Dromospheric pollution on the information superhighway
“From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”Land, 2006
Dromology. I like the shapes the mouth has to form to produce the word. There’s something about how it’s all centred towards the front of the mouth that I like, and the particular way the combined movements of the jaw, lips and tongue control the escapes of air as the rhythm of the syllables are uttered. Especially if you say it slowly…But that’s about the only likeable thing about it, and, it isn’t about slowness. In fact, in a dromotological landscape stopping to consider how a single word feels as it is spoken, and other such contemplations, could become obsolete. Unless perhaps you’ve read it in a meme or seen it on a GIF. I’ll explain more about dromology in a minute.
On my MA this week we’ve been looking at ‘connectivism’. It’s presented as a contender for a learning theory relevant to harnessing opportunities afforded by 21st century technology. The original proponent was George Siemens (2004). An early guru of the still rapidly emerging online learning scene. Siemens talks about the ‘half life of knowledge’. That is to say, how quickly knowledge becomes obsolete. Siemens quotes Gonzalez (2004) as putting it at a 10 year half life. He goes on to quote the American Society of Training and Documentation in saying that “Half of what is known today was not known 10 years ago. The amount of knowledge in the world has doubled in the past 10 years and is doubling every 18 months”.
That was in 2004. It’s hard to imagine what that stat would be now, although, as I write this out my attention is caught by the use of the word ‘knowledge’. I can’t help but wonder if it should read instead ‘access to knowledge’. Or perhaps better still ‘access to information’?
Siemens saw that a new form of learning was already emerging and sought to establish a framework under which this could be defined and developed. This became connectivity. I like that connectivity is based on principles drawn from chaos, network, complexity and self-organisation theories. There’s also a fair sprinkling of constructivism in there. The learner as central in the process of decision making, choosing what to learn and valuing diversity all sound great. However, the shifting reality of information acceleration and access to wider communities places the emphasis on the principle that “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (p.5). In other words, the quest is on to acquire more information as fast as possible. A guiding principle for this is that focus is on how to access and filter information in order to remain current and up-to-date. This is described as ‘currency’ within connectivism. But how can those judgements be made if what you know already is given no value?
Decisions are based on rapidly shifting foundations. This currency is achieved, in Siemens’ theory, by networking. Connecting to a series of learning communities seen as ‘nodes’ or information sources, which can also be ‘non-human’. Siemens opens his conclusion with the somewhat concerning statement that “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today”.
What damage is it likely to cause I wonder if we are enticed to dissociate our present understanding and interpretations of the world around us in favour of an unknown coming our way? Be prepared by all means, but by looking away from the present and past surely we are relinquishing control of our futures? Arguments around connectionism abound both among my course colleagues in our forums, and in online debate. There’s a particularly good one to be read at the end of the Downs 2007 post What Connectivism Is. All of these debates seem to centre on the theoretical questions of whether or not connectivism can be considered a ‘learning theory’. I think this is a red herring and quite irrelevant in the scheme of things. It could perhaps better be described as a prediction of what learning would (has) become left to its own devices while the academic world ponder the theoretical frameworks.
As traditional academic establishments grapple with how to best exploit the constantly emerging phenomena that is technology, informal learning has exploded as we are bombarded with information. The incessant dings, buzzes, pings, chimes and etc that we now live with are testimony to our connectedness. Not only do these connections all too frequently distract us from the here and now, in order for us to deal with the continual input of information highly complex ideas have been reduced down to simplistic memes or GIFs. Siemens’ ‘nodes’ have self-formed throughout the connected world but the world has no foundation of knowing how to deal with it. Knowledge has become information and multitudes of connections based on human desire for different forms of capital and self-gratification have been formed. Collectively humanity doesn’t have the tools needed to filter the vast quantities of information. Nor does it have the resilience to manage the number of connections. Or grasp the meanings and implications of messages originating across cultures from such a diversity of experience and background. When such vast amounts of our time is consumed making and managing connections in order to process ever increasing quantities of information, where are we to find the time to delve beyond the superficiality of instantaneity? To think beyond the oversimplified meme? Where does the space for sense-making come in? My mind can’t help but wander back to the question of dromology…
Dromos is from the Greek meaning ‘race’ or ‘running’. The term “Dromology relates to an idea argued by theorists such as Virilio (1999; 2000) and Purser (2000). They say that one of the biggest challenges and ‘hazards’ of our era is the inexorable acceleration and compression of time as a direct result of our digitally connected lives, Land (2006, p. 1) describes it as “a defining characteristic of our society”
The theory of Dromology centres around the idea of compression of time and the associated impacts (as a result of technology)…
Virilio talks about a shifting of time perception from ‘chronological’ time, marked out by a horizontal trajectory of ‘before during and after’ to which humanity has previously related, to a new ‘chronoscopic’ phase of instantaneity where time is ‘vertically stacked’ and carries a sense of immediacy. Land (2006) argues that this immediacy leads to “the erosion of deliberation.” He quotes Virilio:
“For Virilio new digital technologies are the primary means of instantiating a globalised or, in his preferred phrase, a globalitarian reality. Drawing on Halévy’s (1948) Essai sur l’accelération de l’histoire, he argues that in this transformed reality citizens give up their understanding of the broader political context in which they have their being and in which their lives are conducted”
Land states that “From dromological perspectives puzzling paradoxes emerge. The massive proliferation of information leads not necessarily to greater understanding but potentially to disinformation and confusion. ‘The sudden multiplication of “points of view”’ heralds not diversity and difference but media-controlled conformity”
I wonder how he had this foresight in 2000 but it has sobering implications from where we’re sitting right now in history.
Interestingly, rather than seeing the online setting as the democratising platform its supporters promote, Virilio goes on to argue that digital environments discredit the value of action in the name of interaction, and that interaction is more of a ‘reactivity’. In total contrast to Siemens’ view he cites this as “eroding difference and diversity, and removing human prioritising and agency.”
Land follows this with Eriksen’s
“Six dysfunctional effects within an informational society:
- speed is an addictive drug
- speed leads to simplification
- speed creates assembly line (Taylorist) effects
- speed leads to a loss of precision
- speed demands space (filling in all the available gaps in the lives of others)
- speed is contagious – when experienced in one domain the desire for speed tends to spread to new domains.
- gains and losses tend to equal each other out so that increased speed does not necessarily even lead to greater efficiency.
In accordance with these effects, or principles, duration and continuity lose out whilst spontaneity and innovation (per se) win. Everything becomes, in principle, just as important as anything else and, as in Virilio’s observation, distance becomes bracketed. “
Purser further links this to the idea of our collective perceptions and sensibilities having been shaped by the evolution of communication media throughout history. Mostly this has been slow moving, bound by the realities of geographic space and the media of the time following a ‘before, during and after’ chronologic time pattern. McLuhan’s (1977) “The medium is the message” springs to mind – whereby the medium itself constructs a message that is disseminated into society. Similarly to Siemens, McLuhan believes that the medium is more important than the message itself. But, if we don’t understand the medium how can we possibly understand the message, much less begin to frame it? The current mass flow of information, the instantaneity of our current medium…what is the message being sent and how do we address this within society and learning?
There are concerns over a number of “post-modern forms of malaise” brought on by the shift from chronological to chronoscopic time, where instantaneous consumption and production are the rulers. “The shift from chronological to chronoscopic time involves a radical change in temporal orientation, and the very means by which we make sense of our lives. Chronoscopic time signals an intense compression. The extensive time of history, chronology, and narrative sequence implodes into a concern and fixation with the real-time instant. What used to comprise a narrative history—sense-making based on a knowledge of the past, present and future–contracts into the buzz of a flickering present.” (Land)
Speed has always equalled power and Virilio (1999) points out that today nearly all technologies are operating at the speed of light, no more ‘before during and after’ as it all becomes present. If we are to take Virilio’s (1999, p.15) premise that “Speed is power itself” does that make us all into superheroes? No, because although Erikson (2001) argues that fast time will always drive out slow time and like Virilio points out that our history has been based on acceleration, in my view we haven’t evolved fast enough to cope with the current speed of change, or not cope well at least. The problem is that thanks to having speed of light communication at our fingertips we might feel like superheroes but we aren’t. And there lies the disconnect.
Purser in “The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” (2000) looks at how technology is shifting us from chronological time towards chronoscopic time and the impacts it can have.
There is much here for us to be mindful of both as educators and as part of society as we see the effects of dromology being enacted. How do we then harness the enormous potential offered by modern technologies without allowing the Information Super-Highway to run us into a state of crisis? I do prefer the somewhat slower rhizome based learning eco-system described by Cormier, yet still the learner is fully adrift. Engestrom’s Intentional Enquiry goes some way towards addressing that, but to me the contradiction seems to be that you should find these hubs in which you can learn and contribute to learning but are essentially given no framework to support the decision making process. It’s altogether too easy for many to become lost.
As a student I don’t want to be told how I should learn. For example, I resent being ‘told’ to blog. As far as I can tell that is just one way of promoting the connectivist structure. One that has been latched onto by the academic community, but may not be my preferred way. I’m always lagging behind. Once I get stuck into something I want to get right in there, look at it from different perspectives, sit and contemplate it… and understand it. Is that so wrong? But what with the blogging, the forum discussions, the building connections and the next topic appearing on the syllabus horizon there is little opportunity for this to happen. We are asked to engage briefly then move on with little time to follow up or actually to really explore a subject in all its actual connectedness. So busy we are in the fast paced pursuit of fresh knowledge. It feels like study is in some ways simply promoting the ‘magazine mentality’ of fleeting, surface-scraping information that we then re-label as knowledge.
What exactly then are our responsibilities as educators? Nearly two decades have passed since technology as we now know it started to emerge as an unavoidable feature of our lives yet we are still trying to figure this out. Surely it’s time we got a grip on ourselves and start looking at what is actually here now instead of trying to re-imagine and mould it into a future that will only continue to morph and change to its own rhythms regardless? Would it not instead be more useful to engage in a series of activities designed to support the learner through a thorough exploration of the options available, the types of connections and situations that might be encountered and how to negotiate these and seek out the most useful experiences? An opportunity, for example, to co-create with course colleagues and tutors a framework of parameters drawn from personal experiences on how to deal with shifting realities, which could then be passed on to our own future learners? How to filter information, make the right decisions and choices and how to capture these processes? How to actually respond to evolving experiences not simply engaging in ploughing on through an out of date pre-determined syllabus regardless of what is occurring in the world around you? Why are we still bickering over learning theories and who is right or wrong when it’s been long acknowledged that every person will learn differently and will learn different things in a variety of ways depending on the subject or skill? Why are we not just supporting each learner to understand how to best achieve that for themselves? If formal education is to survive, should it’s aim become to support students to be better self-directed learners? Effective self/directed learning doesn’t mean just letting go of our students and seeing what happens. It means understanding who can be ‘let go’, when and how. What scaffolding they might need to help them on their way. It might also mean helping our students to find a balance. A point where they can pull back from the power rush kick provided by operating at the speed of light and back into chronological time. Back into a time frame away from instantaneity, where they can learn to appreciate the sensations created by a word being uttered and other similar delights.
Downes, S. (2007) WHAT CONNECTIVISM IS, Half An Hour, [Online]. Available at https://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html (Accessed 18 April 2020).
Kop, R. and Hill, A. (2008) Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, vol. 9, no. 3, [Online]. Available at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523 (Accessed 18 April 2020).
Land, R. (2006) Networked Learning And The Politics Of Speed: A Dromological Perspective, Glasgow, University of Strathclyde [Online]. Available at http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/past/nlc2006/abstracts/pdfs/P16%20Land.pdf (Accessed 16 March 2017).
Nerdwriter1 (2015) The Medium Is The Message, [Online]. Available at https://youtu.be/gCr2binb4Fs (Accessed 18 April 2020).
Purser, R. (2000) The Coming Crisis In Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis, San Francisco, [Online]. Available at http://online.sfsu.edu/rpurser/revised/pages/DROMOLOGY.htm (Accessed 15 March 2017).
Siemens, G. (2005) Http://Www.Elearnspace.Org/Articles/Connectivism.Htm, ITDL.org.
Virilio, P. (1989) WAR AND CINEMA The Logistics Of Perception, London & New York, Verso [Online]. Available at https://www.academia.edu/9698260/WAR_AND_CINEMA_The_Logistics_of_Perception_PAUL_VIRILIO_Translated_by_Patrick_Camiller (Accessed 15 March 2017).