Wednesday 28 November 2012

Togetherness in Eisenstadt

Tomorrow I'm speaking at an e-learning conference in Eisenstadt, Austria (see Eisenstadt is etched in my musical knowledge as the home of Joseph Haydn, where he served at the Esterhazy court and struggled with a difficult domestic situation. Haydn's music is the epitome of joy, lightness and humour whilst also bearing witness to the most profound humanity and musical wisdom. I'm tempted to ask "what's the equivalent in education?". It seems so often the epitome of misery, boredom, heaviness and consistently favouring the superficial over the profound! Maybe I'm being unfair. I would have love to have met Haydn (one of the few composers I think I would have enjoyed talking to), but I have had some rare experiences through education to meet individuals who have possessed humour, lightness and profundity. Everything else was nonsense. Computers, I fear, have made the situation worse.

What I want to say at the conference is that computers need not make it worse. But in order to ensure that they do not become the tools of the harbingers of misery, we need to understand our truly joyful experiences of learning. I will begin with music - not just because it is my passion (and the best advice I was given when I trained to be a teacher was "teach your passion!") - but because it is unique in bringing people together. Joy comes from togetherness.

When we make sounds together we become aware of each other. We listen to each other. We sense the universality of our individual experiences; we look at each other. This is the root of learning and the path to wisdom. There is no wisdom without listening and that which we learn we learn about each other. Even physics and maths.

Technologies as we have them - our so-called "social technologies" - offer us little opportunity to listen. Who really listens to someone's Facebook post? If you really listened you would hear something different from what was written. Maybe...
"I'm posting this because I need to tell the world I exist and having a good time even though I'm not because I am having an existential crisis!". 
If we listened to that, we'd understand more about what technology isn't doing for us at the moment.

7 billion of us are inhabiting spaces together increasingly unaware of each others existence, their humanity, or their needs. This may be because appreciation of others means we have to consider our own existence, our humanity, our needs. And who wants to do that?? Technology is deafening us because we want to be deafened.

What is possible? How might it be different?

Imagine a shared space with lots of atomised individuals all staring into their own online worlds. Suddenly something grabs their attention and points them to the same resource. They become curious. They engage. As they do things with the resource, things happen around them which affect everyone else. Their attention shifts from their own screens to their environment and to each other. It's as if suddenly, everyone's been given a musical instrument and has been invited to participation in a performance. Technology has drawn people together and created a shared experience. Everyone remembers it. It is a meaningful moment.

I will argue in future posts that such moments are moments when technology is used to create a shared absence, and that this absence is the driver for learning. Absence is not content. It is simply the surprise revealing of the thing everybody was avoiding. That's what I believe we should be aiming for with learning technology. It is also the art that Haydn excelled at.

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