Facilitating First Impressions: Education and theTechnological Teat

photo by A Siegel

A book will “drop” at the end of the month called “Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World,”.  At the link is a brief interview with the author where he makes one point that must be clear to us by now, “first impressions” are of questionable merit, at best, “dangerous” and damaging at worst.

It’s our default assumption. It’s our fallback, automatic assumption about other people. It serves us well in a lot of respects. It makes the world a more predictable place. It allows us to make predictions about the world. But a variety of different research over the past few decades shows that this automatic judgment is a cognitive cutting of corners. It doesn’t give an accurate perspective on how human nature works. One of the really good examples is the quickness with which we turn to the “bad apple” explanation. When we read about bad behavior, whether it’s people committing crimes, rioting, etc., we immediately assume that that person is a bad apple, that we would never do something like that. It makes us feel better about ourselves at the end of the day, but it keeps us from solving some of the root issues at the heart of human nature.

This “cognitive cutting of corners” is likely the root of much that is catastrophic and disastrous in human history.  This is how we allow “framing” to do our thinking.  We slot life-perceptions into preconceived “cognition.”

This becomes somewhat entangling but I’d like to try to unravel this a bit.  We are products of biological change over somewhat incalculable time.  If we believe we all begin in a space-time event and that all molecules, of which we consist, are the very same now as they were then then we are a culmination of myriad transformations.  It is truly interesting to think about our human ideas of gods and natural change through mythic conceptions–all things metamorphose, as in Ovid, in a kind of divine comedy and as such are mental representations of elemental change.  So you can see that if you choose to believe in a kind of religious conception of the human as created all of a piece you would still be forced to admit a kind of “one stuff”–the elemental mud and the divine breath–out of which we all are shaped.

Shaped.  Not shaping.

Two literary asides: 1) David Lindsay uses the appellation “Shaping” to describe a “fallen” divinity (akin to the Gnostic demiurge) on a “fallen” world in his fantasy novel The Voyage to Arcturus” indicating that the fallen is real but also created and so recognizable and so something that can be transcended.   And 2) Kafka presents the trapped version of such within his novella of metamorphosis.  He imagines a narrator (a self) transformed into a “lower” form–a bug–a “descent of man.”

There is too the Heraclitian idea that “everything flows; nothing remains” (leading to the Emersonian “Life only avails; not the having lived,” offered in the same semantic rhythm); you’ve likely heard this apothegm, “One cannot step into the same river twice, for the water into which you first stepped has flowed on.”  Variously interpreted–you change, the water changes–no moment, however similar-seeming is the same.

As the quote at the top offers, amidst this constant inconstancy we seek stability.  This compels us to believe in certain things and stand by them and go so far as to call them truths.  We tend to believe in false notions that are clearly and empirically false because of this compulsion to need a “bedrock.”

But it is likely the finality of life–or the constancy of dying–a real bedrock–that further compels us to create fictions that offer us more future.

It is interesting that the idea of flow and the implication that we are all of the same stuff cannot offer us succor.  Believing that because your hydrogen atoms were born on the sun and that when you expire and decay those same atoms will be released back into the ether is believing in extension.  I believe my stuff goes on, but do I?

Tough one.  But I had no intention of going there.  Except perhaps to offer that this is best seen as an act of contemplation leading only to more contemplation.

I started with the above as a way to suggest that technological advance is one of those “first impression” responses that we seem to have accepted as an “ultimate” good; by that I mean that even while the negative effects of our inventions and science-soaked ideologies are readily evident there are ways that we can rationalize these out of account and make our equations render this progress as a good.

Technological advance is already a kind of frame.  In this way, many of us simply concede the fact that our “things” are good.  My contention is and has been, will be (I am a point in time containing all other points in time!), that technological use is humanly damaging and that I consider this cognitive “corner-cutting.”  No doubt it can be argued that some technologies prove useful as tools (I am using one now that I am ambivalent about) and I would concede that an advance in understanding certain things has led to very demonstrable benefits to the human species.  Cleaning water and creating sewage systems must be two of humanity’s triumphs.  Of course, these were necessitated by what might be considered the species error of population concentration.  That for another day perhaps.

As a 43-year-old I was “formed” prior to the digital age.  All of my dealings with technology spring from the contextual base that presented technology such as computers and game systems as novelties that did not obviate change for me.  In college, my computer lab was still primarily for word processing, but as the history of Apple makes clear, the computers were on the cusp of metamorphosis.  I used, and still use, the computer as a tool that extended my abilities as a thinker within the framework of the book.  I typed words, I read words, I saved documents full of words.  My sense of “I” was agent in the relationship.

There was perhaps a brief period when computing, even as it was more advanced and code-driven, was still “tool” use.  But the burgeoning of mobile devices created a framework based on “external” selves.  We became ghosts in our machines.  The Apple dynasty speaks to this.  It serves a kind of totalitarian tyranny that allows there is a right way to “compute.”  Or a better way.  There is a common way too.  But all of them are now firmly housed (trapped, imprisoned) within tiny boxes

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Our local school system recently bought 250k worth of iPads to be used in the 6th grade curriculum; and recently I saw this as well, also in Indiana, “Kindergarten kids: A pencil, eraser and an iPad,” detailing a 200k grant to buy iPads for kindergarten use.

Diabolical to my mind.  You know that the best way to learn a language is via immersion–you speak, hear, read, nothing but that language–and further that the younger this occurs the easier and more permanent the learning will be.  For example, send your toddler to daycare where there is only Spanish spoken and your child will readily and naturally be bi-lingual (and tell secrets right in front of your face that you won’t understand!).  Likewise, you want a child to think like an iPad, then introduce one to them as soon as possible.  As far as school system use goes, kindergarten is where it’s at.

This is not hyperbole.  We think “in context”–we form our way of thinking “in context.”  We tell stories “in context.”  We determine value “in context.”

So, at this point once again I ask you to think hard about this.  This kind of pedagogy creates a mind that has no depth.  You and I, as old as we are, cannot quite understand that.  Soon there will be immersion in the “mode” of thinking that comes with these machines. You do know that the machines already try to predict your word usage, predict your consumer desires, and further actually “limit” your thinking by returning search results ordered to fit a predictive algorithm.  You don’t decide by looking through choices; you “choose” what is offered at the top as relevant.

As I said, I am “of the book” primarily.  I urge you to choose it as your primary technology.  Further I urge you to discover poetry and philosophy (before modern academy ruined this in a turn to “science” and “logic”).  I urge you to pick up a musical instrument for the same reason.  I do not count newspapers or periodicals or infotainment articles the kind of reading that will offer depth but instead contribute to surface clutter.

You know there are slow food movements, and slow money movements, right?  These exist because the world around us is operating on mobile technological time.  It enforces and encourages actions that fit within its ambit.  You do what the machines facilitate.  This is the technology of first impressions raised to an exponential degree.

We need a Slow Thinking movement.  One needs time to think deeply.  Giving educational systems over to iPads will only speed things up.

Reading and thinking about that reading and talking about that reading offers an oppositional force to speed and impulse and encourages and honors the very human and very radical ability to be contemplative.

The human mind is cursed with the cogito as an embodied being of limited duration; but its salvation came with the contemplation of beauty leading to the creation of representations of beauty.  The determination to consider life (and death) via contemplation and artistic creation is a difficult path that requires time and effort and a humble self-effacement.

Destruction is easy–Technology is facile and offers a mirrored multiplication of base narcissism.  Our iPads reflect via our Facebook pool the very surface appearance of humanity.

The paradox of our mobile technology shrinking our globe is that it puts us, in our minds, smack in the center of the world; in a way returning us to a time when all planets revolved around the earth, and indeed to the belief that the earth is flat.


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