Sunday, September 13, 2015


I'm in the middle of a class, a free, online class my mom suggested we take together because it might be fun. As it happened, there was a slight miscommunication about what the class was and it turned out to be more project than class and tied to a subject about which I have doubts: future tech and storytelling. The class is spread across internet platforms and physical locations, with my participation constrained to online. It has a SciFi/mystery bent and is extremely collaborative with a soup├žon of monitoring your teammates. At times, it seems designed to raise awareness of the instructors' ultimate project rather than an exploration of how storytelling may change when we are a more completely wired society.

This morning, however, as I was standing in the arboretum by the yew hedge, breathing deeply and staring into the morning blue sky, I realized that this class shouldn't do anything for me. By my very own doubts about crowd sourcing and free culture, a class for which I paid nothing should provide me with nothing. This is different from the belief that we pay for whatever we learn (in a variety of ways), but strikes at the dark heart of my ongoing frustration.

Why should I expect anything from a free course? In the terms set out by our instructors, this is not a class, per se; instead it's a collaboration. So they donate their time under the auspices of their universities and institutions and we participate, lending out creativity and social media presence to the development of a project that will be staged at various film festivals, etc.

We aren't together to explore a concept except in the sense that it is available for us to play with.

In other words, it's not them, it's me. I brought old expectations to a new activity. The clash of those expectations has been a series of contentious phone calls between myself and my mom and grousing from other family members as we fight through these assignments and negotiate levels of mutual participation. And this insight wasn't wholly the product of an unexpected fall morning in mid-September (this is Texas, after all. Still late summer). It was in part prompted by comments from our team members who mentioned that they felt more instruction would help with concepts and activities that had become confusing and frustrating, building on incomplete assignments that were never designated as such (because all 'feedback' must fall with a whisper for group cohesion and limits should be ignored).

They were right, of course. A "class" intent on imparting concepts should have active instructors interacting with assignments...but we should probably pay for that, right? Pay for our instructors' time and attention, read entire books rather than watch 15 minute TED talks, and receive background on concepts rather than being told that this is being 'invented' right before our eyes. Maybe there should be a nod to the idea that a massively wired world might not be a paradise in all aspects. That stories exist both to structure our mental space and to allow others to adjust that structure. What will happen when the crowd begins to tell its story?

Even being a temporary part of the crowd doesn't provide answers. Except that I should watch out for the structures that trip me up: the concepts that are linked to old experiences that are already being rewritten.

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