Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hell and High Water

Bill Gates and his company have high-jacked my computer again. Their notice that I should not power off, unplug, disconnect, or breathe without their consent has been on my screen for the last hour.

This would not be a problem except that I have work to do. This machine is my ticket to the smokeless factory of post-industrial labor. My life on line depends on it. As a cog in a bureaucratic, policy-driven, rule-governed, uber-controlled system, I have things to do. I move data around in Cyberlandia, and the State gives me a digital advice that turns into money that I use for rent, food, transportation and other needs in the analog world.

This obligatory and involuntary update is keeping me from being productive and I want to throttle Bill and his evil empire goons.

A lot of good that does.

This is something of a crisis because, of course, this is my first day back at work for a new semester. It also happens to be the monsoon season in the Sonoran Desert. Water runs fast and messy in the washes following the big thunderstorms.

I like the floods and wish I could be out there watching them, but I am here in front of this screen waiting for Bill's updates to download or whatever it is that they do.

I am not well adapted or evolved for sitting here and waiting. I can feel my body atrophying, slowing down, going into a sugar coma. We worker drones get way too much screen time and not enough walking, running, swimming, cycling, iron pumping, sun bathing, river rafting, or fresh air.

The upside, or downside, depending on how you look at it, is that I have a moment to ruminate on the state of teaching as we move more and more on line with a curriculum that fits that medium. For better or worse, this is what I come up with. 

Digitzed teaching, and its sanitized curriculum, to my eye, saps creativity, social critique, exploration of identity, and blood from learning to write. Time spent in class is more about policy enforcing and learning to navigate web sites than it is about finding and shaping meaning in lived experience.

Where, as a teacher, I used to ask students to explore how their identities were constructed, how they fit into larger structures of power, how privileges of class and race affected their chances in life, I now just help them correct their papers, learn how to get ahead without asking questions. My role now is less about helping them discover and develop their humanity than it is to help them find jobs and work the system.

It's the way of the 21st Century. All that other stuff is too messy, too dangerous, and so old school.

I don't usually think about it, but here in Microsoft purgatory, what else am I supposed to do? There are still some 30 updates to go, some 42,000 operations the computer has to revise before I can get back to work, move that data, tote that bit, fire that binary switch.

The digital world is too much with me today, but, if I want to be in the game, I need to knuckle under and pay homage to Bill, to Microsoft, to keeping students on line, glued to their screens, and busy making the grade, getting the carrot. It is not just Bill ( I know it is not fair or useful to hang all of social issues on one person) or his company or even all the minions, of course, but he is the face of it all for me. On we go into the brave new digital empire.

Or not. The rivers too have things to say. 


  1. Oh, do I ever agree with you! Have thought the same thing this week---just let me get to the MUSIC and the kids! And why am I spending so much time at my computer when I should know by now, after 30 some years, how to teach and make a difference !!! Thanks for writing, and writing so well!

  2. You nail the shift from uncovering oneself through communication to learning skills to "work the system." Wordsworth would be proud of you, and I encourage you to send this to Mr. Gates, signing it Sage Against the Machine.

  3. Use Google Apps and a Chromebook and drop Windoze completely.

  4. Interesting I wasn't even looking at the keyboard and thats what my fingers typed!

    1. The body knows. Yes the body remembers.