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Re: [xmca] adult affordances

Martin and all,

We are surrounded by "affordances", and some of them represent mere possibilities, while others are offers or demands. The environment (or better: our entrainment in larger systems of processes) is dynamic; not just some set of possibilities around us, but processes on multiple timescales that we are always already a part of.

In the case of students/adults those processes probably include social relationships and obligations, on-going activities, plans, hopes, fears, identity maintenance processes, etc. that quite likely are higher priorities for the students than the processes on-going in the classroom.

I'm assuming that the cellphones come out because students are receiving text messages or updates on Facebook or other social networking sites. If they are taking them out to play Angry Birds, then that's a more serious sign of relative priorities, because a game on a phone is an always-there-possibility kind of affordance, while the others I've mentioned are more of the offers-and-demands variety. Social networking for this generation of students (more or less anyone under 30, maybe under 40) is also a time-sensitive matter. The peer-culture norm requires timely responses.

As you know, there's a big debate among psychologists over whether "multi-tasking" really works. Most published studies say no, but I don't agree with their assumptions and methods. I don't think they understand the complex ways in which activities on different timescales inter-connect, and they ignore generational culture shifts in norms regarding how involved one needs to be in any one task, and even in how thoroughly and carefully tasks needs to be done. Academics of our generation inherit a largely "Puritan"/Protestant Weberian ethic about disciplined care with tasks. I think that is being replaced today with more of a sense that (1) many tasks regarded in the past as of high importance really are not that significant, and (2) if something doesn't get done now, it can be done or re-done, or completed, or revised or revisited at the next convenient opportunity. There is much less sense of urgency or do-it-now, when your life has taught you that there will always be a version 2.0.

So I don't think issue this fits a model, or even a metaphor, of developmental regression, but rather one of cultural change. A change many of us may regret, but I think it's useful to keep in mind that just as cultural differences are usually interpreted as deficits or immorality on the Other side, so cultural changes are almost always regards as being for the worse by elders and for the better by juniors.

Why not set up a Facebook page for your class? Experiment with having a discussion that takes place partly online and partly offline, even simultaneously? (I recommend a projector to make the online visibly public, but I think one can expect that students will still want to make private comments to one another during a discussion, as people do in business meetings, or even in faculty meetings these days!) See what their reaction is if you pull out your phone during class.


PS. If you don't know it, Tim Ingold has some very interesting discussions of Gibson, von Uexkull, and others on "affordance" and "environment" concepts, including, I think some useful critiques and potential improvements.

Jay Lemke
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Adjunct Professor, Department of Communication
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506

New Website: www.jaylemke.com 

Professor (Adjunct status 2011-2012)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York

On Mar 14, 2012, at 6:31 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

> An odd conjunction of issues of content and management  in my undergraduate developmental psychology course has me puzzled, and so I'm appealing for xmca help!  A few weeks ago I was expounding on the notion that the toddler lives in a world not of permanent objects but of affordances - irresistible offers to action, made by the things and people and places that surround him or her. Gibson, filtered through Vygotsky.
> At the same time, I was waging an unceasing war against the use of cell phones in the classroom. (Today I actually got to the point of confiscating them when I saw them, and telling the students they could buy them back from me later in the city center. With humor, I hope!)
> Finally, it struck me. These young adults, too, are victims of irresistible offers to action, made by their little iPhones or Nokias or whatever.
> So what is it about a cell phone that completely overwhelms any and every facet of self control? Why is it that I can forbid cell use at the start of each class, yet in seconds they start to appear? What is it that transforms a young adult into no more than a toddler?
> Martin
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