Sunday, January 15, 2012

Moving Beyond Injured Self-Esteem

A curiosity about the Web 2.0 world and what it means for literacy brought me to the MACT program; a world that I thought I had understood – communications – was changing in fundamental ways and I want to know how it works and even more so, why it works. 

Michael Wesch says in a blog post that "Learning a new subjectivity is often painful because it almost always involves what psychologist Thomas Szasz referred to as "an injury to one's self-esteem." You have to unlearn perspectives that may have become central to your sense of self."

(Subjects or Subjectivites?

This resonated with me - even learning to post on a blog this week had a learning curve. 

Transdisciplinarity is a necessity in our new media environment. It’s too new and novel and all encompassing to be held to the rigors of any one discipline and we need all the lenses we can find to come to terms with what it means – engineering, sociolology, psychology, physiology. How does hypertext work? What is the impact of smartphones on classroom? What is literacy today in a world where, as Wesch’s video points out – students might only read eight books but thousands of web pages in a year? What is the impact of giving iPads to infants with regard to their brain development? You can’t address these questions from only one viewpoint. 

The Holy Grail of transdisciplinarity in relation to new media shouldn’t be a singular discipline with rigid boundaries and the kind of arguments that occur in the social sciences as to whether people are sociologists, anthropologists or outsiders. The unified theory of new media should remain permeable; it’s the richness of perspectives that will help us understand a Web-based world that breaks down barriers between video and text and art and games and novels (thank you for the postings about Inanimate Alice, BTW). Also, using a variety of perspectives and analytical frameworks/disciplines to understand a phenomenon/giving equal weight to each. Complex problems and the challenges created by a world mediated through the Web means we have to come at the problems and challenges of communication from many different disciplines. We need to come at them from many perspectives in order to understand them.  

New media takes all the old media and turns them upside down, inside out and fractures our sensibilities about what they are. We simply can’t stand outside of what is happening and opine from one perspective. We are entering into a world of transliterates: “Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.” (Transliteracy Research Group – To understand what is happening, we need to understand what that means and how it intermingles with transdisciplinarity. 

Haraway wrote A Cyborg Manifesto in 1985 and was astonishingly prescient about what is happening. We are becoming the “hybrid of machine and organism” she described, with our smart phones in hand (and the promise of a new joint when the old one wears out). We are living in a time when we are constructing new reality all the time and the old lines between disciplines and ourselves and machines are merging and blurring, remixing in new ways.

In closing, I return to Wesch and want to share two quotes from his blog. 

  • “New media literacy, like all learning, requires an intellectual throw-down in the mind, a challenge of taken-for-granted assumptions, and a transformation of the self from a passive recipient to an active creator of new information, knowledge, and of the world itself.” (

  • “There is literally something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. ..nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these [class]rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.”


  1. Judith, thank you for sharing these Michael Wesch quotes in your post - they're certainly worthy of further thought. The second quote reminds me of a talk from Ken Robinson on changing education paradigms. He challenges the continuation of an education system based on a factory production model from the 18th C., which discourages divergent thinking and rewards only those who fit a particular learning style.
    This model, which champions the "top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher" that Wesch refers to, seems particularly antiquated in the face of the collaborative and participatory potential of new media in the classroom.
    This version of Robinson's talk comes with some wonderfully evocative animation:
    but I believe it also lives as a Ted Talk.

  2. Thanks Judith - an interesting post that has resonated with me. I feel sometimes that I have come 'kicking and screaming' into this new world of digital media and I moan every time I have a new user name and password to create. All kinds of learning curves going on. This blog, now a podcast - but I also signed up for these exact experiences.

    I think the psychologist you have quoted, Thomas Szasz, is correct when he says these changes are about those things in your life that were "central to your self-esteem." I came to the college because I felt I had experience and knowledge to share, and I do, but I am challenged every day to keep my knowledge current in this new media landscape that permeates everything I do, from how I teach, to what I teach.

    There is no hiding when you are in front of a classroom of digital natives. Forget self-esteem, or an authoritative teaching style in this environment. It needs to be collaborative.

  3. Lind and Kim, it's nice to know there are fellow travelers. It's daunting to confront ignorance about what everyone else seems to be effortlessly doing - but it's why I'm here, too. I watched Sir Robinson's talk - yes, very to the point. I completely bought into the academic/non-academic paradigm until we had a child whose brain is wired for his world, not mine, and I've had to rethink everything! It's made me a much better communications professional.

    The shift to an appreciation of the power of the group tackling a problem has been a real challenge, too. I grew up in a competitive environment where sharing an idea was cheating, as Robinson points out, or could lose you ground. Acting collaboratively isn't difficult; acknowledging the unease and moving beyond it is harder.