Digital Natives

Donskis, Leonidas 2005. George Orwell: The anatomy of fanaticism and hatred. In: Baranova, Jūratė (ed.), Contemporary Philosophical Discourse in Lithuania. Lithuanian Philosophical Studies IV. Washinton: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 71-95.

The quest for enemies and the invention of adversaries may be said to have been Orwell's major themes that permeated his fiction and political essays. He penetrated the politics of organized hatred that resulted from the phantoms and forgeries of the modern troubled imagination as nobody else in modern literature and philosophy. (Donskis 2005: 71)
Specifically, the invention of goldsteinism and the three minutes of hate directed at Goldstein's bleeting face.
By "nationalism" I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled "good" or "bad." But secondly - and this much more important - I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its itnerests. [...] By "partiotism" I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people (Orwell 1970: 155-156)
Citation: Orwell, George 1970. Notes on Nationalism. In: Orwell, George (ed.), Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. By these definitions I am neither a nationalist nor a patriot. I am not an estonian, I am a person from the internet.
If the liberal facet of nationalism implies the critical questioning of one's society and culture, patriotism, in most cases, is a kind of attachment to, and identification with, a certain country, its territory, history, landscape, language, and symbols of power. This sort of attachment and identification usually is devoid of any critical approach. The principle "my country, right or wrong" may well be said to have always been the quintessence of patriotism. (Donskis 2005: 74)
Sounds about right. The common local rhetoric is "fatherland borne and raised me, [for this] I will always be thankful and stay true to you until I die" (loosely translated from the national hymn).
Whereas a nationalist would criticize sharply any deviation from what he or she assumes as the moral substance of the object of his devotion or her commitment, a patriot would insist that no fact or event could prevent him or her from keeping fidelity to his or her country. Any form of government or political regime, in the patrior's perception, is an inalienable part of his/her country, and as such has to be supported. Loyalty to it is as necessary as opposition to those who too critically judge it or those who do not wish it well, both from within and from without. Therefore, the dividing line between small-scale, timid, and apologetic patriotism on the one hand, and imperial attachment to, and identification, with the territory as a symbol of the crown or of majestic history, i.e., Landespatriotismus on the other might not be as sharp as Orwell imagined it. Both rest on a vague territorial sentiment and a loosely bound idea of superiority of one's country over the rest of the world. Both reject critical perspective in viewing one's country, which is perceived as an object of pride and of defense against those wishing it ill, rather than as an embodiment of a link between moral imagination and a social relaity. (Donskis 2005: 74-75)
"Loose" is an exact qualifier. As far as I understand it, the Finnish hymn for example is about how there is luckily no gold in Finland so no one is keen to invade, yet for some reason it it "the land of gold" for fins themselves.
Nationalism, if it operates in a liberal-democratic setting, does prevent us from ideological and political fanaticism, not to mention myriad travesties of human attachment, loyalty, collective memory, and collective sentiment. After all, our attachment to our culture, language, and landscape is among fundamental human needs. If we lose the primary object of our love and attachment, or if we are deprived of it, we will transfer out loyalty. We will find a new object of attachment elsewhere. It can be another country to which we will attach an alternative, no matter whether real or imaginary - a revolutionary political program or a dissenting religion or a rival civilization or an opposing value-and-idea system. (Donskis 2005: 79)
Well, for me it seems to be an imaginary alternative - the "I'm from the Internet" meme which characterizes the World Wide Web affiliation - I may be physically here but I have as little to do with the here I'm at as possible.
If people deny their primary linguistic and cultural identity, they have to forge a new one. If they feel that they had lost or had not found yet their homeland, they will search for one somewhere else. If they abandon an earthly homeland as such, they are condemned to fabricate an ideology as a substitute for one. Suffice it to recall a most telling hint that Marx drops concerning the proletarian, who has no homeland by definition. The proletarian's guiding principle and salvation come from the otherworldly reality, since he or she represents the home-free class with no attachment to bourgeois/this-worldly values and traditions. This sort of ontological placelessness, cultural homelessness, and historical rootlessness logically lead to an assertion that they have nothing to lose in this world. Instead, they have Communism, which is their real homeland. In fact, it might be suggested that this is much of a modern travesty of early Christianity with its idea of the populus Christianum, i.e., the people in Christ, or a spiritual ensemble of human individuals who become so insofar as they meet in christ. (Donskis 2005: 80)
This is exactly what I mean - "People from the Internet", or a virtually interconnected ensemble of human individuals who communicate by means of the www.
It should never be forgotten, however, that such global, all-embracing and exclusive ideologies as National Socialism and Communism functioned as secular religions. (Donskis 2005: 86)
I was not aware that this expression - it certainly makes comparison with religion simpler to know that this phrase can be used.
Orwell's mistrust for intellectuals, as we shall see, reaches its climax in his portrayal, in 1984, of the character O'Brien, a sinister mental technician dwelling far beyond good and evil, Oceania's top specialist in brainwashing and indoctrination, and a modern equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor. (Donskis 2005: 86)
An apt description.
The image of an enemy restores our faith in ourselves as capable of supporting the right cause, the holy cause, the righteous and virtuous as against the vicious, spoiled, and incomprehensible. An enemy is what we can place beyond our reach of understanding. In so doing, we identify what is beyond our reach and understanding with what is uncertain inside us. At this point, hatred always comes from our self-contempt and self-hatred. Our enemies are nothing other than what we hate in ourselves the most, and what we externalize, projecting it onto the most familiar, though the least comprehensible, idiom of otherness. (Donskis 2005: 88)
I like the bit about understanding, because it implies that if you are able to understand everyone then you have no enemies.

Prensky, Marc 2001. Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon 9(5): 1-6.

Our students have changed radically. Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. (Prensky 2001: 1)
Of course someone was bound to blurt this out (in italics) sooner or lates, at today's youth is undoubtedly different from the pre-internet youth.
Today's students - K through college - represent the first generation to grow up with this new technology. They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all other toys and tools of the digital age. Today's average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and isntant messaging are integral parts of their lives. (Prensky 2001: 1)
I'm suspecting the 10,000 hours thing has something to do with Malcolm Gladwell.
It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today's students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. "Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures," says Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine. As we shall see in the next installment, it is very likely that our students' brains have physically changed - and are different from outs - as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. I will get to how they have changed in a minute. (Prensky 2001: 1)
Well, my own case - this blog here - is an example of this. Before information technology such quote-and-comment presentation would have been extremely demanding or even impossible; I do it as a matter of course because for me it is simple. But it also implies that I do not have to memorize everything that I read and I don't fuze everything into my own thinking. Rather I create associations and mark them down as comments. Later when I need the information I can revisit the association and use the quoted text in my texts with exact citations. The downside is that I seem to have little if any original ideas and the text that I create seems more like a fabric of quotes than a natural line of thought.
What should we call these "new" students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-. But the most useful designation I have found for them is Digital Natives. Our students today are all "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. (Prensky 2001: 1)
I am a digital native, but in the sense that I was acquainted with it by the age of 10 and grew so fascinated with information technology that I even studied it officially (vocational school since the age 16).
So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital world but are, at some later point in their lives, become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital Immigrants. (Prensky 2001: 1-2)
It sounds like "digital age" is a place.
There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having your secretary print it out for you - an even "thicker" accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL). I'm sure you can think of one or two examples of your own without much effort. My own favorite example is the "Did you get my email?" phone call. Those of us who are Digital Immigrants can, and should, laugh at ourselves and our "accent." (Prensky 2001: 2)
We're so accostumed to the digital technologies already that these seem like very antiquated examples - surely no one prints emails?
Lest this perspective appear radical, rather than just descriptive, let me highlight some of the issues. Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to "serious" work. (Prensky 2001: 2)
The note on information retrieval speed is important. I have at times felt during lectures that whatever the lecturer is going on about could be summed up into a paragraph of text with links to specific articles and webpages.

Schrems, John J. 1967. Ernst Cassirer and Political Thought. The Review of Politics 29(2): 180-203.

In the first chapter of the Essay on Man Cassirer sketched the history of man's knowledge of himself - "the highest aim of philosophical inquiry." The path traces man's gradual approach to freedom, but ends in what Cassirer calls the crisis of our age: the "loss of intellectual center." We have achieved a complete anarchy of thought in which each individual thinker gives his own picture of human nature and of culture. (Schrems 1967: 180)
Seeing as the situation Cassirer describes is that of his own lifetime, this probably doesn't translate to modern times.
The history of man's knowledge of himself, culture, is a history of man's progressive self-liberation. (Schrems 1967: 181)
But this is exactly what anarchy esposes: self-liberation.
Man's social consciousness depends upon a double act, of identification and discrimination. Man cannot find himself, he cannot become aware of his individuality, save through the medium of social life. But to him this medium signifies more than an external determining force. Man, like the animals, submits to the rules of society but, in addition, he has an active share in bringing about, and an active power to change, the forms of social life. (Cassirer 1944: 223)
This is from An Essay on Man (New Haven, 1944) and is comparable to the notion of homo duplex in Durkheim.
Kant's new and distinctive attitude towards life is one in which man achieves his distinctive dignity by "creating" freedom. Freedom, for him, is "a special kind of determinism" according to which "the laws which we obey in our actions is not imposed from without but ... the moral subject gives this law to itself." Freedom is given by the subject to himself. (Schrems 1967: 187)
Very much the same suggestion propounded by Berdyaev in relation with power.
...the greatest problem for the human race and the greatest concrete task placed before it become the attainment of a universal law administering civil society; i.e., a society which is not founded on a mere relationship of might, a relationship of rulers and ruled, but which considers every one of its members as an end in itself, as a free agent who participates in the constitution and administration of the whole and who to that extent heeds the laws only because he has given them to himself. (Cassirer 1932: 540)
This is from "Kant" in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. VIII. [archive] and I tend to agree - I don't feel that I am rightfully obliged to follow the letter of the constitution [põhiseadus] as I have not had any say in it.
According to Cassirer, after Machiavelli's revolutionary but liberating blow only two paths are possible for men to follow: either the enslavement of totalitarianism which is the logical term of splendid wickedness, or the freedom of natural right which counterbalanced Machiavellism. For Cassirer, the first alternative is unthinkable; it is contrary to the highest aim of philosophy and human culture, that is, self-knowledge and self-liberation through self-realization. (Schrems 1967: 188)
Meritorious statement.
Cassirer intended a philosophy of culture which, while aware of the "various powers of man," does not lose sight of "humanity." In the philosophy of symbolic forms the various powers of man, seen in language, art, religion, science, are "looked upon as so many variations of a common theme." This common theme of "symbolic expression" is the "common denominator of all [of man's] cultural activities: in myth and poetry, in language, in art, in religion, and in science." Such a philosophy of humanity looks not at the results of the various human activities but at the "unity of action." What is sought is "not a unity of products but a unity of the creative process." Man in his activities "creates" myth, religious rites or creeds, works of art, scientific theories. (Schrems 1967: 191)
An outline of Cassirer's philosophy of culture.
The clue to the nature of man is "the symbol." "Hence, instead of defining man as an animal rationale, we should define him as an animal symbolicum." Here we have a profoundly new concept of man. He is an animal symbolicum who builds up his own world. "Symbolic thought ... overcomes the natural inertia of man and endows him with a new ability, the ability constantly to reshape his human universe." (Schrems 1967: 192)
Alas the well-known homo symbolicum.
With this understanding there is found a "clue of Ariadne," the philosophy of symbolic forms, which can lead us out of the labyrinth of our "mass of disconnected and disintegrated data" concerning human nature. Myth and religion, language and art, science and history, previously considered "disparate and heterogenous" are, with a philosophy of symbolic forms, "one subject." They are different roads leading to a common center." (Schrems 1967: 192)
In a similar vain nonverbalism unites disparate and disconnected sets of knowledge into one unity concerned with human behavior.
In the process of man's progressive self-liberation in the creation of culture, religion becomes less and less important. (Schrems 1967: 197)
Worthy of being an epigraph.


Post a Comment