Reading Neal Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business revealed a new perspective about learning and research. Postman disparages multi modal learning models, lamenting the loss of real discourse due to the advent of technology. Postman contends that the telegraph heralded the "now...this" mentality. Information available instantly limits the value of discourse and communication. I wonder what Postman would think about this class? Certainly Postman could not have foreseen the impact of what he quaintly calls micro-computers on the education system, but he did fear that the incursion of television into the education system was turning the classroom into commercialized show business. One of the extravagances that he discusses in his book is the government funded PBS series "The Voyage of the Mimi." This bloated-budget attempt at televising education left a bad taste in Postman's mouth. In his view, learning about the migration patterns and songs of the humpback whale was a waste of brain power. After all what of any value at all could be learned by tracking nautical patterns and singing whales on a boat? American students were missing out on the heavy-hitting typographic discourse that promoted genuine critical thinking skills, the kind of discourse thought of and taught by crotchety old white men. What Postman failed to imagine was what could be learned by following, recording, describing, and sharing the patterns of animals like the whales. We have discovered more about our world, about our planet. We have learned that we have an impact on others beyond the tip of our nose,or beyond our block, or our little town.http://
New ways of learning exist today than in the mid eighties when Postman was writing. People have more access to many different kinds of education. The multi modal exposition that we are experimenting with in this class is a prime example. The medium in which our work lives has totally changed. Postman's nostalgia for print is just that and nothing more. Yes there are few things better than the crisp smell of a new book, but life is bigger than the black and white words on a page. By daring to live and learn in the digital age we see how our actions can affect the world. News now sources immediately from events through tweets and smart phone video. Individuals create our own discourse rather than having it spooned to us. I think Postman's privilege shielded him from the possibilities of multi modal discourse, and I can relate to his fear of change. As a teen during the time Postman was writing Amusing Ourselves to Death I understand facing the digital age with trepidation. But learning is about discovering new things without an attachment to the outcome. We have no way of knowing what we will learn by listening to the songs of humpback whales and trying to figure out what they mean. By listening to them, though, we might learn more about ourselves and our value to the world.
Image Credit: PBS