleased with how this turned out. I developed a multimedia project in the form of a website I coded. It contains references, text, comics, images and graphics I’ve made as well as three stop-motion videos I created (I was the most excited about these). Hopefully it presents an interesting and visually compelling argument on disconnection. I’m thinking about going in this direction for doctoral research (if and when I get into a program) because, as I propose, I think more work needs to be done on why we feel the need to disconnect and if there are larger societal solutions that can address it.

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

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quote: neil postman

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“… Words may themselves be the agent through which his consciousness is raised. If they appear on a vocabulary list, they surely will not. But if they appear in a context which is filled with importance,if not urgency, they may arouse the sense of curiousity or wonder or need from which durable and profound learning originates.” – Neil Postman, Language Education in a Knowledge Context

postman on orwell vs. huxley.

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“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. ”  – Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

the shallows: chapter 4

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“The natural state of the human brain… is one of distractedness. Our predisposition is to shift our gaze, and hence our attention, from one object to another, to be aware of as much going on around us as possible.” – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

The fourth chapter of “The Shallows” talks about the evolution of the written word, starting in Mesopotamia. Carr parallels his review of this cultural shift with the subsequent effect it had on our minds. I’ve never given thought to a time before literature, but when I consider the inevitable change that mass reading instigated, I find it pretty awesome. “They had to train their brains to ignore everything else going on around them, to resist the urge to let their focus skip from one sensory cue to another.” Ever since I read this chapter, I’ve been searching for a comparable situation where we find it difficult to remain focused on an activity requiring significant amounts of attention. The irony is that for the longest time, the act of reading itself was the only example I could think of. Because of the way our technology has evolved, reading seems to find itself back at square one.

Thankfully, Postman has assisted me by touching on our devolved attention spans in Amusing Ourselves to Death. In Chapter 4: The Typographic Mind, Postman begins by discussing 19th century debates and political addresses, specifically those between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Postman recounts one event where the speakers and crowd broke for dinner in the middle of the engagement because the debate was so lengthy (a total of 7 hours). It’s difficult to imagine a time where a debate between two men could hold a full audience’s attention for that long. Postman also notes the length and complexity of the speakers’ sentences.

I believe he also addresses the transition to visual mediums and the way it has affected our attention spans (though I’m not sure off the top of my head where he mentions it). I have found both personally and observationally that many concepts and ideas are best understood through a visual explanation. We are becoming increasingly focused on the visual tools available to us; one simple way to observe this is to walk down the toy aisles in stores. I am no child education specialist, and I’m sure there is value in visual tools for learning, but between these toys and children’s television programming learning is becoming more and more focused on not only visual but amusing material. I encourage anyone interested in the topic to see Chapter 10: Teaching as an Amusing Activity of Postman’s book, along with his other books on modern teaching (I haven’t read these, but plan to in the future; see my relevant lit page for information).

peek-a-boo.

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“Together, this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world – a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again… a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.” – Neil Postman

I read this statement by Postman and it led me to really analyze aspects of our social environment, including news (about which Postman writes extensively). A friend and I were recently talking about the news because she feels compelled to be better informed. We had a lengthy discussion about news and what it means to be “informed”.

I am torn on the subject as a whole. I feel as though I should have a better grasp on the happenings of the world as I am a part of it, but I don’t care to immerse myself too deeply, nor do I know when enough information is enough (back to that in a minute). While I have an interest in information about, for example, the genocide in Darfur, there are many “newsworthy” stories reported daily that I do not care about or need to know. I feel as though society disapproves of my deliberate naiveté, but why does it really matter to anyone?

I no longer watch the news because I find it incredibly disheartening; many of the stories are full of the horrible things people are doing to each other. Maybe I’m too empathetic, but I find myself very affected by the news. I’m a sensitive person, but perhaps I’m more easily upset because I watch/read it so rarely. Perhaps that turns a harsh light on our society’s desensitization to these events. Postman talks about the effects of hearing 45-second reports on various stories – murders, robberies, etc. Regardless of how upset these stories make any person feel, they will always be followed by a commercial break and, after the news program ends, a sitcom or some other entertaining show. We’ve trained ourselves to remove the coherence of the events and have molded a “world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events” (Postman).

And we can do nothing to stop, help or change most of these bits of news – they’ve already happened. I also feel like certain people keep up with the news simply to have something to discuss – to be “in the loop” when someone asks, “Did you hear about the  ______ that happened in ______?” Not everyone fits into this category, but some do.

The friend that suggested Postman to me in the first place is fond of the following quote:

“… There has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture.” – Neil Postman

Though people feel an innate hunger to consume ever-increasing amounts of information, does anyone ever question why?