Disagree with Plato?!

Can I do that?

“Language Log: Take a Hint.” XKCD, 2015, xkcd.com/856/.

SOCRATES: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus,

that writing is unfortunately like painting; for

the creations of the painter have the attitude

of life, and yet if you ask them a question

they preserve a solemn silence.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Updated Jan 15, 2013. Web

Do these images “preserve a solemn silence”?

  • Industry by Arthur Durston
  • Iceman Crucified #4
  • Automotive Industry (Mural Detroit Public Library)

I tend to think they have very much to “say”….

And so… I must disagree with Plato (through the voice of Socrates).

It is interesting that this excerpt from Plato’s Phaedrus was one of the first pieces that we read in ENGL621 Technology and Literacy, and yet here I am… coming back to it again. I just can’t shake this idea, I think, because I disagree so much about the “silence” of writing, and for that matter the “silence” of painting as well.

I’m particularly interested in the visual image as text, and not just in terms of it being aesthetically pleasing, but that it communicates with its readers. While the painter/writer, may not be able to “literally” respond to questions by the viewer/reader as Plato suggests, there is still a dialectic between painting/writing and viewer/writer. And so I quarrel with Plato… and THAT to me is astounding.

Am I allowed to “quarrel” with Plato? I guess he is not here to “respond to my questions,” so the next best thing is to use his written text as a jumping off point to an academic “discussion” about the value of digital technology as discourse, specifically through the interactivity (or lack there of) of the use of digital images in education. And so I will start with Andrew Feenberg, who also quarrels with Plato:

However, while Plato’s condemnation of writing was unfair, he alerts us to a real issue: whenever a new educational technology is introduced, arguments emerge for substituting interaction with the technology for the process of intellectual exchange. But there is something about dialogue, and the active involvement of the teacher, that is fundamental to the educational process and that should be woven into the design of every new instructional tool” (Feenberg 116).

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

And so this idea of using digital images as text in a way that also includes active involvement of the teacher leads me to my focus for my final presentation. I would like to explore the affordances of The Smithsonian Institute’s Learning Lab as a digital text (perhaps more a database to house digital texts… there are some blurred lines there). Within this lab, teachers and students have access to digital images of artworks and other artifacts housed in the Smithsonian Museums. Teachers can also add digital texts and assignments to lab collections which adds that teacher involvement that Feenberg writes about in Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited.

This is the digital text I would like to explore in my final presentation:

https://learninglab.si.edu/

One of the affordances that I see from the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab is the ability of both teacher and student to manipulate, choose, and interact with texts (both visual and written) in multiple ways. It allows for both teacher and student choice and voice that fits into a postmodern culture that values these qualities in its texts. Rather than following the linear consumption associated with the traditional printed paragraph text, it allows users to pick and choose, research, collect and discard. McCorkle’s quote below speaks to this view of rhetorical delivery:

“The fairly recent change in the theorization of rhetorical delivery roughly coincides with another scholarly conversation centered around emergent and established technologies of writing, our ability to manipulate their formal and material qualities, and their respective status within the communications environment of the late twentieth century” (McCorkle 146).

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: a Cross-Historical Study. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

One of the challenges that I see with this text/technology that I need to further explore before creating my presentation relates to the quote below from Gane and Beer’s New Media: The Key Concepts. Here, they reference Lev Manovich’s theory that new media, while often appearing interactive for reader/user, is actually restrictive because the appearance of interactivity is merely an allusion established by “predefined pathways” that send the reader to places the creator wants him/her/they to go.

“…while new media give the appearance of being highly interactive they often offer something far more restricted: a limited number of preprogrammed options that in turn structure our usage… they prompt us to select from menus or follow predefined pathways” (Gane and Beer summarizing Manovich).

Gane, Nicholas, and David F. Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Berg, 2008.

So as I further dig into the challenges and affordances of this digital text, I will do a little more research on the various cultural influences on technologies. Particularly, I am interested in delving more into the opposing theories mentioned by Feenberg in Transforming Technology that suggests that online education can go in one of two ways: the factory or the city model. I am curious whether the affordance of the Learning Lab will promote the rote production of the factory model or the inquisitive influences of the city model. I tend to think the latter.

“I have tried to show here that the educational technology of an advanced society might be shaped by educational dialogue rather than the production-oriented logic of automation. Should a dialogic approach to online education prevail on a large enough scale, it could be a factor making for fundamental social change” (Feenberg 130).

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Works Cited

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology : A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press, 2002.

Gane, Nicholas, and David F. Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Berg, 2008.

“Language Log: Take a Hint.” XKCD, 2015, xkcd.com/856/.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2010.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: a Cross-Historical Study. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Updated Jan 15, 2013. Web

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Automotive Industry (Mural, Detroit Public Library).” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/59055. Accessed 14 June 2019.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution. “Smithsonian Learning Lab Resource: Industry.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 31 Oct. 2015. learninglab.si.edu/q/r/46126. Accessed 14 June 2019.

Smithsonian Institute. Smithsonian Learning Lab, 2019, learninglab.si.edu/.

Published by amhudak

a life-long learner trying something new

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2 Comments

  1. Can you hear me nodding from here? Brilliant post, Anne Marie. I was reading and couldn’t stop thinking about Louise Rosenblatt’s theories of transactional reading. While I’m not suggesting reader response (it’s offspring later) is what you’re getting at here, her theory does articulate a back and forth that is dialogic, even if it is more cognitive than aural. I’m also thinking about McLuhan’s concept of cool media in the ways some media (here texts) make more space for interaction than others, which would be the silent types you’re arguing against.

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