Blog Post

Digital Natives Gone Bad: HASTAC@Daejeon (KAIST) #2

Yesterday was the first full day of our Digital Natives Workshop held at KAIST, one of the top ranked science and technology universities in East Asia, located in Daejeon, Korea.   David Sonntag, one of the organizers, is using the opportunity of the conference as a "learning lab" in Google Wave, and his amazing notes, with links, visuals, and on and on can be read at:


David and all of us are also microblogging and tweeting the conference using the hashtag:  #DNWS.  Follow us!


The conference so far has been stunningly original for all the right reasons.  And it is so HASTAC.   Here's why.   Instead of the "usual suspects" in the field of digital media and learning, this conference brings together senior scholars and junior, some in the academy and some not, some in funding agencies such as NSF, the Asian Office of Aerospace R and D, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Artificial and Cognitive System Project, the Office of Naval Research, the Arming International Technology Center of the Pacific, and then people who are in the biological sciences, the brain sciences, neurology, neurobiology, all of the social sciences, and others in cultural studies, humanities, writers, those focusing on creativity and cognition.  So that is interesting in itself.  But where the real excitement lies is any one person might represent an institutional difference, a disciplinary one, a generational one, a background---and a national, cultural, subcultural specificity.


What that means is that any term can be turned from any angle.  An American biologist disputing Chinese medicine confronts a distinguished Korean neurologist doing state-of-the-art research on dementia and learning and at the same time has an understanding of the biology, history, and culture of Chinese medicine. We then begin an energetic idea on how ideas like "meridians" that seem nonsensical from a Western medical point of view are interpretive devices that lead to real and important results just as (humility drum roll please) such nonsensical Western ideas as right brain/left brain or other forms of what Levitin calls "cartographic imperialism" (i.e. labeling each part of the brain and its function as if each were some separate state with its own constitutions and a standing army defending its rigid borders) also generated some of the most important brain research of the 1980s and 1990s.  Even though the paradigm is now discredit, much of the research produced in the service of the paradigm remains interesting and valid.   Ponder that!  And ponder it multi-culturally, please.


Or here is one that strikes right to my participatory heart:  Two Australians immediately interject into a conversation on customizing and participatory learning an important caution that, in Austraila, participation is seen skeptically, viewed as an invasion of privacy.  Australians--among the most gregarious people in the world--think face to face is the place to share.  You read on line, but you do not participate.   That crosses a line that is not to be crossed.   My world tilts a bit when I hear that because I never would have assumed Australia would be a place where the culture of participation on the Internet could be so radically different from that in the U.S.   Suddenly others remark on different modes of participation within Japan and Korea (very different from the U.S. and from one another).  


I can't help but think back to last year's Digital Media and Learning Competition---we are, after all, about to announce a new Competition any day now.  What we learned in getting out the word last year, in our first international competition, was that there was no such thing as an "overall"  international strategy for international outreach.  Each virtual introduction happened intimately, almost one on one, often by way of introduction, follow up, exchange, trust network, reinforcement, understanding of cultural norms, respect for those norms, and then finally distribution of our call for proposals in the new domain.   The global world doesn't have one email address.  It is multifarious and credibility yet resides on the most personal level of trust----even as a goofy YouTube wedding video of two dorky people having a great time dancing down the aisle can score millions of viewers.  

The point is that "universality" is coterminous with the highly personalized and highly culturally-based read-write web.


And that is why this conference is so invaluable.  It is helping to show us all the borders of the "universal" and where they can be crossed and where they are impermeable.   "Digital Native" and "Digital Youth" are two of the first universals falling before the complex caveats offered across disciplines, countries, cultures at our gathering.   We will all understand how to make learning happen better when we can understand these constructs not as singular but as multiple, with areas of distinction and areas of resistance, all together, all the time.


So why call this post "Digital Natives Gone Bad"?  Well, one is people read controversy.  But also, two, the term itself is "going bad" in the sense that we are all remarking on its usefulness as a jumping off point---and we all want to jump off!  That is, no one is entirely comfortable with it.  In my talk (and, yes, I'll post the slides and the notes one of these days), I mentioned that I have lots of problems with "digital youth" but I rather like the stereotype of the grouchy, reluctant, nostalgia-prone "digital immigrant" who preserves forever the image of the Glorious Old Country that no longer exists in that country and that probably never existed in the first place either.   The humbling-effect of that caricature, babushka and all, is salutary.   Very useful tonic for all of us over 30 with any tendency to remember "the good old days." (NB:  I seem not to have much nostalgia for the "good old days" at all, which is why I'm considered a traitor to my profession, my original field of English.  But that is the subject of another blog.)


And here's a sample tidbit.  The brilliant neurologist who works on actual dementia coined the term "digital dementia" for what happens when you lose your laptop and your cell phone and realize you don't know your own phone number or anyone else's, your appointments, your calendar, everything is gone.  DIGITAL DEMENTIA.  Perfect.  Pass it on.  


A final touch makes this conference amazing.  The people.  In three days, I have quite fallen in love with Korea.  And this conferende is so impeccably and thoughtfully organized.  Ken Boff is keeping us organized and inspired (that's not easy to pull off), as is our gracious host at KAIST, Professor Soo-Young Lee.  The four students who are leading us, guiding us, helping us, connecting us, even serving us coffee and fabulous treats (home made!!!), are generous and brilliant.  And everyone is just working very hard to make this a dazzling event.  I feel very lucky to be here.


I wish you could all be here too.  Short of that, I invite you to follow us on Twitter with the #DNWS hashtag and to check out David Sonntag's amazing work using Google Wave.  Here's that url again:


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