I’m in ur nowlige, spukin’ ur mind.
This post is my first shot at developing the ideas that I want to talk about at the futures of education conference. I’ve spent bunches of my time recently writing and talking about communities and digital ecologies, and I thought I would do something a little different and talk about a specific case of how the new tools lead to new ideas of ‘knowing’ and how that could have a direct impact on education. I’m going to take a quick journey through the history of meaning making, and then talk a little about how specific tools can support things like cliches, memes and snowclones and what that means about learning and community belonging.
Why is belonging to a community important (or being in a network)?
I’m going to take it as given that most people who read this blog are going to believe that belonging to a community or network can be valuable. The most important learning i do is through the networks that I travel in. It is one thing to be able to find bits of ‘information’ on the internet(or have fun for that matter), but quite something different to be able to interact with people places and things all over the tubes. In order to do that, you need to understand what is going on in those communities… you need, in effect, to know how to adopt the given context. Many people have told us that in trying to become part of edtechtalk they need to ‘lurk’ for while to understand what is possible… what is allowed. They also take time to see how things ‘should’ be done. Knowing what to do in a community is essential for efficient membership. And, again, membership is key to learning deep things from a community or network.
How language plays a role
We have a running myth (or call it a shortcut) in the English language, that there are specific definitions for given words. When pushed on this issue, however, most of us will admit that, of course, those definitions change by context. I use the word ‘boat’ very differently at home among lobster folk than I use it around people who sail competitively. I also treat those boats very differently. The same could be said for the word house… or the word soup. Yes, most words that I’m using right now are quite standard, but if i used the word standardized, many educators out there might see a different implication. In his ‘Ancestor’s tale‘ Richard Dawkins talks about the difference between two different kind of gulls. They are situated as ‘different species’ but when you observe them in the wild, it’s more of a continuum from one bird to another… in some places it is not possible to tell them apart.
Knowing how a bit of language is used in a given context or community is key to membership there. If I called someone a soup nazi, or when someone says ‘get off my lawn’, there is a literal meaning and a much more important contextual meaning. It was, at one time, that only people like novelists and politicians (and the newspapers and ads through which they were reported) had the capacity of creating this kind of thing. Expressions like ‘now you’re cooking with gas’ and ‘where’s the beef’ came from advertisements and spread into modern culture. The one that comes to mind most often for me is “the lights are going out all over Europe and shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Thought provoking… and chilling… if you know the context.
Enter online communities – fark.com
I’ve been saying for months (maybe more) to anyone who will listen (mostly my cat) that I think that people like 40below are going to have as lasting an effect on the English language as any living novelist. This is going to be a little difficult to explain to someone who is not familiar with the website. Fark is a website where people from all over the world ‘submit’ weird news stories, with funny replacement headlines. 40below (who’s real name I don’t know) is responsible for 5155 ‘greens’ on fark.com. Those ‘greens’ or accepted headlines, occasionally become the basis for a cliche or a snowclone.
Once this happens, the comment (or picture) then becomes a matter of lore to that community… like the soup nazi is to Seinfeld fans. This understanding of a contextualized concept can be key to understanding and joining any community.
Snowclones and cliches evolving
Just today I heard a snowclone in my office… (actually i heard several today, my partner and I llove them) One of my office mates said “what happens in the office stays in the office.” A snowclone of the famous ‘what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas.’ We have many of these in our culture, but most of them come as lines in famous movies or ad campaigns. What we have happening now, is that communities are evolving these expressions in a fraction of that time. The information is being spread through new media tools, and communities of meaning are developing. The same is happening for cliches… as least in web usage of the term.
So what does this mean for education?
It’s an example of how ‘making meaning’ is changing. There was a time that study (and enough experience in modern culture) would give you access to most of the cliches used in modern discourse. What’s happening now, however, is that these new expressions and ways of speaking are developing everyday. What we need to do is teach strategies for discovering these expressions and learning how to adopt local community dialects online.
This is a single example of how teaching is going to be different. In this case, we need to teach the students the strategies needed to understand a new discourse, without knowing what that discourse is going to be. They are going to need to use their personal networks, need to use community driven sites like wikipedia… If they need to ‘break into’ a community to get a certain kind of information, they will need strategies… to learn how to be respectful, to suss out the rules in the new environment and MOST IMPORTANTLY, to then decide if this is the kind of place they should be getting information from.
Or they’ll be just like this guy 🙂