Great Tech Spectations
The last decade has made it abundantly clear that, as much as we may desire stability, new and emerging technological media are profoundly postmodern: as soon as they stop moving, they’re moribund. If it’s on the syllabus, it’s already dated. Company’s got an IPO? Biggest new market is overseas? Congratulations, “new” tech — you just maxed out your Hot New Thing account, just took the first step in that great American mass media success journey that ends with your private physician gibbering on the witness stand and you on a gurney in the morgue. Sure, your greatest hits will stay in rotation — especially on that soft-rock station Mom always leaves the radio tuned to when she uses the car.
So instead of trying to determine what toys and tools our students should be using, or what they might currently be twiddling with under the desk when they think I’m not looking, I would like to start playing to these expectations:
Upon successful (or at least non-catastrophic) completion of an undergraduate degree, the student will be able to:
1) know when a tech tool or toy is appropriate, fun, helpful, or being used to innovate, and when it isn’t. No PowerPointlessness, no credit just for using the stuff unless the point is to experiment.
2) know what the tech tool or toy (hereafter TTOT) really does and how it works, how to make it or make something with it. This means read the manual, go to the developer’s web page, or whatever. If you don’t know what a gigabyte is, time to learn, no matter what your major. And if you’re just twiddling, switch to something real.
3) know how to choose precisely the right TTOT, not just whatever came with the device, came up first on a search, etc. Favor the app model over the suite (so 1990s). This will ultimately lead to better products and more consumer choice.
4) know what’s a rip-off, whether it’s grabbing data, time, money, or level of complexity. Then decide what you are willing to exchange for the TTOT. And remember: when it comes to art (music, video, real information) compression is for losers. Demand lossless when it matters.
5) know that all mass media, from newspapers and novels to apps and tweets, work better as a system rather than as exclusive choices. We need all formats to form a robust and inter-referential system of literacy.
If our students learn these things, they will be ready to use media wisely, playfully, and well.