Choosing Consolidations and Detachments

From time-to-time I log into my daughter’s facebook account, with her at my side, and we cruise through some of the features as I help her use it to communicate with the few people that have friended her. When we moved across the globe last year, I thought it was a good opportunity for her to use a site like facebook to keep in touch with people who have been a major part of our daily life, but would now be too far away. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to teach her about things like facebook, and more importantly, digital communication.

Here’s an excerpt from our last facebook session:

Me: What do you want to say to everyone?

Her: I dunno, just “how are you?”

Me: ok, well, you tell me what to say and I’ll type it as you tell me. go.

Her: How are you? Write me back if you want.

Me: Good. Now I’ll type this in here, hit enter, then all of your friends can read it….er…I mean “facebook friends”….uh…

Her: …

Me: You see, on facebook they use the word “friend” but it doesn’t actually mean friend, well, it’s kind of a friend but it’s just someone who can see your…well, some might be friends, but some might just be people you’ve met…or people me and mommy know. It’s…the word “friend” can mean many things…

…and I probably babbled on like this for a few more minutes, trying to explain a definition of “friend” that is different from what she already knows – a definition of the word that brings a wider range of trust that what she is used to….dangerous to her, because she might assume that the term “friend” carries with it a certain level of trust, rather than the other way around.

One thing that jumped out at me from this exchange is the changing definition of the word “friend”, or even better, the expanding meaning of relationships that exist in the world. What was once “friend” now needs to be qualified maybe as “close friend” or “information feed friend”. Curse you Facebook for hijacking the word – couldn’t you have used something better suited, like “follower”.

Upon deeper reflection, something else jumped out at me in this exchange with my lovely daughter. She instinctively wanted to include the statement to “Write me back if you want” in her message – a message not necessary, since the way facebook works carries with it this message in itself.

I once had a friend, new to facebook, who would sign his status updates and wall writings, unaware that his profile made this signature unnecessary. It’s the same sort of thing with my daughter, except she’s only 6…apparently growing up with this technology, a digital native, unlike my real-life-friend using facebook who was around the same age as myself.

Do we distinguish between print natives and nomads? Yes we do, but the distinction comes when someone somehow has reached adulthood without learning how to read or write. Because print literacy is so embedded in many of our cultures, to mature without a strong sense of it seems unnatural.

And, in one sense, this distinction is unfortunate – it shows the bias of print language and the privilege that we place on it: if you don’t have print literacy encoded into you, then there’s something wrong with you…you are defected. If you come from an oral society into our own western one, it’s going to be difficult.

Children aren’t born with print literacy, they learn it. And for centuries, they have learned it at such a young age that the bias of language and especially printed language has been very difficult to understand in our selves. It helps communicating, for sure, but embedding print literacy at so young an age also hinders other types of non-linear communication…

…anyway, I don’t mean to argue against print literacy here, that’s not my point – there are enough ways to continue to teach children all types of literacy, or an open mindset on literacies, at the young age that we do. This is my point, that there seems to be a push for digital literacies to be the new bias that we embed into our culture – that we need to rush to “prepare children for their future, not the one we grew up in”. That instead of realizing our biases (which our western society has actually done a lot of over the past century) we are now ready to just trade old biases for new ones.

It’s a liberation of communication tools our society in undergoing in recent times, not a shift. Hopefully.

I love the fact that my daughter wanted to include “Write back if you want” in her social media message. I don’t like how the edtech world seems pointed to a future where we have digital illiterates who ‘have something wrong with them’. Life is a continuous process of consolidation and detachment…and the greatest separation feat of all is when someone manages to gradually free oneself from the grip of unconscious culture.

That ability to control our consolidations and detachments, my blog-post-reading-friends, is the more essential skill that we need to embed into our children. The skills of choice.

*The consolidation and detachment line is adapted from: Hall, E. T. (1989). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.

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