Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Something Wiki This Way Comes.

If you spend any time browsing the YouTube, you've probably seen the Media Ecological videos produced by Kansas State University Professor of Cultural Anthropology Michael Wesch. In his videos, Dr. Wesch focuses his camera on text written and re-written on pads of paper, computer screens or student flash cards. Reminiscent of the "Show Us Your Lark Pack" commercials of the 1960's, Dr. Wesch's camera leaps from pillar to post-it, constructing his critique out of a series of billboard announcements, classified ad notices and graffiti scrawls. Through a carefully scripted video bricolage Dr. Wesch constructs a narrative criticizing the current limitations of classroom pedagogy and exposing the true media environments that govern the Millennial Generation.


The persisting paradigm of most current classroom education is a remnant of the medieval academies where the curriculum consisted of a monk at a lectern reading from a sacred text while everyone in the class copied word for word at their desks. Education then consisted of making a copy of all "great" books for your own library. The model has survived into the industrial age because, if you add a series of bells and a rotation schedule, you prepare students to "graduate" from the classroom to the factory.

In the Information Age the Monkish/Assembly line mode of teaching is revealed as an arbitrary and perhaps counterproductive way to impart knowledge. As the mass media usurped the educational prerogative from the old school system, a student’s true learning occurred outside the classroom. This transformation was predicted over 50 years ago by Marshall McLuhan who noted that advertising was providing the epistemological foundations of our culture, moving pedagogical control from the classroom the boardroom. As computer-based new media supplant the mass media, the paradigm is shifting once again.

The techniques of print, billboard and mass media advertising are not adequate to create the new curriculum of the internet community, although many are trying to fit this square peg in that round hole. Searching for new "business models" to rationalize the internet, corporate advertisers think they can bend the aesthetics of the internet to the requirements of consumerism. The problem here is that advertising itself is a deadend epistomology where the transcendental characteristics of consumer products have determined the logic of our cultural narrative. As "one to many" product factories give way to "many to many" production communities, the product becomes subservient to the process, and narrative control shifts from the producer to the consumer.

As represented in his videos, Dr. Wesch is clearly a product of the advertising paradigm. Creating the content for the New Media out of the aesthetics of the old media, Dr. Wesch's videos owe more to print, billboard and mass advertising than to the wiki inspired internet. In twenty years his student subjects will create their own critiques that draw from the paradigms of instant messaging, wikis and media multi-tasking. We mass media suckled, advertising educated old-timers may very possibly find these millenial narratives incomprehensible.

1 comment:

Professor Wesch said...

I have been trying to post this at blogcritics.com, but askimet is blocking it (even when I take out the URLS):

I like the way this critique is headed, as I am deeply committed to exploring how to create a classroom built on a participation or wiki paradigm. You can see my current efforts at netvibes.com/wesch or go straight to the wiki at ksuanth.wetpaint.com. As you will see, what I do in the classroom is a bit different than what can be seen in my videos.

Your comments have forced me to think very deeply about how my videos could be more participatory, and it seems like there is actually a limit to the medium itself. For example, A Vision of Students today used a collaboratively created document for scripting (Google Docs), was collaboratively produced on the day of filming, but ultimately was edited by me working alone. We might have used something collaborative like Kaltura to edit, but it didn't exist yet. We then released it in a free and open way, allowing for remixes, etc. so that we could participate in a global conversation about what concerned us.

The limits of our video that you raise seem to be a limit of video itself. A video is by definition an object, a singular entitity, a single statement, and will never in itself be a conversation. It is a product, not a process, and therefore *any* video could be discounted by your "process over product" argument - even a video such as this one that actually shows the entire *process* of how it was created.

Given that, I think what you might be suggesting is that the next generation's narratives may not even be in video format. It will be too linear and pre-formulated for their tastes. "Narrative" itself will be questioned as too linear and a paradigm of "conversation" and "participation" will emerge. Could be. But I think there are social structural limitations to this type of idea. Everybody cannot participate with everybody. Some people will have more people watching them than they can ever possibly respond to, creating the need for them to step out of a flat conversation to make "statements," and create "narratives" that may take old-media forms such as blog posts and videos.