Listening as an Act of Resistance
The most subversive idea you could have at a university these days is that you might think a few connected thoughts without throwing them into either publication or the attention economy. That you might think about things for the purpose of being a better human, without an aim to produce anything at all…
I’ve come to think that, in today’s world, one of the most valuable lessons we can give to students is…How to make a difference in the world while not being fully public…To have them look at their information environments not as vehicles of just self-expression, but as ways to transcend their own prejudices. To read and listen much much more than we speak.
…if we wish to do more than reinforce the rhetoric of the attention economy, we have to stop seeing that as some sort of peak activity. These skills aren’t a pyramid you climb, and creation is not a destination.
As an act of resistance against the way social media is designed to capture us in feeds and bubble us with what we already ‘like’, we need to teach our students how to read widely and deeply, encourage them to be curious and open-minded about the world, and to reclaim the act of listening to other people.
The Spectacle is above all empty. It fuels itself by the constant gulping down of everyone’s creative powers and ideas. It’s more desperate for your ‘radical subjectivity’ than any vampire or cop for your blood. It wants your creativity much more even than you want it yourself. It would die unless you desired it, and you will only desire it if it seems to offer you the very desires you dreamed, alone in your lonely genius, disguised and sold back to you as commodities.
The distance between a fart-noise soundboard app and Forbes has compressed almost to the point of indecipherability.
Without strong leadership steering these ships, we’re destined to continue down the path of deprivation. The pirates have taken over the fleet, and those with discipline and old-world skills are hidden away in enclaves, quietly existing on the resources available to them.
I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web…is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected.
…in a world consumed with the web as an expressive engine of identity, it’s worth it to imagine a countervailing technologies that help us not only express what we know and argue with others about it but ones that actually propel us, slowly over time, to unexpected insights and deeper thoughts.
…the tech you choose has consequences, and right now it seems to me the mix veers so far towards accretive identity-building that we are losing at least some of our capability to think about thoughts too nascent or controversial to post to our wall.
Creating content on the internet and actually owning all of that content and retaining complete control over that content is still one of the most culturally radical things one can do. Sure, the marketers of the world will tell you you’re wasting your time, but that is only if your horizon for meaningful impact in the world has shortened to the amount of time a news story remains in your social network feed. This is why link-rot has become an epidemic.
It used to be that the things we wrote in journals, the photographs we took, they would stack up on the shelf or accumulate in a box. House fires were the biggest threat against these artifacts of a working mind. Now the best worst-case is neglecting to pay a bill to some hosting provider. Most people are just throwing their best work to the feeds, street preachers on a corner with a million other street preachers.