Tuesday, 6 November 2012

the dreams our stuff is made of

We certainly live in a science fiction world.

To think that I grew up in a house without even a phone - I bought my parents their first phone when I was about twenty. It was a Christmas present. Up until then we had very few people to call, maybe the doctor. My sister had married and eventually moved all the way from Stevenage to Hitchin (at least 3 miles from each other according to wikitravel). My best mate at school lived about eight minutes away - mind you, I had to go where there were dragons to get to his - Whitesmead Road; I still get the jitters thinking about it. 1970's Stevenage and places like that were the equivalent of police no-go areas now. That's where all the bully boys lived; the "broken families". But now, we have phones that are connected to us in the way Captain Kirk would have grown up with. Just think, had the bully boys had personal phones then, I would never have got through the alley up to Grace Way alive. "He's just entered the alley" - "Okay, we'll head him off at our end".

Over the last few year I've had to get used to laptops at work that connect you to electronic registers, 24/7 emails and instant access to the virtual world* and now, gentle reader the advent of the iPad. The iPad.  This is science faction.  When I turned it on the other day it had already linked in to my iPhone and personal emails. The iPad is a school object - tool, if you will. I hadn't "asked it" to connect to anything, I just turned it on. A bit frightening. At one point, I tried to download an app and both mine and my wife's phones and iPads were pinging with messages telling us that someone is trying to access and download stuff - it's all linked up. Seamlessly, it seems.

I am assured by those who know better - people who care - that this is all natural and part of the world we live in. To me, it smacks of witchcraft and a dystopian future.  I can write notes, plan lessons, keep a diary, make presentations, map journeys, use it as a compass and a gps system (we've been here before, I know); keep in contact with everyone (literally), check banking, read newspapers, magazines, novels, comics, watch tv, films listen to the radio and just about anything else you want to ask of it.

Another thing is to film on it - there are various ways of capturing ideas or documentary evidence available; there is nothing we can't record or document, it seems. All well and good. I suppose.

As mentioned previously, I can't actually read, watch or listen to all the stuff I have now and I'm sure I'm not the only one. The easier it has become to record and save everything, the easier it seems to compartmentalize stuff and ignore it.  The rise of "storage facilities" perhaps is endemic of this phenomenon. Those big yellow (usually) boxes on the edges of towns now house thousands of objects of ephemera that can easily be put of our minds. What will happen to these in the future as they are forgotten about - probably due to the space vacated in our houses giving space over to new chindogu. Are these new pyramids for future civilisations to find and make assumptions about us? I'm put in mind of that Arthur C. Clarke story Expedition to Earth where a future alien race find artifacts from the Twentieth Century and it ends up that it was a Disney cartoon they were watching. Suggesting, of course, that even our entertainment may seem like the pinnacle of our civilisation whilst ignoring the important stuff. Whatever that may be.

So, we have so much to take up our time now that we can't possibly process all the information available. Now I'm reminded of William Gibson's concept in Neuromancer of information being the Twenty First Century's main form of wealth/power.  The idea that all information available is out there (ie on the web) but the people with actual power are those who know the right things - you know, as far as wealth goes,  knowledge is power not how much money you have. As I often tell students, I may not be that intelligent but I know how to access information. This is a point that Ian Gilbert wrote about in Why Do I Need A Teacher When I've Got Google? I have learnt the skills required to access info and can work out what is the right info. "Research" nowadays seems to mean typing a phrase or word into Google and printing what comes out having not read it, processed or understood said info. This is where teachers are important to Gilbert - we can teach how to work out what you need to know.  An obvious point, I guess, but it doesn't seem to be globally accepted as such.

Anyway, at our school (all right, Academy) all the sixth form are being given iPads - hence me being given one as I'll need to know how to use one - but this could be seen more as a bribe than a reasoned educational imperative (I mean to keep the students at the school as opposed to defecting to another one). We'll see whether the experiment works.  I hope that they get them soon and the film and media students can get their production work made. Then we'll see whether it's useful for my subjects - whether they are going to be useful for the more traditional subjects, amongst others, is a moot point currently. I have a feeling that it's going to be difficult knowing what the students are actually doing - given that iPads were really designed for a more leisure approach to life. Texting and Gaming seem to be the more obvious choice for these machines. Still, I'm off to London again for the BFI Media conference later in the month and one of the workshops is "Using iPads in the classroom".

Hmm, I can't imagine for one minute that I'll come back much wiser but I'm sure the powers that be** know better.

* not that I ever bother to check work emails once I get home
** our management, that is, not the government - they'd have us using chalk and slates


Andy Wright said...

Whitesmead Road! You are absolutely right in that 'There be dragons' especially late (ish) at night circa 1970 !
The Ipad epidemic has struck in these parts too with Mrs W taking delivery of hers a couple of weeks ago. (She is having difficulty making use of it at the moment though as it seems to be welded to my hands!) What a fantastic bit of kit.........is it absolutely necessary? Probably not but it's an entertaining toy which is great for displaying photos of the grandchildren on! Hope you are enjoying Sandy denny season.....

Mike C. said...


Whitesmead Road, really? I take your word for it (and Andy W. should know) but, as you're aware, I had the great privilege of going out with a certain young lady who lived on WR, and frequently walked back to Chauncy House 1970/71/72 from those parts, often late enough to see the street lights all go off at midnight.

Maybe I'm scarier-looking than I think (or luckier!).

Ipads are great, I've concluded, provided you adjust to qhat they do well, rather than expecting them to be a PC. For a really useful (free) app, get "IA Writer" -- gets round most of the keyboard issues for writing purposes.


Mike C. said...

P.S. thanks for "chindogu" -- not come across that before. V. useful -- we regularly have a catalogue of such treasures posted through our door (Betterware).


Dave Leeke said...

Yes, I was smiling when I wrote that because ironically Whitesmead Road is probably a very desirable area to live now! The iPad, meanwhile, is rather addictive, isn't it?

Ah, Mike, the delectable Miss JC lived at the right end in a rather lovely house. Jim Green lived halfway done the road which allowed him to jump over from his garden onto the garages into Four Acres to get to my house quickly. His positioning may have reflected his character! Actually he's a taxi driver in Stevenage nowadays and picked me up a few years ago to take me to a gig in Weston ( don't laugh - I'd blogged myself and a few friends into a private party with the Oyster Band as main guests). I also bumped into him at Cropredy the following year. Strange, small world.

Thanks for the app advice, I'll check it out. I've just been given a device so I can project it onto the interactive whiteboard in class.

Oh brave new world . . .

As for the Betteware catalogue, that certainly is chindogu in action. Shades of Billy Conolly's big slipper sketch here.

Mike C. said...


I'm not inventing that street light thing, am I? I'm sure they were on a timer that switched them all off simulataneously at midnight -- I can remember looking forward to it (we made our own entertainment, etc.).


Dave Leeke said...

I'm not sure, Mike, I think I was probably tucked up in bed by then. Haha . . .

You and I wandered back from places quite late - well after midnight - often enough. I'm sure that the lights were on (in my case, no one home!).

Mike C. said...

Now I'm troubled... False memory syndrome? Perhaps you're right, maybe it was merely consciousness shutting down for the night...


Martyn Cornell said...

Apologies for popping late into this conversation, but yes, the lights did go off at midnight ...

Mrs C used her iPad to Skype me in Hong Kong while she's in the kitchen in Teddington cooking our daughter's supper. We do now have the videophones Tomorrow's World told us about, except that you can also use them to watch television or a film, listen to the radio anywhere in the world, play games, check information, send 'letters' to people, read books and newspapers, WRITE books and newspaper articles, take photographs (have you seen people take pics on iPads? very odd) find our way around with speaking maps - Raymond Baxter, you'd be staggered, mate.

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Martyn,

I'm about to get my sixth formers to produce films on their iPads (when they finally do - they've been promised them for months) so it will look very strange. At least phones look a bit like (modern) cameras.

eeyorn said...

I knew the area well too,was close friends with another ex-Alleynian in Greydells Rd. I also well remember the divine JC who I had a puppy-dog crush on for many a year.

As an ex computer programmer I can only admire and awe the leaps and bounds being made with computer technology.

But its getting a bit too like 1984 for my liking.

It worries me to hear of stories of these devices being activated without their owner's knowledge or consent.

Conditions in the Chinese sweatshops used to manufacture them are diabolical.

So coupled with the fact that I'm perpetually skint, I try to do without them.

Dave Leeke said...

Your comments, eeyorn, were locked in some sort of Blogger purgatory "awaiting comment". So, apologies that this has only just been published.

I like the phrase "puppy-dog crush" - I've had a few of those in my time. Too many, but let's move on . . . It would seem that Ms JC was a popular young lady - so much unrequited love!

To be perfectly honest, I could probably have lived happily without computers but they are forced onto us at school so we have to learn to use them. Badly.

It seems, though, that we are being forced into using them no matter what. I strongly suspect that your comments re 1984 are very apt. If we're all on them, it's easier to be tracked.

Woody Allen said, "I believe there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it's the Government."