As Nicholas Carr began his book The Shallows with a brief autobiography, I too feel it is appropriate to tie in my story.
When I was six years old I started writing in journals. I meticulously submitted entries with the dates written at the top and details of the days’ events flushed out below. When I was in middle school I started writing poetry and kept a diary of poems that captivated my joys and frustrations of the teenage years. In high school I took great pleasure in my essay assignments and invested myself wholeheartedly in the arguments I crafted through my words. My advancement in writing seemed to align with what Carr wrote on drawing “what we see to drawing what we know” (p. 40). Everything I wrote was handwritten thought. I hated computer classes and could not type for the life of me. At times I would actually have my mom type my papers for me.
When it came time for me to think of college and what major I was going to pursue I naturally thought of writing. My father told me a degree in writing did not hold much employment opportunity and convinced me to major in journalism. As I was preparing to leave for college, I got my first cell phone with texting, a Facebook page (to replace my AOL profile) and a MacBook Pro laptop (required by my program). I was about to find out, “as McLuhan suggested, media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought” (p. 6).
As soon as I went to college my laptop became my lifeline. I defined myself through Facebook, scheduled every waking hour with iCalendar, became accustomed to email adrenaline rushes, and finally became rapid at typing. I started to see all the benefits of my fancy new tool, but also succumbed to its power. “The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences, It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master” (p. 4). This statement of Carr’s was a perfect description of the relationship between my laptop and me.
Engrained with the idea of increasing my marketability to future employers, I found my journalism classes frustrating because they seemed to limit my writing through the inverted pyramid and the question of where the journalism field was going kept being raised. I switched my degree to a new major being introduced the to school, Documentary Studies and Production. Although it sounds specific, it allowed me to take writing, photography, film and video classes thus increasing my skill set. I was beginning to realize what Carr made clear, “Once information is digitized, the boundaries between media dissolve” (p. 88). I was drawn to video production because I could share my work with others on a larger scale more easily and the creation of documentaries encompassed all media forms- visual, audio, and written.
While in college I found out about media literacy and became fascinated with the concept of thinking critically about all of the media surrounding me and how to teach others to do the same. After graduating I moved to Rhode Island to work with Renee Hobbs, a leader in the media literacy field and the founding director of a new communications school. While I was able to do several teaching gigs and assist with research, my main source of employment was serving as the website content manger for the URI communication school website. Going in with basic HTML5 coding, it was a whole new ballpark for me. Through numerous readings and website observations I learned how a website it designed, why information on a page is placed where it is, how to structure navigation, what search engine optimization means and how to achieve it. At the most basic level I learned how to get viewers to a site and to stay there. “The shift from paper to screen doesn’t just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it,” this statement begins to introduce the concept of ‘shallowness’ of online readers, something which I was trained to combat through design (p. 90). With all of this knowledge, I began to take on the objective of my job- to plan, structure, and build a new website for the school.
From this point I am not going to write further about the knowledge I gained but rather the processes (and tools) I used. I worked with a development team out of Philadelphia, which meant at least 80% of my work was online. I became a devoted customer to Google. I used Gmail, Google docs, Google spreadsheets, Google calendar, Google chat, Google maps, and of course sought out information with the beloved search engine. I was always on the clock- I woke up to the alarm of my iPhone and while laying in bed checked my email and iCalendar for meetings. I worked from home most of the time and struggled to refrain from going on Facebook or using the Internet for personal quests. I would continue to check my email right up until I went to bed always readying myself to make instant changes to the website per request. I was definitely afraid of Carr’s warning, “The mental skills we sacrifice may be as valuable, or even more valuable, than the ones we gain” (p. 35). Always in my mind was the question, what skills am I losing? I definitely performed many short tasks, jumping from one web page to the next, skimming through my emails nonstop, and always creating to-do lists full of mini tasks I was eager to check off.
Now, over a year later, the new website is up (http://harrington.uri.edu/). Looking at it miles away from the place where I created it I cannot help but think of Carr’s statement, “We can see the products of thought- works of art, scientific discoveries, symbols preserved on documents- but not the thought itself “ (p. 48). Looking at the site after reading this text I can see a resemblance between the two- my thought process and the site. It’s ever sprawling pages of text, photos, colors, and videos are abundant and stringed together with such thin links of navigation- single words at times. That’s how my process went… I had numerous projects going on at once that were barely tied together by the relations I made between them. Carr’s whole excerpt on the cartography really stuck out to me because in planning the site, we used web maps, which I found to be applicable everywhere Carr used the word ‘map.’ An example of where this is applicable is in the sentence, “The map is a medium that not only stores and transmits information but also embodies a particular mode of seeing and thinking.” (p. 41). From the production side, I see this to be very true, as I have described above.
“When we hand down our habits of thought to our children, through the examples we set, the schooling we provide, and media we use, we hand down as well the modifications in the structure of our brains” (p. 49). This statement is the one I want to conclude with. This is where education and the significance of our reflections come into play. Is this the first step, reflecting on our own behaviors before those of the students? Can we define exactly how we want the next generation to function? Should we fight to stay where we are- in a balance between old and new, print and digital? How do educators prevent students from what Plato wrote of in Phaedruswhere, “they will be ‘filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom’” (p. 54)? How do we develop pedagogies that stay on top of the rapidly changing technologies and resulting thought processes? All of these questions and so many more need to rise to significance in academia to address the changing society we live in.