While David Carr’s The Shallows and Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think are two different sides of a multifaceted discourse, I found myself more often agreeing with Thompson’s arguments. Whereas Carr inserts some anecdote or empirical research, but then often fails to expound upon its connection to his purpose, Thompson immediately responds to my questions. It was like a conversation where he anticipated my questions. Well, almost all of them. I am going to separate this post by two categories: what was comforting and what confounding.
Comforting: Technology is making us more collaborative, therefore smarter. Thompson quotes one of his interviewees (I cannot remember which at the moment) when he states that what we can do together is exponentially greater than what we can do alone. I think this connects directly to Vygotsky’s scaffolding. It isn’t necessarily what the child can do alone that matters, but what he can do with others. The purpose of scaffolding is to offer developmentally appropriate help, and then gradually release the scaffolds so the student can perform the task on their own, but then we release students into the world where they will need to work together again, and rely on each other. Thinking that technology can help students do these at the same time is comforting.
Confounding: One area that fell short for me was Thompson’s explanation on “ambient awareness.” I had not heard this term before, and maybe I need to go back and reread this section. His comparison to people who post pictures of what they eat throughout the day versus train operators in a control room thinking out loud in order to manage an entire system seem to be very different, and not at all the same in concept. In this chapter, Thompson is talking about the trains in London and how they think aloud in order to coordinate staff in control rooms. This is called “ambient broadcasting” “By thinking out loud, the controller “renders visible to his colleagues the course of reasoning involved in making particular changes” (p. 213). But this thinking out loud has a purpose. Then he applies this “talking-aloud-to-the-room strategy” to surgical teams, newsrooms, airport luggage-control rooms, and financial-industry teams. All of these occupations where ambient broadcasting is taking place have purpose, a significant purpose, for the broadcasting. I definitely want my surgeon to be broadcasting what he is doing so the other members of his team are acting in cohesion with his direction. I am not convinced that posting pictures of what I eat throughout the day is the same thing. I think the idea is interesting where we can tell someone’s mood through Facebook and the like, but comparing the two leaves out the important factor of significance. After reading this section, I kept asking, (just like Thompson himself asks) “Who cares?”
Full disclosure: I have blocked people from my Facebook feed, and even unfriended one, who post pictures of their meals. It does not help me better understand a friend who can cook all day pork loin chili, while I am sitting here eating a chicken pot pie because I am too busy to cook. This does not interest me. (But I am willing to be convinced otherwise.) I wonder what I would do if I were in a control room in London and did not necessarily care what the other controllers were doing? Would I quit that job? (Unfriend them in the workplace?) Put headphones in so I didn’t have to hear them? I guess a good thing about Facebook is I can control how ambient aware I am. When I challenge the purpose and think on the triviality of food posts, Thompson responds. He responds by saying that technology has not necessarily caused us to be more trivial, it’s been there all along. He states, “I doubt the ambient broadcasting universe is making people more trivial. What it’s doing is revealing how trivial we’ve been all along, because it’s making conversation visible” (p. 222). But is this in a sense making us proud of triviality by broadcasting it? (I am leaning on that triviality is a relative term- it depends to whom I am speaking). I am hoping that my readers can offer some alternative perspectives here.
My longer discussion question: In what ways do you have or use “ambient awareness” in your professional life?