The silence of the cyberlambs

It’s taken long enough, but Clayfox has shaken off summer dreams to engage with a little edu-distopia, 2007-style.

Michael L. Wesch, the Kansas State University anthropology prof who brought the YouTube-fueled world a much-referenced little primer on Web 2.0 some time back, has had his students produce a new video, this one a decidedly grim picture of the college classroom grandly titled A Vision of Students Today. The jaunty electronica is back (CC-friendly Tryad), but this time it’s frosting a world of disjunction and guilt.

Behold sallow college students flashing sign after sign of disengagement with an scene of education that may as well be some boring corner of the moon — blandly self-absorbed, at any rate, in creaky rhythms and technologies and communication patterns dating from 1840-something, tagged as Death-in-Life by Marshall McLuhan forty years back already & still death-in-living.

They’re ignored and distracted, these laptop-toting prisoners of the Havisham lecture hall; they’re indebted, claustrophobic, self-loathing, and lazy. Their lives are being drained away by Facebook twittering, while off in the lectern distance some dork scratches at a chalkboard and impervious-anyway book spines sit uncracked. And oh, the fluorescence, the fluorescence…

Tragic, no? I’m struck by the ways our young victims express and don’t express themselves in this YouTube cri de coeur. It’s a Vision of Students Today that’s clearly filtered through Alienation, Adolescent 101; one suspects that Catcher in the Rye is a rare one of the eight books these kids have managed to find time to read (or not…). Did you glimpse that Google Doc, that hub, presumably, for planning the video? “200 students made 367 edits to this document.” Collective expression in action! And… action!

And yet we hear no voices. Instead, here’s the tour of a sterile wilderness of signs–some scrawled on furniture, several displayed by kids fixing the camera with a a look of bale. Sometimes a sign is two-sided; it says one thing, then their holder flips it over to counter or complicate. One turn of the screw. But that’s as deep as it gets: the flipped succession of surface statements.

I’m sure these students recognized themselves as doing something provocative, challenging norms, goading the world to rethink the process of college education . It’s a start, but just a start, a register of sad: using collaborative communication to hunker down in oversized sweatshirts behind a slogans that say, with variation: We don’t get you (flip over) you don’t get us.

Let’s hope that the next YouTube sensation from Wesch — who clearly knows how to make ’em — shows students in a more active mode, trusting themselves with a subject beyond disfunction.

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