I’m going to be honest in parsing my thoughts on Gardner Campbell’s “Cyberinfrastructure” essay: the whole time I was reading, I was thinking, Are you sure this is a student’s top priority?
We are all involved in this course, ds106, because we already have an interest in digital identities & the intricacies of online architecture involved in building those identities from the ground up. I have no clue how many taking this class are students & how many are educators, but from a scan of the posts so far it seems like a very tech-minded bunch, with simply curious folks scattered throughout. I’m somewhere in the middle, leaning probably 70-30 away from the techy mindset. This means that for the first half of Gardner’s essay, I was completely lost & my brain all but shut down. I skimmed the code language & tech jargon until I made it to his plea for a freer student body allowed to construct domains & futures on their own.
Obviously, I love this idea. I created this domain name 2 years ago from a blog I started 4 years ago, at first to have fun experimenting with online identities and at Groom’s insistence, & eventually dug in to make it my sole online space. No Facebook, no Twitter. Just a Google search away from one name – mine – being connected to a plethora of messy thoughts & nonsense. I doubt very highly, however, that this is a path down which every student at a university wants to go.
I went to a small university – the more bitter & bright professors refuse to call it a university to begin with – with a little over 4,000 students. In four years I got to know hundreds of people from a wide range of interests & departments. I would say that in my experience the students most interested in doing work on blogs, on Twitter, on any digital space for a class were focused pretty densely in the ELC – English, Language, Communications – department. My friends studying economics, psychology, business, mathematics, photography… a lot of them didn’t know what to do with a required blog component, & resented it.
In no way AT ALL is this to say that I as an English major, or any other student in ELC, was more advanced or more open to technology. It’s college, after all. I knew one person total without a Facebook at the time. Twitter will never be cool for twentysomethings, but everyone used Wikipedia for everything & blogs felt inherent. Everyone knew what they were doing. I am saying, though, that a small group’s insistence on the benefits & magical wonder of online identities doesn’t mean that my generation would automatically prefer their own website over Blackboard. Would it be more exciting & easier & ultimately – in the real world – more beneficial? In most cases, probably. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that just because technology comes easy to kids my generation – I’ll be 23 on Monday – that doesn’t mean we all want technology for everything.
What do we like? We like connecting with people. We like spying on people. We like cracking one liners. We like things to be pre-built & convenient to navigate. While I certainly like the idea of experimentation & exploration online, I don’t think the majority of my peers do. We go with trends, & we buck requirements. That’s been true for every generation, & it always will be. I am absolutely all for the option of certain departments adopting domains for their courses & educating students on why it will be exciting & important to have their own online space. What I don’t like is the overhanging idea that students will like it just because they’re always online anyway.
It feels assumptive to me, in the same way The Social Network assumes a metaphor on my generation based on a boring story. I love & understand the concept of a condensed digital identity; I just don’t think it should be automatically assumed that everyone else my age does as well.
This is hardly an argument, & I wrote as I thought so there are probably a million loopholes I’m missing. I think it’s a conversation worth having, though, & early on rather than later. Where’s the average student’s voice here? Have an economics or business or anatomy student function through classes with their own domain – bring in someone who’s adverse to the idea from the start – & take feedback from them. If you can convince the ones who dislike the idea, you’re a mile closer than if you convince any of us in this class.