Narratives, Learning, The Holodeck and Hyperspaces

Traveling through hyperspace aint like dusting crops...
"Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops..."

Going back to 1997, when I was at the beginning of my Master’s program at UW, my advisor sensing early on my comfort with the “technology” side of the EdTech program I was in, suggested Janet Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck” to me.  It was my first truly academic read and, while I understood what I was reading back then, only in the past few years has it begun to reveal its impact.

She writes,

We return to the question raised by Aldous Huxley at the moment movies began to speak: Will the stories brought to us by the new representational technologies “mean anything” in the same way that Shakespeare’s plays mean something, or will they be “told by an idiot”?

In context, Murray was talking specifically about cybernarratives which she argues must establish their own conventions in order to be appreciated, much in the same way that printed narratives developed conventions that built expectations around structure, plot, character development, etc.  Stories, in a traditional sense, have conventions so well established that we all revel when something succeeds in breaking that convention — as long as it retains enough of the form for us to recognize.

There’s no established form for social media — certainly not in the same way in which a child could describe a book, a film — heck, even a website.  So while media progressives embrace social media and imagine, if not entirely realize, its impacts on learning, we’re dealing with a whole lot of people for whom social learning, let alone social media in general, has no form they can discern. It may as well be babble.

Wholly unprepared for emerging forms of media, how do we situate our friends, families and co-workers to learn at the speed of our business and our play?  Because communications outside of education are happening, increasingly, in hyperspace (or folded space, if you want to go all Dune), but our preferred methods for learning are still long-held narrative forms.

Told another way, learning is stuck at the pace of snail mail (old convention) but a learner’s role in the world is responding to situations as they occur (hyperspace).  And what do we know about hyperspace?  We know this:

Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it?” – Han Solo, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Without accelerating the proper context, people do fly right through the learning or bounce too close to failure that ends their journey.

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