Friday, January 17, 2020
If my name still counts for something it is in the way it associates with my passport number and my license plate. Increasingly I get the sense that these details are less important than my location and credit card number. I am now less name more number. And on my mobile (number) a screen represents me as a pulsing blue dot on Google Maps. My number moves along the grid as I move. I imagine a data stream ballooning out of that blue dot, with strings of actions, preferences and all the footprints of my transactions. People like you went this way. Yes, I remember a time when I used to read texts, now they read me. This all begins to sound like the 'fear that people become readable pieces of data, without any recognised interiority' that William Davies writes about in 'Nervous States'. You might call it surveillance paranoia, neoliberalism, quantification or governmentality. It's the same thing. Read this against eco-disaster, cycles of poverty, mass migration and economic instability, and you can easily run out of hope. The slow advance of human civilisation seems like a big mistake, even golden ages are quickly dismissed as golden ages. The trouble with humans is that they are far too anthropocentric (exit stage left). This is the bitter fruit of several years reading post-humanism. On the other hand, no-one writes better about humans than Michel Serres. Reading 'Hominescence' is an antidote to pessimism. If anyone can write and think like that, there's something to live for. I've even started writing like him myself. Let's think slowly about where we are and how we got here and use this is a solid basis for action.
Labels: digital literacy; social issues
Saturday, December 21, 2019
London Review of Books writer James Meek satirises British political opinion as a division between those living in Remainia and those in Leaveland. Reworking the old two nations idea Meek characterises Leaveland as 'a country of the old, white and the nostalgic, of ruined factories and boarded up shops'. Inhabitants of Remainia inhabit a more affluent, more diverse space and enjoy more mobility, living in a world that has few points of contact with Leaveland. As left-leaning liberals lick their wounds after a scalding election defeat, Meeks's piece is worth returning to. Is he right? Certainly new divisions in society seem to be taking shape, but it might well be that the simple choice forced on us by Cameron's Brexit plebiscite has distorted party-based constituency democracy to the extent that it now seems redundant. Can a Labour Party still embody the values of twentieth century socialism when labour itself has been so radically transformed? And can a Conservative Party with all its accumulated history really represent the interests of those who feel left behind in the re-making of post-industrial Britain? Viewed like that our two main political parties seem like dinosaurs trying to herd a nation of hunter-gatherers. It seems to me that we have outgrown party politics. This was brought home to me when I was presented with a questionnaire which required me to rank order my political concerns (the environment, education, animal rights, the NHS and so on). The result didn't align me with any particular political group but it made me think that the complexity of current concerns is such that it never could be properly addressed through a two party system. I'm not sure what an alternative might look like, and since our political system has a built-in resistance to change, I'll probably continue voting by making what often appears to be a choice between the lesser of two evils.
Labels: social issues
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Paul Valery had it about right when he said 'The future isn't what it used to be'. Being of a particular generation I grew with fancy visions of the future. A utopian Age of Aquarius was dawning, and when this stalled it was replaced by a vision of social and political progress influenced in no small part by Marxism. Lurching into the 21st Century watching new Labour's idea that Things Can only get Better run aground did little to revive optimism. And now we seem to be standing in a place in which the future is unknowable in all sorts of ways - socially, politically, nationally, environmentally, economically and even technologically. There is clearly an urgency in the need to reckon with the past, with the excesses of industrial expansion and colonialism and to acknowledge the mess they left us in as well as the ways in which they continue to form the present. But there is also a need to relocate ourselves, with an ethical sensibility in the present. That, I think, leaves us enough to get on with without teaching the future.
Labels: digital literacy; social issues
Sunday, October 20, 2019
Sunday, July 21, 2019
the cave. 'We know how but we don't know why' the guide says emphatically. Science can tell us the exact composition of the materials - charcoal, brushes, sticks, hands and pigments. And it can also give us a pretty accurate idea of when this particular horse was drawn, but the purpose, the motivation for making this image escapes us. Yet it is obviously, yes undisputedly the form of a horse. That much speaks clearly and unambiguously across unknowing time. And since we are all convinced that the ability to draw like this is peculiar to the human species, which ever you look at it, this is an act of human communication. Whether its survival in this labyrinth of limestone caves is accidental or not makes little difference. Perched on our millennial ridge we gaze into the mists of human time, knowingly squinting at a hazy horizon. We were here before, leaving our mark.
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Journal of Early Childhood Literacy there's one that holds a special place for me, and I return to it with regularity. We published it in 2002 and it's a case study of two London children who share the same birthday and attended the same school, but are different in significant ways, ways that are likely to have influenced their educational chances (they must be adults by now, hence the past tense). In essence, Liz Brooker's study is a careful analysis of cultural capital. Not the cultural capital that Ofsted have recently defined as 'the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for future success', but those cultural resources that Bourdieu suggested pattern social inequality. That aside, it is the eloquence with which Liz explains the enduring power of ethnographic research that repeatedly draws me back. She talks about how the detail of descriptive studies sticks with us. And surely that is true. She doesn't go as far as to say that 'the stories we tell' count, but that's what I take from it. In my first university job I leant that the biggest put-down of a colleague's work was to call it journalism. Journalism was a code word for description, and using it was a way of discrediting anything that strayed too far along the qualitative route. In a department then dominated by psychologists it warned against the excesses of storying your research. Of course, there's a clear line between the rigorous collection of data that supports Liz's work and something that is cherry-picked, biased or over-sensationalised - as in bad, misleading or lazy journalism. But telling different stories is as important now as it always was. And that goes for journalism and research. Crossing the line into fiction - perhaps this is different line altogether, continues to intrigue me. What William Gass describes as 'a sudden slip over the rim of reality' not only evokes a sort of unmooring, but also holds the potential to speak back to the mundane in powerful ways. Isn't that what good stories always do? And that leads me on to wonder whether story could be a research method, too?