02.16 Patrick Lichty
A Culture of Cooperation
The distributed social structure of the Internet created an environment in which collective action and collaborative projects can flourish. Net art, blogging, RSS aggregators, open source, tele-performance, WIKI, netconferencing, and other movements allow a culture of cooperation which is unique to this period in time. How have these technologies changed previous paradigms of collaboration? Furthermore, how can distributed forms of interaction be used to create models of education that respond fluidly to the rapidly changing technoculture, and to place students in the presence of leading practitioners in any given field?
About Patrick Lichty:
Patrick Lichty is a technologically-based conceptual artist, writer, independent curator, and Executive Editor of Intelligent Agent Magazine. He has also collaborated as part of numerous collectives, including Terminal Time, The Yes Men, Haymarket Riot, ScreenSavers, and others.
Reflections on Schemas of New Media-Based Educational Models
Interview with Patrick Lichty (adjusted by Trebor Scholz)
As part of WebCamTalk1.0
Trebor Scholz: Who influenced your thinking about new-media art education?
Patrick Lichty: Henry Giroux’s ideas on radical pedagogy influenced me a great deal in terms of electronic communication in education. Although Giroux has not addressed new media per se, his thoughts on radical pedagogy as agent of social change have had an influence in terms of activist writings and media tactics. In this day and age when our rights to free speech are being imposed upon so badly, one must engage in media tactics in order to get a full range of ideas across.
What we see in the current mass media is what I would call 'tactical reality,' which is a highly subjective (or speculative), ideological form of reality that gets replicated until it reaches a point of mass acceptance. The question remains: Who shapes this information? Accuracy in reporting and accountability might have evaporated a long time ago, but these issues absolutely belong on the table of the new media educator. Earlier than any work with groups like The Yes Men, I was a member of a subversive pedagogy group called Haymarket Riot. My colleague Jon Epstein and I created multimedia and a series of music videos that dealt with postmodern sociology, similar to the old 'Schoolhouse Rock' genre but with a hard industrial track and 3D computer graphics. It had two purposes–- first, it was intended to test our theories on multimodal learning in light of early 90s media culture. And secondly, it got our message into the classroom. We distributed the tapes widely across universities in the United States. We just received feedback about these tapes a month ago, which was peculiar since the project had been dormant since 1999: people still respond to the questions about technological determinism that we posed.
Another crucial theoretical influence is the Brazilian philosopher Vilem Flusser. He distinguishes discourse from dialogue. In my reading of Flusser-- discourse is a unilateral transmission of information, building on prior dialogues. Conversely, dialogue is a multilateral exchange of ideas. Under this model, dialogue should generate more information and knowledge; it is a seed generator and feedback machine. The idea is that through the much more distributed/less hierarchical exchange of information there is the possibility for greater generation of ideas. Perhaps this is the principle that inspired the move from lecturer to facilitator in much of academia.
TS: Recently, there was an increased interest in notions of self-institutionalization, so called anti-universities, and 'free universities.' What can the self-contained institutional apparatus of the university learn from these 'collaboratories'?
PL: From a conversation with Steve Dietz about new terminology for emerging cultural forms several years ago I was inspired to use and play off Hakim Bey’s idea of the ‘Temporary Autonomous Zone’ (TAZ). Here, several individuals agree to create a brief social compact for a common aim. In Bey’s case, it refers to temporary communities like Burning Man, but in my conversation with Dietz (the Temporary Autonomous Taxonomy) my thought was to create ad hoc vocabularies for a given cultural situation to facilitate better understanding. I am arguing for temporary intellectual zones spinning off Hakim Bay's notion of the TAZ. I am thinking of a ‘Temporary Intellectual Zone’ in which groups might be able to create and exchange bodies of knowledge that can keep up with the rapid change of technoculture. These zones can address niche cultures that are so small that institutional organs like journals would not take notice. I am arguing for media such as micro- or on-demand journals, and communal electronic media like Wikipedia. These micro-institutions can manage rapidly changing aspects of culture while maintaining some legitimating functions to ensure the accuracy of their content.
In 'Speaking the Multimedia Culture' (University of Maryland, College Park; 1996) I addressed media literacy that encompasses multiple channels of media transmission/communication. Contemporary culture talks through media and metaphors across many more channels of information than ever before. Although this is not directly analogous to the Temporary Intellectual Zone, one could translate this concept into the potential need for expanded niche groups to address emerging social issues. At the same time there is the danger to drown in a sea of information. The speed of information creation and consumption could lead to a breakdown of the ability to process it. At that point, the acceleration of cultural production would perhaps lead to a form of ‘information paralysis’ far worse than what we witness already. Useful responses to this problem include information filters such as news aggregators for RSS feeds.
TS: Do you think that the productive sites outside the university are morphing faster than academia? A book in the academic publishing cycle, for example, takes about two years to get published. Online you can insert your contribution immediately into a peer-reviewed distributed debate.
PL: Absolutely. An unnerving aspect of culture is that private sector universities such as the University of Phoenix and Capella University seem to be pioneering much of the use of social software for learning, although much of it simply relies on adapted news servers and Microsoft Outlook. Their software is basic, but the systems under which they employ connectivity and asynchronous learning have been developed by trial and error over a period of years. The challenge in distributed learning is not technological but has everything to do with the implementation into social systems.
As a related note, it is interesting to see the shift in pedagogy from discursive to that of a team-centered learning facilitation approach. This model follows a move from the hierarchical top-down approach to a more distributed one in the classroom. This is another area where I am somewhat uncertain, as the obvious influence of the private sector is obvious here, but the team approach towards learning seems to have some real strengths. I am curious about the long-term effects of this methodology.
There are other readily available technologies that can circumvent the usual barriers of time and space so that students can get in contact with some of the better thinkers of our time. For example, the use of a basic powerbook and an iSight camera with a decent broadband connection allows for conversation that was only available by teleconferencing before. Products like this are not open source, and by no means free, but at $125 for an iSight camera, one can get a lot of social bandwidth. You can see and hear the person well, and it is easily implemented-- it does not require an elite knowledge that technologies like VR systems still require. However, even with upper-end systems like that the prices are dropping. For example, an Access Grid node can be set up for less than $25,000 using off-the-shelf parts. The Access Grid (AG) is an open-source Internet 2 consortium of institutions, which have adopted a set of multi-threaded audiovisual, and media net casting standards for distributed information sharing.
In addition, there is an open source Virtual Reality consortium called the GeoWall that was originally based in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that is again using off-the-shelf resources to create more affordable virtual reality resources. Here at Bowling Green State University, Gregory Little and I are trying to develop distributed Virtual Reality environments through which people will hopefully be able to collaborate. This will be implemented by using common interfaces to examine sets of data, the most common being terrains or avatar-based environments.
Some of the other powerful emerging cooperative technologies include podcasting and text messaging. Blogging technology is starting to be adopted in the classroom. Based on this use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news aggregators in combination with MP3 attachments (and soon video, I am sure) could create the ability to have asynchronous models of lecturing for classes. In these models, the aggregators could grab the media files, upload them to the user’s personal media device, and then deliver the content, to which the student could respond via the blog or forum. As an educational model podcasting is relatively simple.
Texting and SMS are other media that look like good models for information delivery. With urban legends in the media talking about kids texting on their cell phones at speeds of up to 150 words per minute, they are rapidly shooting a lot of information at each other. And while I was annoyed at first when I saw it used by my students, I soon realized that if they are using that social bandwidth so effectively then educators should bring it into the classroom as well.
To sum up-- we are in a period of rapid technological change, and I am opposed to technological determinism, I feel that educators need to be aware and make use of the technological developments happening in the world of their students. From the angle of knowledge creation, social networks as generators of information and ideas have a lot of merit if there are models in which the veracity of the information can be maintained. The question regarding the gatekeepers of knowledge then comes up vis-à-vis authority and legitimacy and regulation of information. In the classroom, the move from a top-down to a more horizontal /distributed, facilitated form of learning seems to be increasingly accepted. I think the most exciting part of network culture is the potential to get students closer to relevant knowledge. There is much to consider and we are merely in the process of sorting it out.
TS: Thank you for being with us today.
PL: Always my pleasure.
Posted by: ts | 2005-02-28 12:02:06 AM
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