to not know the internet...

it's nearing the beginning of the fall semester here in the north east. new freshmen - whose parents look closer to my age with each passing year, and whose abundant energy oozes from each exposed appendage and inch of skin - are moving in. gone are the quiet campus days of summer, replaced instead by the discernable hum of "the undergraduate."

as i sat watching these barely-out-of-high-school teens meeting each other, getting past the awkward hellos and maneuvering the delicate dance of excitedly-but-not-too-excitedly saying good-bye to their parents, i was struck by a thought. (after a brief reminiscence of my own freshman move-in, of course)... it is 2005. in a few short years, a class of freshmen will enter college and it will be safe to say that they will not have known a day-to-day existence without the internet. it's an exciting thought, and one that reminds me of the first time, about six years ago, when i was visually overloaded with the exponential growth of cell phones as a common accessory.

what will the learning experience be like, i wonder, for college students who have routinely shifted between multiple communication, media and information technologies almost from birth? true, the realities of varied access to the internet across neighborhoods remains an issue - that is, not everyone is online. however, as i sat on a bench in the middle of campus, surfing online simutaneously for a pair of sneakers and articles about mcdonald's, i was excited by the thought that sitting on a bench surfing the web won't be a campus-only activity for long. cases in point: philadelphia and new york are both exploring plans to become wireless cities. of course wireless service providers aren't happy with the thought of losing revenue, but imagine the possibilities.

in a recently published, much-hyped book, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, the author, rebekah nathan (aka cathy small, an anthropology professor) spent her sabbatical conducting research by enrolling as a freshman at the university where she teaches. she was mainly interested in what it was like to be a freshman, taking five classes and managing all the other "stuff" that comes with this big life transition. what i wonder, and what i don't think nathan/small focused on explicitly (though i haven't read the book to say for sure), was what it means to be a freshman given the newly developed mediating practices of information gathering, synthesizing, etc. that come with increased access to a wider range of resources. and, is there a widening gap, as many claim, in who uses what to convey how...??

so, i return to my initial question, with a twist: what will it mean to be teaching students for whom the boundaries between "online" and "offline" are as artificial maraschino cherries?

1 comment:

Marc Lamont Hill said...

what an intriguing idea: maraschino cherries aren't real?????!!!???

also, i'm now pondering your quesiton. i remember when APPLE IIEs were the rage in Philly schools and the internet was just a seed in Al Gore's mind. given the pervasiveness of the internet and its literacies, i'm wondering if there's much difference between us and those freshman in terms of our "cyber-worldview"....