I’ve been reflecting a lot on how difficult it is to bridge the gap between ideas and reality. This was made clear last week in our discussing of IEHospitality and trauma informed practices, and it is clear in this week’s consideration of the internet. The ‘reading’ (podcast) for this week, “The Internet of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” is laden with ideas around the world of technology and the internet and the tricky relationship they have with reality. Boyd addresses issues covering community, teenagers use of the internet and the societal factors that are at play in their approach, and the need to teach kids to think critically about their internet/tech use – despite the fact they seem to be more at home with the technology than those who might mentor them.
The idea that stood out the most to me in considering tricky relationships with reality was the way that the internet and computers were expected to do great things around equality. As Boyd says, the hope was that “…the Internet would be this magical transformation, it would create a level of egalitarianism, it would be the freeing democratic mechanism for the world writ large, it would bring about the next Enlightenment …” When I heard this, it reminded me a lot of the conversations we had last semester in Writing Theory and Practice about the internet and education and the disconnect that existed there too.
The internet, when it was first becoming widespread, was this wonderfully novel tool with the potential for learning in new ways. People had widespread access to information and each other like never before, and it felt exciting in terms of the possibilities this offered for learning and connecting. We discussed several times how this was especially the case in terms of being part of a global community. When you stepped online, you were no longer just part of your small world, you were part of the ‘World Wide Web’. But when it came to education and being part of a world community, there were still old problems breaking down new ideas – especially in the case of equity and equality.
It says a lot that when the internet became less a strange new phenomena and more an everyday necessity that we realized just how much it wasn’t doing what was hoped for in terms of equality. As Boyd points out, everything that is happening in reality is brought into virtual reality; and as much as we want to think it doesn’t, this includes all the bad parts. I mean really, how can something “made up of people” do anything BUT drag in all our messy humanity?
I think in many ways, the idea that the internet would be a wonderful equalizing tool wasn’t a bad idea, and that in some ways there has been a kind of equalizing influence in certain areas. Namely, it has created ways for certain communities to access support in ways not possible in the past; it has changed access and consumption of information similar to the way the printing press opened up the path for literacy to be more widely accessible; and it has allowed people from all backgrounds to have a voice and platform in the form of social media. But even within these areas, we find a similar dynamic discussed last week with VConnecting and IEHospitality – if you aren’t being intentional about making sure the tools, platforms, practices, theories, spaces, etc. that you are putting in place to meet needs like equity and equality, they will be absorbed back into the larger issue you are trying to fight. If they can barely meet some needs by being intentional, how can they meet any needs without intentionality?
To be honest, I don’t have much to bring to this conversation that is new other than to kind of just state that I feel a sense of discouragement. There are so many amazing ideas out there; and truthfully, many ARE being able to be applied in real practice with real impact, but there is still so much disconnect between the two.
I started this reflection saying that I was struggling with idea vs reality, and that the internet is one more example of how faulty this dynamic can be if we aren’t intentional in the way we a) make it do what we are hoping it will and b) work on the reality that is actively influencing it. So what is to be done about pipedreams that feel like they should be true, but just can’t stand up against reality? How do we start creating practices that don’t feel like black mirrors reflecting back realities we don’t want, but continue to perpetuate?
I think these are the questions we have to keep at the forefront of our minds as we consider the post-pandemic university, what our roles are as digital citizens, and the ideas and practices we are bringing with us into the future as a society.