McLuhan at 100

At one point in his life, the late renowned Canadian communications guru and Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan called the electronic media “an unholy imposter” and “a blatant manifestation of the anti-Christ.”

In 1977 McLuhan also viewed the global reach and immediacy of the communications media as a favorable environment for Lucifer’s moment in time.

Fast forward to July 21, 2011, the centenary of McLuhan’s birth; the virtual explosion and convergence of new digital technologies, coupled with the omnipresent internet, have unified and shrunk our planet at a rate that even the prophetic man who also coined the phrase “global village” would likely find astounding, if not alarming.

Yet despite this rapid digital revolution and its helter skelter nature and contrary to the atheistic opinions expressed on some bus campaign billboards, God is not dead. In fact, just the act of ‘Googling’ the Almighty yields over half a million internet search results. God lives on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and if query results are any indication, is still very much at the core of humanity’s expansive curiosity and deep existential yearnings.

But just as God and the potential for immense good exists within all of us, so too does our capacity to use man-made tools for evil and for us to inflict untold suffering on our brothers and sisters.

This is no less true when applied to the crudely-fashioned sticks and stones our ancestors used to carve words and images into sand, wood and rock or to the brave new 21st century communication devices utilized by us to connect to the synergistic functionality and social networks of the World Wide Web.

Indeed, when used ethically and judiciously, digital media and the internet have the power and potential to elevate God to his rightful place and spread His universal, salvific message of love, hope and light to all of humanity.

Many of today’s catholic youth are technologically savvy and deeply immersed in wildly popular social networking web sites. But at the same time and for a host of reasons, many are also missing out on opportunities to critically examine and assess the value, impact and potential opportunities for moral instruction the new communication technologies offer.

The future of the book is the blurb. – Marshall McLuhan

During the past decade, the explosion and proliferation of new forms of digital media in our society (e.g. blogs, wikis, texting, and podcasts) has not seen the same dramatic increase in strategies designed to address their ethical and responsible use, especially within the guiding lights of Catholic social teaching and tradition.

In fact today, more than ever, it is incumbent upon all catholic adults to proactively engage youth in meaningful and ethical ways to incorporate what the Holy See since Vatican II has consistently refers to as “gifts to humanity” into their daily lives. Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, has been a strong proponent of the means of social communication as tools to be used in the service of humanity.

In 2009 the Vatican launched Pope2You.net, an interactive web site designed to engage and evangelize youth. Pope2You.net gives the Catholic Church a presence on the internet and allows technologically-savvy Catholics to connect via their home computer or favorite mobile device and social network to uniquely Catholic news and issues of the day.

On the 45th World Communications Day on June 5, 2011, Pope Benedict observed,  “even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives.”

If all Catholic stakeholders are to truly leverage and realize the full potential of the new communication technologies in their homes, schools and workplaces, simply waiting to react to the next inappropriate, sensational misuse of technology is no longer an option.

By virtue of their baptism, all Catholics have been charged with the sacred responsibility of carrying out the mission of the Church and sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation to others. When they undertake this holy mission using the latest technologies, they honor St. Paul’s call to evangelize others and heed his words, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

If enough concerned Catholics accept Pope Benedict’s challenge to use the media to help others sense the presence of God and draw them near to His Word, perhaps we can thwart Lucifer’s moment in time by ensuring that McLuhan’s “holy imposter” (electronic media) becomes a holy fosterer of the truth.

Photo Credit: McLuhan TVAdam Crowe

Related links:

Ethical & Responsible Use of Information & Communication Technology:
A Guideline for all stakeholders in Catholic education – 7 – 12

Message of the 45th World Communications Day

Pope2You

McLuhanisms


Advisory on Social Media & eCommunication Good First Step

The Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory on the Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media represents an important first step in the quest for our children to experience a vibrant, engaging and authentic education in a 21st century learning environment.

The college advisory provides a useful context for the responsible use of electronic communication and social media. Regrettably though, when it was first released, rather than portray the document as a way for educators to engage learners with new forms of digital communication, most of the traditional news outlets tended to colour the advisory as a pre-emptive strike in response to a relatively small minority of educators who may decide to misuse popular social media sites in their interactions with students.

Overall, it would be fair to say that the initial media coverage of the advisory release played on the fears of the general public concerning the more sinister aspects of social media and their appeal to our baser instincts. Still, the fear of unbridled new technologies is anything but new.

Long before the invention of paper in China in AD 105 and its eventual widespread production, the worldview of our ancestors hinged primarily on the spoken word. In this oral-centric cultural milieu, many people feared the new revolutionary technology of paper. Used primarily for official records and documentation, this novelty and its storage capacity, would eventually end the common practices of oral discourse and memorization.

In retrospect, we can see that, while the advent of paper did indeed curtail oral communication and the corresponding need for rote memorization, it also eventually led to a significant breakthrough and increase in unprecedented levels of literacy across the ancient world.

In every age, new technologies emerge to disrupt and threaten the status quo. Though Gutenberg’s printing press was demonized as a harbinger of the decline of calligraphy in 15th century Europe, it also invariably spawned mass communication, the Protestant Reformation and an astonishing variety of intellectual and artistic movements over the next four centuries.

Today, disruptive innovation in the form high-speed broadband networks, social media web sites like Facebook and Twitter and an endless array of mobile devices and wireless technologies, bump up against antiquated education systems that thrive on uniformity. These new digital technologies, designed for use in collaborative learning environments, are out of synch with one-size-fits-all instruction, where students are tightly controlled and forced to regurgitate facts while sitting in perfectly straight rows.

In fact, for many adults, the very word ‘classroom’ likely conjures ‘Lucy Maude Montgomery-like images’ of a rustic one room schoolhouse on a Canadian prairie. This quaint, romanticized concept of class-room connotes a static, fixed structure, limited by the realities of matter, time and space.

Imagine for moment if the walls and ceilings of the traditional classroom disappeared, then morph suddenly into 21st century learning environments where students can network and collaborate with teams of other learners around the world. Picture a learning space where powerful processing devices like cell phones are actually encouraged rather than banned, where, instead, it is blackboards and chalk that are relegated to the pedagogical sidelines.

This academic utopia is fully equipped with the latest learning tools: interactive projectors, smart phones, wireless tablets, document projectors, student ‘clicker’ response systems and video conferencing technologies. Teachers are more facilitators and coaches than masters and gatekeepers of knowledge in this educational paradigm. Students are more co-learners and co-explorers than empty vessels waiting to be filled with facts they could just as easily retrieve on their own by mining the vast learning repositories of the World Wide Web.

Across this flattened, borderless educational terrain, teachers and students learn side-by-side, navigating social networking sites and boldly leveraging rich new educational technologies. Students engage in project-based learning and meaningful discourse on a variety of academic subjects. They share their passionate creations with peers across local, national and global communities by exchanging and commenting on blog posts, video podcasts and other engaging media via interactive class blogs and wikis.

By harnessing the collective intelligence, enthusiasm and imagination of learners in the global village, youth can now collaborate to find solutions to entrenched problems of ignorance and misunderstanding, which often lead to and perpetuate the twin scourges of war and poverty. Teachers are also now sharing effective learning resources and best practice at dizzying speeds via professional learning networks like Twitter and Ning.

We are truly on the cusp of brave new learning environments and bold educational paradigms that both challenge the status quo and beckon with the promise of a more dynamic future for our children. Yet those who mistakenly believe that the new digital technologies, alone, will be enough to light the way toward the nirvana of resilient, collaborative, reflective and discerning learners, will be in for a shock.

The late University of Toronto professor and media expert Marshall McLuhan was keenly aware of how, as we shape our tools, our tools shape us. Without a clear vision of professional development strategies based on the targeted application of the new educational technologies and their ethical and responsible use, school districts risk consigning the latest electronic devices to gathering dust at the back of the class or to be used as expensive overhead projectors.

Whatever tools they have at their side, whether a piece of chalk and slate or wireless stylus and digital tablet, tomorrow’s learners will require a clear vision of exactly what shape the learning environment of the future will take.

Failure to provide such clarity of vision is no longer an option, especially if we want to compete globally and prepare our students for their future, not our past.

Photo Credit: Yesterday by Caro’s Lines

Related Sites:

Ontario College of Teachers Professional Advisory: Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media