Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DIGITAL LITERACIES: First Blog Post (from 9/8/12)

This was originally published on CCNY's Blackboard system--

Blog #1--Boyd, Stroupe & Lanham: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad…

[texts read for September 10, 2014: Danah Boyd, "What Makes Teens Obsessed With Soical Media;" Richard A. Lanham, Ch. 2 of The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology & the Arts; Craig Stroupe, "Visualizing English: Recognizing the Hybrid Literacy of Visual and Verbal Authorship on the Web"]
Please give me a moment, there’s a point to this:
This past July, I was teaching summer school to 7thgraders in the Bronx. At one point, I was trying to turn them on to the glories of the dictionary and how helpful it can be. Boy, did that go over like a lead balloon!
It was only because the kids liked me that their derision and contempt didn’t reach greater levels of volume and nastiness (they were a sweet bunch, but there were reasons they were in summer school, including ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder). Their basic retort to me was that they didn’t need some big old dusty book that was too heavy to do anything with other than use as a doorstop or a device to kill cockroaches; “We have phones,” sneered one girl.
Now here’s where I was wrong: I kept on with the lesson, and only because I had a mean co-teacher (a substitute), was I able to continue with my lesson in this dinosaur tech…
What I should have done, when they said they had phones, was said, “Prove it,” and then given them some sort of quiz to test their abilities, looking up words online, etc., with a prize (five minutes of social media?) for whomever won.
I was acting like one of those “overconcerned,” helicopter parents that Danah Boyd writes about—stuck in the past, and unable to deal with the new realities the “kids” are part of. (Or one of Stroupe’s English-department fear-heads who distrust the NEW.)
(ASIDE/SIDEBAR: But much of my teaching experience in the spring and summer was too much of me trying to be something I wasn’t. Long story short: I was trying too hard to mold myself into Doug Lemov’s awful, brutal and militaristic visionof a classroom supervisor than that of a genuine teacher and educator, IMHO.)
“Addiction” is as much an overused term these days as “Awesome.” Addiction (before it becomes solely about the physical need for a substance, that monkey on the back) is about a person’s life being terrible: that things as they are are awful, and they (we!) are trying to escape it.
And it isn’t only about addiction to things that are supposedly harmful, like drugs or booze: I’ve dealt with exercise addicts, running addicts, dieting addicts, vegetarianism addicts and even people who were addicted to 12-step meetings.
As far as Boyd seems concerned, the kids are alright—it’s the adults who don’t get it.
Teens are “obsessed”/”addicted” to social media because they aren’t allowed to hang out in the mall or the park or the whatever anymore. Social Media allows them to be social, to interact with peers, to grow and develop. If anything, their parents seem to want them to remain…I dunno…like toys or Hummel figurines sitting on a shelf. [My gripes with contemporary parenting will be addressed elsewhere…]
Teens have less freedom today than, well, ever: When I was NINE, my mom gave me $10, and said, “Scram: get out of the house. Go see a movie. Leave me alone.” And I did, splitting the apartment and catching the bus and going to the mall and buying a slice of pizza and seeing a movie—by myself.
Even the kids don’t think their parents’ fears are rational. (Boyd; p.91: “my mom’s always got some crazy reason to keep me in the house.”) First Jazz, then comic books, then rock ‘n’ roll, now the internet—Waa! My children are doing something I don’t understand: Waaa!
Boyd’s article was an eye-opener: I always figured the kids were goofing off and wasting time, but that never bugged me. That’s what teenagers are supposed to do: goof off and waste time, and generally be a nuisance to us old folks.
I’m more surprised by the elders who get into such a lather over it—why do you care? Are you that much of a control freak? Well, yes, they arethat much of a control freak… 
With parents acting more and more like prison guards (to their own children! WTF?!?!)—and moving to gated communities that seem more like high-end Federal penitentiaries than actual townships—I’m surprised more scenarios like the one projected/imagined by J.G. Ballard in his novella Running Wild haven’t happened…yet.
Here’s comedian Patton Oswalt, who recently wrote in Time magazineabout being off Twitter and Facebook for the summer—he has some interesting points about the “kids”:
“Those holdout freaks I talked about? The teen whose phone battery I assumed had died? Or the older millennial I assumed was downloading a video? They were the ones not using their phones. They had the strongest immunity to the devices’ pull. It was the older people, the over-40s like me… who couldn’t escape the tiny gravity of connection constantly yanking us out of existence. Maybe it’s because this younger generation doesn’t have the demarcation we have—of a world before cell phones and then after. It was always there for them. So it’s not a novelty. And thus has less power.”
After reading Boyd, I read Lanham—and I started to grind my teeth. So let’s return to Lanham's The Electronic Word in a moment, and touch base with Craig Stroupe’s “Visualizing English.”
Ahhhhh, the Croupester, my new hero!
Although I have to admit, I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around “Elaborationalism”—I’m working under the assumption that it means an almost cross-disciplinary examination of input: that ideas are valid no matter their source (whether, say, a 1960s Godzilla movie or a flick by Godard; that as long as those ideas, philosophies and examinations are fresh and original, it doesn’t matter if it comes from the Kirov Ballet or the comics of Jack Kirby—and if I’m wrong, back to the drawing board! Heh…Oh, boy…)
But I love Croupe’s statement (on p609) about us reexamining “our customary distinctions…about literacy”—which I interpret as “No more hiding behind verbiage! No more marginalizing!” For example, S.E. Hinton’s Rumble Fish, Richard Stark’s The Hunter and Lawrence Block’sSuch Men Are Dangerous—all considered “pulp trash” by snobs—are as equal existential tomes as Camus’ The Stranger and Camilo Jose Cela’sThe Family of Pascual Duarte. (And all these five books are great reads, honestly. I love ’em all and have read them each at least three times, and can’t recommend them enough.)
With Croupe, I will wind up only repeating/revising what (I think) he says, so let’s move on to the more problematic Mr. Richard Lanham…
The Futurists were obsessed with flightAt first I was psyched by his mentioning of Marinetti—I love those Italian Futurists (example of their style of painting at right), even if they were a tad too close to Mussolini and il fascista for any thinking being’s taste, but such is life…
Anyway, regarding Lanham: I agree with his substance—and appreciate his comments regarding the computer’s ability to change our perspective on perspective, but not his style—I love that non-linear modern computer/internet usage may have evolved out of the paradigm-destroying efforts of Modern and Pop Art, but I just can’t stand a namedropper!
Or rather, Lanham uses so many examples of “High Art” to buttress his points that it seems like he’s trying to suck up to the Power Structure, to convince Peggy Guggenheim and the Board of Directors of MOMA that computers aren’t the drab and dull tools of those nerds and grinds at IBM, but also that the computer isn’t going to be too much in the grubby, dirt-stained hands of the hoi polloi and great unwashed—he’s an apologist saying the computer will be “hip” and something you can invite to the cocktail party. And that bugs me!
Even more important: despite all the namedropping, Lanham is writing in 1993, yet manages to forget to mention that in 1985, Warhol (whom Lanham namedrops) saw one of the first Apple Computers at John Lennon’s house and fell in love with it. Meanwhile, Lanham also forgets to mention Concrete Poetry!
Sigh…I guess everybody forgets Concrete Poetry…
That said, because of personal biases, I found Lanham’s arguments to be less substantive than they actually are, and in fact undermining the good points he brings up.
In conclusion: I feel we are well on our way towards a critical and creative rethinking of how an English class is supposed to go, although I refuse to claim any specific direction yet. I’m still processing this info! (And should probably reread all three essays assigned...)
The already-mentioned existential crime thriller The Hunter was eventually made into a film, 1967’s quasi-psychedelic neo-noir (and highly recommended; it's a favorite of mine) Point Blank, directed by John Boorman (also the director of Deliverance) and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. Here’s the trailer:

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