New Distance Learning Essay

February 2, 1995

Another Distance Learning essay so soon? Well, OK. here it goes.

I was more comfortable with the camera the second week, but still felt that the influences on the class and discussion were the same. The camera objectifies the person, even in their physical presence. We stare at the screen of Berkeley students while failing to interact among ourselves. We forego the "real" for the virtual presence from California.

I enjoy seeing and talking with the students from Berkeley. We've had much intelligent input from them, and there's always the enjoyment of novelty. But I have to ask, has this technology brought in any resources that we wouldn't have had otherwise? We seem so very much alike, the two groups. We have no major differences of point of view, at least none that have been expressed so far, none that would stimulate a spirited discussion and exchange of ideas. I'd like to see the technology used to bring together people of widely divergent opinions instead of two basically homogeneous groups. Confrontation can be enlightening. World War II veterans facing revisionist historians over the Enola Gay.

We skirted the issue Martha in Ann Arbor raised. She was unimpressed that everyone needs their own World Wide Web page, and someone on the Berkeley side thought everyone should be contributing. I would have liked to have seen that issue threshed out. It has been implied that people who are not interested in being interactive with the media are "passive consumers," that somehow the virtual reality is reality. Is the person who's working a job, raising a family, involved in school, church, and civic groups in their community a passive consumer because they don't want to interact with their TV, their entertainment medium?

We here at the universities are pretty isolated in our fascination with technology. I think the great "silent majority" has given the information superhighway a glance and a big yawn. I don't see the poor out there clamoring for lap top computers and Internet hookups. We can't even come up with the money to teach our kids to read. Academia loves the new technology. The media adores it. But the average American? It's entertainment. Are we doing the technology because we can do it?

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