Can tools shape the mind and eye? An interesting question posited by Greg McVerry (@jgmac1106) during a Twitter conversation that began with a #nofilter photograph I posted from my holiday at the beach and ended with a conversation about vision.
It’s not about technology.
At least, not really. And it certainly shouldn’t be.
Technology opens the world so that the eye can see farther than before and the mind explore ideas once hidden in isolated locales. Technology affords the ability to make connections with people and places far away by geography, but as close as the nearest computer. It’s a transformative idea for education. Textbooks become important supplemental resources to real time interaction with other cultures. Art and music become accessible to all students, even those who have no access to museums or symphonies. Tutoring is available from experts in minutes, rather than limited to scheduled sessions. Ideas can be exchanged through annotations or Twitter dialogues or shared blog posts. It is a new paradigm that shifts the learning model from one of reciting established ideas to developing new ones through unique connections.
Having said that, the elemental units of learning are unchanged. Curiosity will always drive discovery. Vision will always precede art. Necessity will always be the mother of invention. The mind and the eye are far more complex that even the most advanced artificial intelligence. The artist or reader or scientist brings himself (or herself) to the equation of learning. Experience, reason, logic, and emotion are all unique to the human mind. To see something in its parts as well as the whole is a function of the human eye. The ability to connect emotion to the parts of something seen is impossible to duplicate mechanically. The human element will always be more powerful than the technology no matter what science fiction tries to say.
One thing that #walkmyworld has demonstrated in the 20 weeks I have participated is that people are pretty much the same around the world. I understood this before, but this project illustrated the fact perfectly. The only really common ground was that the participants were involved in education and interested in technology. The learning events revealed our humanity. From the view from our front doors to the virtual high fives, we learned that we all start our days with motion and that we all appreciate encouragement, even from strangers. Maybe especially from strangers. We recognized how one poem or story can affect each person differently depending on his (or her) personal history. Make no mistake, the study of literature will never be completely free from personal interpretation. The best literature will always connect to the soul. We learned to see through the eyes of children in Australia, graduate students throughout the US, and a few (ahem) seasoned learners. We saw the importance of heroes, and the journeys each of us must take as we live out our lives.
Technology made the learning events open and available, but it was the mind and heart and willingness to risk vulnerability that made #walkmyworld work. Tools do not shape the mind and eye; the mind and eye use the tools to shape a connected culture.