[Air-l] impressions?

Charles Ess cmess at lib.drury.edu
Fri May 16 10:29:38 PDT 2003

Dear aoir-ists (like the Greek...)

We're in the midst of finals grading, but I had a rather extraordinary
experience with a class that has raised a question for me - or, rather, you
(I hope).

I teach a "Global Futures" course, the capstone of our general education
curriculum (Global Perspectives) which restructures liberal arts education
to focus squarely on becoming "liberated persons who participate
meaningfully in a global community."
We look at a lot of texts, ranging from Biblical and Islamic utopias to
Plato's Republic to Erich Fromm's _To Have or To Be_ - all of which,
somewhat to my surprise, the students really like.  (These are largely
critical of consumer society - but the students see the criticisms and agree
with them in varying degrees.)
In that context, I've also been using an anthology by Erik Bucy, _Living in
the Information Age: A Media Reader_ which offers a terrific selection of
essays from a range of perspectives on a range of topics, including the role
of the Internet in catalyzing a new revolution that would help realize
Enlightenment dreams of greater democracy, freedom, and prosperity.

My assumption was - in keeping with a lot of the common wisdom of higher
education specialists, sociologists, etc. - that my students, as having
grown up with the Internet and being deeply immersed in electronic media,
would find these readings directly relevant to their lives.

Imagine my surprise when my sections this year (fall '02 and spring '03)
with near unaninimity (sp) agreed that this selection of readings could be
dropped with no loss to the class!

Their summary judgment: especially the more radical visions of the Internet
and the Web (ala Barlow and many others) leading to a new Renaissance, etc.
just seemed "so '90s"!

For them, it appears that these technologies are utilitarian in the most
boring of senses; precisely because they have grown up with them, they seem
no more "revolutionary" than cars or telephones - even cellphones.  Rather,
these technologies are really, merely tools for them.  While as a researcher
and ethicist, I think there are all sorts of questions to be asked as to
impacts of using these technologies - for them, these questions are far less
pressing than examining the impacts of globalization on economies and the
environment, for example.
(And, FWIW, these are not, as a group, especially "liberal" students.)

I've no idea if my students are representative of anything.  But I was
_stunned_ by this - especially as it so sharply contrasts with the buzz and
excitement about all of these things in other quarters..
At the same time, it fits with a comment Phil Agre passed on a couple of
years ago as we were discussing the apparent death of postmodernism.  I
asked him why he thought it had passed, and his simple comment was: because
the art students aren't interested in it anymore.

This may just be an excuse to avoid grading papers and a waste of bandwidth
- but I'm curious if this strikes a resonant chord with aoir folk who
actually _research_ these things?


Charles Ess
Distinguished Research Professor, Interdisciplinary Studies
Drury University
900 N. Benton Ave.                          Voice: 417-873-7230
Springfield, MO  65802  USA            FAX: 417-873-7435
Home page:  http://www.drury.edu/ess/ess.html
Co-chair, CATaC: http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/catac/

Exemplary persons seek harmony, not sameness. -- Analects 13.23

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