Convergence Theory?

I am struck by the convergences in my life (usually I am talking about emergence)–never before have I found myself nodding my head quite so vigorously when my older brother, who works as Director of Organizing and research for CSEA, speaks about his work in California, for example. And I don’t mean to imply that Michael and I do not see eye-to-eye on the issues confronting our culture and our world. Not at all. Indeed, I just gave a toast at his fiftieth birthday party crediting him with much of my political-consciousness education and for the gift of a passionate relationship with Ireland among other essential parts of my life. But before now I have always admired his work rather than felt I could contribute to it in any way–I listened but rarely if ever advised –he, trying to change the whole world by working to change the political realities of wherever he is–California, in particular. What could I, writer and college teacher, possibly have to tell him the ultimate do-er?

But during this brief weekend family celebration in Maine we just had, he started talking about the work he’s doing in leadership training with the union, how he has to help the natural leaders in every locale truly lead by not just getting their people to the polls but to run for office themselves. Why shouldn’t they take an active role in government. He showed me books–among them James MacGregor Burns’ Academy of Leadership and his Transforming Leadership. I found myself thinking–yup, blogs, Michael and digital storytelling, these tools, these modes of communicating, expressing, chronicling and connecting, could help in this essential work of unseating a rogue governor and an even worse president. Getting these leaders together in the workshop and then providing them with the means of staying in contact with one another as they move into this work, makes sense to me. And I don’t think I’m getting carried away…

All weekend I found myself turning to one family member or another, and saying, “You should really think about how digital stories [or blogging] might serve you in this work”. It was uncanny. And not a little unsettling. This medium is taking off all around us in ways no one could have anticipated. It’s glorious and inspiring and makes me think that we have a chance to make a difference in the world, to make sure that everyone has equal access to the power of stories and publishing tools and communication opportunities.

Think about how many people have viewed Jib Jab’s Bush/Kerry “This Land”? (thanks, Patti) My students could put something like this together and have some five million hits to their blog. Okay, so that puts us back to to Steven Johnson and Emergence . The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts…

Yet another example of how efficacy is the underpinning of all of this work. Yup. Im still hammering away at the convergence of emergence, efficacy and collective intelligence. I know that Héctor Vila would say it all returns to old Emerson, and I don’t doubt that he is right, but I love the fact that through emails from teachers, conversations with activist brothers and educational-software researcher sisters-in-law, symposium encounters with IT people and young software developers–all quite new to me– my understanding of the work I am undertaking in my own classes is really beginning to take shape.


2 Responses

  1. I stopped the creation of my course site to read your blog this am…I do agree with how you’re describing your “connectivity”–with people, issues, creativity, the future…(this is why Borges is so important to IT/culture studies folks I think)…anyway, again, yes, blogs and digital stories are ways of connecting, getting interesting work done, particularly as we move more and more towards very interesting url to url work; however, I’m very interested in what these genres mean for our f2f encounters, i.e. family reunion in Maine…and then when the f2f and e2e interconnections re-imagine themselves in yet other machine-generated conversations, emails, phones, mobiles and so on, even yet other genres, discussion posts, flash movies, essays, hypertexts…does it end? is that it?

    it seems as if we’re in a kind of frenzy; it seems as if the walls are coming down–something, I’d add, promised long ago, at the beginning of the IT revolution, but which has yet to happen…

    could this be why we’re witnessing such intense control–or attempts at control–from extreme orthodox groups and individuals? if we take the Bush Administration at face value, could their lack of humanity–can anyone argue this is not true?–be a last effort to maintain the holds on our society by utilizing midieval models of governance? are we watching the decline of “something” and the rise of “something else”? I wonder what that is?

    I do go back to Emerson; he is being re-cycled–or he is ample enough to be reconsidered over and over. In perhaps his most mature work–and his harshest–The Conduct of Life, the Sage of Concord writes, “From day to day, the capital facts of human life are hidden from our eyes. Suddenly the mist rolls up, and reveals them, and we think how much good time is gone, that might have been saved, had any hint of these things been shown.”

    This is a mind in-between ages–the old and the burgeoning industrialization of the American mind. Much like our own condition today, I’d argue. Of course Emerson is suggesting that what we don’t see is actually always there, visible. I looked for this piece in “Conduct” b’cause I find this in your post: the notion that what we’re finding with our blogging and our digital stories has always really been there; it’s as if technology, I’d argue following Mr. E, is enabling a reflective practice that is transcendental in nature. Lévy would disagree with the transcendental nature of IT, though…Lévy equates heteronomy with transcendence; I think he’s partially correct, only in that we want to reach and ‘be’, actually, beyond our trascendent selves since these selves are constrained by the “anxietiety of our (past) influences,” to quote a teacher of mine and an Emersonian agnostic,.

    I find in this posting, then, the same sense of “in-betweenness” I find in Emerson…we’re straddling ages and conditions–as he did, as did the James’s too; and Camus,too, as well, so I pulled out my yellowing copy of The Plague–talk about a story of in-betweens that can be placed as a lense over our age!–and went right to the back, to Dr. Rieux and the compilation of his chronicle (archiving? story?), and find this: “None the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not beone of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.” Ah ha…”refusing to bow down to pestilence”–what a ring! that’s Emerson, et al; it’s the battle being waged,as we speak,to control all order of creative on the web! The “happy city” cannot be–but the “happy spaces” can, the nodes of infinite connectivity–through blogs,stories, emails, phones, etc–that can give rise to meaningful interactions. that’s what I see 😉

  2. Thanks, Héctor, for the generous, thought-provoking response to the previous post! As usual, you have given me a good deal to think about.

    I find especially interesting your sense of the in-betweeness of our age and how that, to some degree, mirrors Emerson’s. I agree that we are experiencing no longer the malaise of, say, those times when we stand at the precipice looking over the edge wondering what next, which way do we turn, but I’m not sure I see it exactly as in-betweeness either, because by that I infer that we will eventually get somewhere, we’ll arrive rather than that we’re in a constant state of becoming. In-betweeness is a linear notion, and I’m not sure it quite applies to what’s going on here.

    Aren’t we in the full force of a cyclone, inside the vortex with what we have unleashed swirling madly about and through us, but unlike Dorothy, we might never touch down long enough to know where we are and how to get home?

    I do love that you turn to Borges and Camus and Emerson here. The first two are old and steady companions of mine–Camus’s reading of the “Myth of Sisyphus” captures so effectively the absurdity of ourcondition, and I concur with his assertion about finding the joy and meaning in the process of the doing is our only hope. We cannot stop finding meaning in the doing–we gotta keep “refusing to bow down to the pestilence.” And here I would refer, too, to your discussion about Michael Moore in which you applaud Moore’s mission: “to enlighten and invigorate the American public so as to ensure a deeper and richer engagement in American politics and history.” Yes.

    And while you’ve been dipping into your yellowing lit books and out there in the movie theaters, I have been reading Duderstadt, Bolter and Landow (who would have thought four years ago that these would be staring at me from my bedside table alongside O’Reilly, Boylan and Keegan?!) Duderstadt distinguishes between this age and the 19th century:
    “Of course, our world has experienced other periods of dramatic change driven by technology, for example, the impact of the steam engine, telephone, automobile, and railroad in the late nineteenth century, which created our urban industrialized society. But never have we experienced a technology that has evolved so rapidly and relentlessly, increasing in power by a hundred-fold or more every decade, obliterating tghe contraints of space and time, and reshaping the way we communicate, think, and learn.”(“Preparing for the Revolution:The Future of the University in the Digital “)

    This headlong velocity and nonlinear emergence behavior are just what we are experiencing in our work–just look at how right now, suddenly, everything is speeding up and how sprouting up on the Web are inventive applications of the technology. Our email boxes are filling with people wanting to know about our work, when even six months ago we felt as though we were out there all alone. This is what is so challenging–how do we find the time and space much less the wherewithall to reflect when by the time we do so, the cyclone has touched ground somewhere else? I don’t think Emerson can’t quite encompass this explosion, something that Geert Lovink gets at in his interview with Dietmar Kamper in Uncanny Networks when they discuss the failure of any one theory being able to cover new technologies.

    But of course, I will add my yellowing copy of Emerson to the stack…and I want to read more on your blog (and in your book-in-process) about your thoughts on the Sage.


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