#tiebc Chapter 3

What happens in an internet minute?

I was shocked by how much the data use has changed in a single year. I used a similar graphic last December that showed four times LESS Google searches per minute world wide, three times fewer hours of Youtube uploads, and three times fewer of the amount of Skype use. Now, it has been updated again! See below:

Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think Chapter 3: Public Thinking tells us that 3.6 trillion words pass through cyber space via emails and social media per day, equivalent to 36 million books. I was shocked to learn that the U. S. Library of Congress only holds 35 million books. In total! The author describes a controversy where some people claim that texting and our rampant use of quick Internet publishing tools is wasteful and producing “crap” (Sturgeon’s Law). People reminisce about poetic prose and reference flowery print in archived letters and diaries from golden ages long past, and then look upon the excess of “writing” online with sadness. Thompson’s note that our literacy in North America has focused primarily on reading (consumption) rather than writing (creation) is a profound observation. It reflects the current shift in education, where teachers are trying to move with their learners away from consuming content online, Googling for information; to content creation – publishing, reflecting, commenting, and participating in the Global community. By the very nature of the internet, our access to this wealth of writing is voluntary. New authors are emerging, and we can read and respond to their content, or navigate away. Previously, we had to deeply invest: we had to travel to the library or we had to purchase the book and that cost often meant sticking with something that we may not actually enjoy. Our very act of landing on an online page raises the site statistics for that piece of content.

One of the points that the author makes in this chapter is that we write online with the expectation that someone will read it. This terrifies me! Especially as I craft this into a blog post. I still hesitate to publish my posts, and I draft more posts than I publish. I found it reassuring to read on to discover that writing for an audience helps to clarify your thinking. Writing publicly, expressing your thoughts publicly, requires you to validate your arguments, to bolster your facts and to address your assumptions. This is all true, but it also feeds self-doubt. Thompson goes on to tell us that once we make our thinking public, connections take over. I guess that one of the hopes of most bloggers is to start a conversation. Sometimes these conversations can take an unexpected turn, as shown by one teacher who attempted to show her students the power of posting an image online, and it went viral and became a new meme. By thinking publicly, and sharing our stream of consciousness digitally as we evolve our ideas, we open a conversation with an unknown audience. We now have access to a connected world filled with willing discussion partners. In our face-to-face lives, we often surround ourselves with people who affirm our way of thinking, and by venturing into the digital realm we open ourselves to new perspectives, opposing opinions and possible pushback. A scary and exhilarating thought! (especially as I consider posting my thinking online, yet again…)

A new skill that Thompson calls “cognitive diversity”, is where a thinker must decide when to make an idea public, and when to let it slowly simmer privately. The risk in making your ideas public might be in the question of “ownership” of ideas. Many online thinkers are extremely polite and careful with tracing original authorship of ideas and giving proper credit. However, I watch my students every year use Google Images indiscriminately to gather resources for their work. But, often an image on a website might be there by permission of the photographer and the rights are located somewhere else. The free exchange of ideas and images on Twitter can make it difficult to give credit where it is due, but courtesy dictates that we must make the effort.

Thompson describes a history filled with missed connections: the development of penicillin, for example. Discovered in the mid 1890’s by a medical student after listening to the stable boys’ methods of healing saddle sores on horses. But, because the medical student (Duschesne) was young and unknown, his discovery was not accepted. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was working with the same mold used by the saddle boys and discussed in Duschesne’s work when it destroyed his own research with bacteria. He did not see the value in it, and it took ten years and two other scientists to uncover the healing possibilities of this mold. Who owns the credit?

Another idea that resonated with me from this chapter was how our “pauses” in a digital conversation are so different from talking face to face. This makes sense, it is rude to walk away in the middle of a sentence, but the nature of an online asynchronous conversation grants us the space to ruminate on how we wish to respond. It is not rude to step away from a digital conversation and rejoin at a later hour, a later day. We also juggle MANY conversations at once in our modern lives: several streams on Twitter, a few private DM conversations, some individual or group texts and a variety of other updates to keep our people informed. The privilege of taking time to pause in our public thinking might be the only thing helping us to keep our sanity!

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