Friday, 4 November 2016

Nous voici réunis!

Typical! Commit yourself to the gym (in this case, a thought gym) and then never go once in six months! Here I was in April promising to roll out of the blog again, and then silence ... at least over these digitalised pages. Count yourself lucky, say I!

I have not been idle though, no indeed. Apart from my exacting duties at work, and my pleasurable duties at home,  I have been swimming though seas of gripping digital reflection and wondering what it means that I would sometimes rather text than phone somebody. Am I just short of time, or am I joining the ranks of disembodied digital natives who send thousands of texts a month but cannot sustain a conversation on any subject concerning which they have not received adequate media programming?

I confess that part of my anxieties about digital culture stems directly from being responsible for the education of the students who pass before me in the lecture room. Learning and Teaching orthodoxy holds that the more we digitise our teaching, the more we are likely to deliver quality teaching and enhance learning. Our new VC, Alec Cameron, in his latest video blog, has evoked the possibilities offered by distance courses which would of course be beamed to all four corners of the planet by the marvel that is the Internet (password protected of course).

And yet, and yet (reflects your blogger through the very same medium), where will this end? Digital platforms are all very well, but like so many technological innovations, we must ask whether we have thought through all the risks. I'm not referring here to the technological risks about which I am not remotely qualified to speak. But I do wonder about the pedagogical risks and, more seriously, the cultural ones. Insofar as the Internet is but a digitised book, there is surely no harm in it. But what about the medium itself?

I suppose at the root of my question here is a distinction elucidated by French writer Fabrice Hadjadj between communiquer and communier. The verb communiquer seems to focus more on the information articulated. Communier seems to focus more on the encounter between the agents of any act of communication. Arguably, the distinction between the two is all the clearer in the domain of digital exchange where, it appears, the first thing people lose is the sense of the personhood of their interlocutor. Cue cyber-bullying, trolling and all manner of ugliness, frequently by those who, one suspects, would not dare to cross you in real life. Could this be because digital communication tempts us into communication rather than leading us into communion? The medium shapes the message, as we know, thanks to McLuhan. But to what extent does the medium also shape the messenger?

Perhaps one of the challenges of digital communication - be it long distance courses or blogspots! - lies in the imaginative effort never to forget what the interlocutor represents or, better, who the interlocutor is. Or - better still! -  that the digital representation of the interlocutor (a text on a screen, an image, a wave of digital sound) denotes a real human person. I can claim no credit for this thought. In many ways Gabriel Marcel was there before us in the 1930s and 1940s, warning constantly about this very forgetfulness of the person that seems to break over us when we are mired in our abstractions. And technology is nothing if not an abstraction.


Well, that's enough from me for one blog session. Is there anybody there, said the blogger,

Knocking at the moonlit screen?

I hope you'll join me again, dear reader, or as Baudelaire would say, 

Hypocrite lecteur mon semblable, mon frère!

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