Have you ever been out to dinner with a group of people and experienced the ‘iPhone Moment’? It’s the moment when a question is posed by someone and once the alpha members of the group realize that they’re not able to come to a quick consensus on an answer, everyone automatically pulls out their iPhones and starts dislocating themselves from the physical world in an effort to plug the relevant node into the appropriate information socket in order to suck out the exact notion required to put everyone at ease that the crisis has been averted and the correct factoid has been successfully isolated. And thus, the iPhone saves the day. Everyone is happy. Everyone looks relaxed again. Everyone can unclench and comfortably move on to the next topic of conversation…that is, if you can still call this morphed social phenomenon a conversation.
I’ve noticed that unless you choose not to pull out your iPhone during the iPhone Moment, you won’t be privy to the cultural nuance taking place. (And yes, in this context, I’m going to make a generalization that you have an iPhone, but if that really offends you, pick your tool of choice and move on with the story). I like to have my phone with me when I go out. It makes me feel safe to know I can make a call if I find myself in an emergency situation. It comforts the admittedly anti-social side of me that sometimes wishes she was invisible so that she could mercifully escape from a social event unnoticed, but since we’re still dealing with the limitations of invisibility technology, having an iPhone is the next best thing – even if it is just to update my status on Facebook (and hope that no one else in the room who happens to be in my network notices). But having observed this scenario numerous times (as depressing as that is), I have noticed that those pulling out their pocket rockets seem to be so intoxicated with the idea of having information instantly accessible at their fingertips that the lack of social awareness manages to escape them. Suddenly it’s ok to ignore their surroundings while silently tapping their screens as they progress on their labyrinthian journey of hyperlinks leading to the golden chalice of knowledge, wisdom and all things technology. But does technology have a place at a dinner party?
Why am I asking myself this question (particularly since I’m still quite a fan of the iPhone and enjoy the lifestyle improvements its bestowed upon me despite the occasional collision into the over-technified social gathering)? Well, it’s partly because I’m wondering where we’re headed as a civilization if we revert to telephones to communicate with people who are sitting right in front of us. And perhaps it’s also partly because I’m trying to understand the nature in which we acquire or accumulate or access information (depending on your school of thought) in the first place and what we do with it when its served its purpose. And that really begs the question of how we view information in the first place if we simply see it as a piece of disposable data. What happened to enriching our own personal lexicons, taking the time to listen to fascinating stories told by masters of the literary world (both revered and emerging), learning new things about the ecosystem in which we live and then melding all that information into an exchange with other like-minded individuals who are all present and aware and engaged (as well as engaging)? And maybe I’m also asking myself this question because of something I read today.
Larry Sanger, one of the founders of Wikipedia, wrote a paper published by Educause entitled, ‘Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age‘ in which he stands on quite an intriguing philosophical platform as he examines the impact that the relationship between education and the Internet is having on society and the individual. Does memorization have a place in a world where we can create an iPhone Moment whenever we want? Are we cultivating the next generation of independent and novel thinkers or very expensively trained parrots?
But he goes much deeper than just an exploration of the residual effects of increasingly easier access to information. He broaches the topic of individual vs. collaborative learning. Is one better than the other? Communities of practice are popping up faster then mushrooms in the dark, damp forests of Northern California. Pedagogies are celebrating the virtues of students learning from one another and teaching each other in group contexts. Everyone is being encouraged to learn in a social context…but when does deep contemplation take place? Where do we find the silence in which information can germinate, intermingle with our existing knowledge structures and eventually contribute to a rich perceptive worth sharing? How do we support the creation of new knowledge (and by new knowledge, I don’t mean opinion on top of commentary and sprinkled with a dash of guesswork)? In a world in which organizations put pressure on their top researchers to find a fast answer to an immediate issue, how do we make the time to think about the long-term solution?
And then we get to the topic of ‘boring old books’ – are they outdated forms of irrelevant information that are simply doing an injustice to the world population of trees, or is there value in a book? To try to answer that question for myself, I’m going to look back to my recent graduate studies. I studied online, I studied independently, and I was encouraged to study in groups. Out of all the ways that I studied, I didn’t manage to study from books. That is a horrifying realization, albeit a general one (for yes, there were times when I studied from books, but the point is that I was by no means spending my days surrounded by towering shelves of books in one of those….what are they called….museums…..no…..shrines……no…..ah, yes! Libraries!). I remember receiving my very first course package and opening up a box full of books. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to start reading them. I still can’t. They sit largely unopened in the part of my personal library dedicated to all things elearning. I’m sure I’ll get to them one day, after all, free time is an inevitability at some point in one’s life…right!?
I’m not suggesting that I have the answers, but I do admit to liking the questions, which, if I go by Sanger’s reasoning, means that I’ve at least grasped a bit of knowledge to know some of the questions to ask, and that’s nice to know. Technology is a tool, but we are the instrument. Let’s not forget that.