Saturday, December 29, 2012

Stimulating Media Minds with a University of Collapsible Media

How do you stimulate minds of the future?

The question was asked on the UK's leading morning news and current affairs radio show, The Today programme, edited in a one-off by by Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize recipient for his genetic work.

The simple answer was to experiment.

In the studio, children from London's Argyle primary school set about doing just that.

Water was placed in a glass and by stroking the rim a sound emerged, but why was the sound being produced asked their brilliantly effervescent teacher? The answer was enthusiastically provided,

Such lines of querying yield a number of thoughts, some even conflicting, which cut right to the heart of this post.

How do you stimulate journalism minds of the future?

Art and Journalism

German-born scholar Rudolph Arnheim in his watershed book of the 1950s Visual Thinking lamented the depletion of creativity in Art teaching.

Children learn to experiment by placing their hands in paint and creating hand prints, but by the time they reach adolescence the curriculum has either become prescriptive and modular or doesn't exist at all.

Art is relegated to an after thought. It must be taught a certain way. In the UK Art's importance is honored by severe cuts to its funding, and the truth, science fares no better.

In between Art and Science, and for a deeper magical exploration of their relationship I recommend you read Art and Physics by Leonard Shlain, are disciplines of modularisation and processing.

And there you'll find journalism, modular in all its wider significance, enticing generation upon generation into a process, which is now so corrupted its called Churnilism.

It shouldn't be like this, but the conditioning over the last thirty years has been endemic enough to marry our own individual habits.

Thus the minute we're asked to think, and think outside of modularity's framework, we panic. Instead we seek immediate gratification through tick boxed answers or the new template of how its done.

Apollo artistic scientific thinking

Creative Commons - Wikipedia
One of the most graphic illustration's of this is Apollo 13.

Faced with a deepening crisis, NASA's team showed the strength of modular knowledge, but also highlighted its limitations and how artistic thinking would get them out of a hole.

Wiki writes:
Considerable ingenuity under extreme pressure was required from the crew, flight controllers, and support personnel for the safe return. The developing drama was shown on television.

If it wasn't in the rules book, it could not be evoked. Their success in these high stakes rested with already brilliant minds, but of the need to overcome technical rationality.

The term 'technical rationality' is used by the extraordinary US social scientist Donald Schon to explain how rational thinking to technical problems can be limiting.

It is systemic in our thinking until something goes wrong and we require something artistic rationality.

You likely contribute to its meaning. When the computer ceases to work, you get angry, phone up support and offload. You very rarely ask yourself, what could have gone wrong and is this something I can fix. Restarting your computer can sometimes solve the situation.

Trouble is few of us either understand artistic rationality or how to see beyond modular tasks of accomplishing goals.

Steve jobs did in this article: top ten lessons Steve Jobs taught us.

Modularisation and Processing

In the margins is where the Internet facilitated a new kind of journalism
Forming boxes of learning is something we do all too well, so much so that we call the boxes, 'modules'.

A history of education shows they took off in the 1970s, a reorientation from the globalised Paris riots, which made universities remodel themselves as commercial enterprises.

Publishing educational books became a necessity and packaging packets of learning were de rigeur. Methods by which universities taught would be standardised.

It was a brilliant idea, as brilliant as Ford's concept of building the motor car back in the early 1900s. Everyone did their bit: the engine, the panels, the painting and passed it on down the line.

No department mixed its practice. That would be inefficient. To be a jack of all trades and master of none was frowned upon.

Having travelled around the world, either lecturing, presenting or making a film, as part of my longitudinal PhD,  I have seen this way of teaching.

Each territory has its nuances, some are taught that knowledge are tablets of stone delivered by an unquestioned scion, other students believe being adversarial to the system is more beneficial.

By and large modularity is a phenomenon associated with modernism, whether its Chicago, Cairo or China, journalism like the legal practice from where it learned many of its rules is fixed and bound by seemingly incontestable principles.

Learning by Example

In Ghana where I went to high school (I'm 2nd from the left 3rd row up)  it is particularly pronounced.

Prempeh College has given Ghana many public servants. It is arguably one of the best high schools in Ghana and in that school we worshiped modularity, so much spawned the commonly known practice called 'baba'.

It means learning by rote and we were so good at it we could recite whole books without ever knowing why they mattered or what it could lead to.

This method of learning is not something we question. Yet in age of discursivity, postmodernism text, of fusion of ideas, it needs to be challenged.

We do it already. Bill Gentile's video journalism programme of taking groups on excursions into Mexico to understand film making as it should breaks from modularity.

In Cairo working with journalists I too have them on the streets in something akin to pyschogeography. As the conditions change on the street, so does your cognitive behaviour.

Film making is collapsed around cognitive behaviour, and that embraces the Net's lack of hard wiring conventions. I'm going back to Cairo for a presentation in February about this.

The core conceptual framework for was for an imbricating or collapsible media. But this was tacit knowledge then, how do you de-modularise media?

Working in Egypt

On the streets teaching how we see in video

The answer lies in recapitulating a strategy for the circular flow of knowledge and shared ideas.

 More of what that means coming soon.