On reading (part 1)

The end of the academic year provides academics, and others I presume,  with an opportunity to rest, recharge and spend time with loved ones.

Seemingly it also provides an opportunity for rather pointless Twitter witchhunts, attacks and narcissistic requirements to submit to ‘my authoriteh’, but seeing as how I see this pursuit as rather pointless, I like to spend my time reading. You know, trying to learn more rather than assuming that I know everything and everyone should be forced to acknowledge my brilliance.

So, over the next few posts I thought I’d share with you what I have been reading (and why). Here are the 4 books I’ve been working through this break.Books

The first book is Bernard Stiegler’s Technics and Time II. As the name suggests, this book is the second in the trilogy that looks at the relationship between technology and the ‘invention’ of the human. In the first book, Stiegler’s thesis was that the the most primitive tools (technology), and the most primitive humans, co-create each other, tools are only needed when the future (time) becomes a concern, yet correspondingly, tools teach humans to see the future. This is kind of a chicken and the egg argument (which comes first…) but Stiegler’s point is that the human (the who) is not the subject of history and technology (the what) its object. Rather, technology creates humans as much as humans create technology. There’s lots of Derrida and Heidegger in here. I must admit, even though I am well-versed in reading post-structural and modernist philosophy, I find these among the hardest to understand. (A note on this: there seems to be a popular view expressed on social media that dense and complex writing necessarily indicates that the work is not worthwhile. This is nonsense, I am in awe of my science and mathematics friends for the complexity of the work that they do and for the years of toil that enable them to do this complex work. I expect to have to study hard to be able to understand this, and I don’t blame them when it takes a long time for me to understand this. Expecting philosophy to be different seems stupid to me.)

In the second book, Stiegler advances the argument that the industrialization of time, affected by technological change and our incorrect conception of it (as being treated by the human) is problematic because the memory of human is being reconfigured. This is because, for Stiegler, technics essentially function as a form of external memory, that remind subsequent generations of how to ‘become’. The problem with this exteriorization, and indeed, the acceleration of this prosthetic memory due to technological innovation (think of computerisation, network technology and Big Data), is that it fragments the world into disconnected events, and in those disconnections we (paradoxically) forget as ‘society’ that which we don’t remember.

As many of you know, I am interested in the technologisation of education, including the use of digital forms of assessment such as computer adaptive tests, learning analytics and the creation of interactive learning environments. What I aim to do is to engage with these approaches that are emerging in schools on their own terms, to provide a critical reading of them in their specific functions, rather than regressing to some technology is good/bad binary. In other words, asking how do they work, as both technical and social machines that produce certain things. Stiegler is proving very useful in helping me think through these things.

I’ll follow though with book 2 (Galloway and Thacker’s The Exploit) in the next few days.

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