Blog Post

All Things Google

With the purchase of my new Nexus 6, I have surrendered to Google. Well, actually, I began surrendering, as so many people have before me, earlier. This year, for instance, I completely stopped collecting papers from students.Last fall, I let honors composition students know that they would be submitting everything via my Gmail account, bypassing our campus' adopted instructional delivery platform--Blackboard. (To stay inline with mandates, I still post things there, but in reality don't really use BB.) Instead, I share documents with students, using Google Drive, and we communicate through Gmail and GroupMe and regular phone texting and Facebook messaging. Students don't love GroupMe, but that's another story for another day. They had a few complaints about using GD, but mostly their initial recalcitrance was just a matter of their getting used to how GD works--that it saves everything for you, that when they give me editing privileges they can actually view me commenting and making suggestions right in their texts in real time. This quality of interaction can be intimidating, yes, but slowly, my working with student texts in this way, more closely and more dynamic, has bridged and transformed my relationship to them, making me more of a co-maker than professor.

I have no real complaints about using Google Drive myself other than that sometimes I've had to give permission a second time for documents I've shared. From the outset, I made all Yahooers get a gmail account. (Most of my students have I-Phones, so they were also for this reason hesitant.) Otherwise, my grading sessions, which feel more like collaborative work or evaluation than grading, have been cut in half timewise. Students get papers back much more quickly (in under a week), and, more importantly, communication during the evaluation process is more dynamic. When I alert a student that his or her paper has been evaluated, a conversation ensues that seems to have much more substance than conversations I remember having after returning "paper papers."

So, I began using GD for comp because I was already having a good experience with the cloud computing service for my own work though I've had few opportunities to really colloborate in this way, for instance, co-write, with colleagues. Most of them balk at the notion of putting their documents in the cloud. Theirs is, on the one hand, an allergic reaction. They've said they just don't feel comfortable, and this is probably right. I can relate. Things are just changing at break neck speeds, and people--even academics or especially academics--are just skeptical. About what? About how the new tech inventions and developments that some of us hear about everyday and some of us avoid hearing about will change our lives.

For example, today I read in Wired coverage of Google Now. Many of my colleagues prefer Serenity Now, and I don't blame them. Is it more natural to protect one's time and sanity or to hop onto every gizmo that comes along? Just how often are tech developers asking us to adopt new gadgets, new applications, new whole modes of thinking and working? And what are our own interests? As I stated earlier, I moved from paper to GD submissions because I wanted my scholarship and my teachng--the bulk of the work I do--to be seamless. (For instance, if I want to recommend to a student a reading, as it comes to my mind as I am reading their work, how much easier is it for me to grab the title from Google, or grab my own notes on it stored on GD? The ease of doing so means I share more. I in fact share every day and in so doing I am participating in the sharing economy. It is this economy that I am preparing my students for, and, needless to say, they do a great deal of sharing themselves, more I suspect than I do, but as a comp teacher of course I also want them writing and sharing their writing, so they are also using Medium and a few other platforms. They get extra credit for publishing, as well as publicizing, their work.

As immersed as I have become in social media and work media platforms, however, I am intrigued by Google Now. As I understand it, it will do away with the need for most apps, because they will be "integrated" (my word) into one's experience. Google Now's "contextual awareness" will allow it to sense our needs. Making one's location known for instance will allow the phone's intelligence to recommend rather than wait on an inquiry. No doubt, Google assumes that smartphone users having already gotten used to constant notification being tapped or cued even more regularly. Google Now will create more "glanceable moments," in which a user takes a split second to decide interest or usefulness. The question for persons more skeptical than I am at this juncture is whether such a media and commodity/service saturated life is a help or an irritation. Clearly, a grand majority of what GN thinks a user may need is going to be opportunities to purchase rather than either services or obscure cultural entities. For instance, if GN knows somehow I'm a regular coffee drinker and at 8 a.m. I'm a mile away from a Starbucks in the city where I'm having a Thursday meeting is it just as likely to alert me of the existence of a stove museum around the corner from the coffee shop?

How might a less visible institution get in on this game? I wonder about this as I delve into mapping historical sites off the beaten track or on the beaten track but largely ignored. On another level, I wonder if we (not sure who all is included here--cultural workers?) can, through Google Now or some other service, fully integrate into people's lives the things, ideas, places, etc. that we think or sense that they should know about. My own interest in historicizing the present, for example, makes me wonder if a person whose last name happens to be Herndon should be alerted when traveling through Virginia or through Mississippi, for that matter, of the family's ties to those states. How would the usefulness of this information compare to knowing the location of Starbucks? Such questions have me titillated this morning. If GN is going to augment even more the place of consumerism in our lives should the company take on the responsibility of providing as well, dare I say even funding, cultural cues? I, for one, am ready for this kind of offering and the digital work it will take to make it happen, not waiting on people to inquire but because someone, perhaps educators, sense opportunities for learning.


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