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[Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference

Human language learning at the University of Chicago in the mid-seventies
(which I did as an undergraduate in the Chinese department) was a lot like
rodent maze-learning. You checked into the language laboratory for two
hours of drilling almost every day. It went something like this:

TAPE RECORDER: "Ni you shu mei you?--piao" (Do you have a book--a ticket)
STUDENT: "Ni you piao mei you?" (Do you have a ticket?)
TAPE RECORDER: "Ni you piao mei you?" (Do you have a ticket?)
STUDENT: "Ni you piao mei you?" (Do you have a ticket?)

As you can see, there's a stimulus, a response, a reinforcement, and an a
reinforcement of the reinforcement, just to be extra sure. That was from
the educational psychology point of view then current, which Mike may well
recognize from HIS undergraduate days.

>From the early activity theory point of view, I take it what I was doing
was something like this: I was the subject, the language laboratory was a
tool/sign artefact, the correct model was the object upon which I was
operating and the correct response was the outcome. The rules were that I
was to do this five days a week, and there was a sign-in sheet delivered to
a teaching assistant on a weekly basis. The community, therefore, did not
include a professor, but it did include a fellow student paid minimum wage
to supervise the language laboratory (I speak feelingly, I did it before I
got a better paying job as a janitor), and I could glimpse of the tops of
the heads of my classmates in other cubicles when I stood up to leave after
two hours. Such was the division of labor.

You can see this fairly crude version of AT in a lot of articles in MCA. In
Vol. 15, No. 3, on p. 182, Wolff-Michael Roth uses it to lay out the A.N.
Leontiev's prototypical primitive communism situation (the hunters and
beaters). Iin vol. 15, No 4. on p. 327, Helena Worthen uses it to talk
about teaching people to negotiate working conditions. In Vol. 16, No. 2,
on p. 136, Norman Friesen uses something even more crude--the so-called
speech circuit, from Saussure's 1911 Course in General Linguistics
(complete with droopy lines connecting a speaker's mouth to a hearer's
ear!) I take it that the model of language in ALL of these is basically
that of my old language laboratory: the objects of language are essentially
objects without minds, aspects of the environment to be acted upon in order
to achieve particular outcomes, no different from a stone to be made into a
tool, or a mastodon to be transformed into dinner.

The problem is that this view of language is essentially that of your
average psychotic serial killer. It doesn't capture the simple fact that
the object of language is not an object at all, but rather a fellow
subject--often--yea, if we believe Chomsky, most often, that is, in the
vast majority of instances of language use we encounter in a single
day--the object is actually myself. I think there are some uses of AT (even
the Engestrom triangle) which very clearly DO take this into account. I
have seen some versions of the Engestrom triangle where it is used to link
two subjects and there is no object at all. In Vol. 13, No. 4, Katherine
Brown and Jule Gomez de Garcia point out that even in the unnatural
conditions of language use we find in a literacy classroom, the object of
language use is always SHARED with other human subjects.

In 1984, eight years after I'd left the University of Chicago, I found
myself on a bus in Beijing. The bus was full as only Beijing buses could be
in those days, and a scratchy din emanated from a tiny loudspeaker near
where I was standing. I watched as people one by one got on the bus, pushed
their way to the conductor, and bought a ticket, and only then did I
realize that the loudspeaker was a human voice saying:

"Mei piao mai piao, a! Mei piao mai piao, a!"

In other words, "Do you have a ticket?"

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 12 March 2015 at 01:11, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

> It is great to see this discussion broaden out temporally to take us back
> to the oldest of communications media we can manage. The question raised in
> this manner is more or less what we set out to explore when we created a
> Department of Communication at UCSD with checkered success.
> Very interesting to see the lists and previously unspeaking voices appear,
> almost as if a minicurriculum in "The history of human mediational means
> and their associated lifeworlds" were lurking out there in xmca-land.
> To help me understand just a corner of this vaste terrain, might you,
> David, expand on these comments:
> Nevertheless, the tape recorder has had an impact on pedagogy that is
> almost negligible. In EFL, where I now work, it served to make a huge
> amount of money for the distributors of language laboratories. But language
> laboratories worked by fencing learners into cubicles, and *replacing the*
> *subject-subject relation we find in natural language use with
> asubject-object relation which we find in crude versions of Activity
> Theory.*
> Given our ongoing discussions about the varieties of and attitudes toward
> different versions of "THE" Activity Theory, it would help me to understand
> clear examples of a crude version
> of AT and how it is applied alongside a subtle/better version of AT and how
> it is applied in a different way.
> I am conjecturing that if we could get some broad, "germ cell"
> understanding of the issue in bold above, it might serve as an analytic
> lens through which to view of the history of mediation and activity in
> human life.
> mike
> On Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 4:36 PM, Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu>
> wrote:
> > Seven things I learned from What People Said About Books in 1498, by John
> > H. Lienhard (http://www.uh.edu/engines/indiana.htm):
> >
> > 1. Sharing is a cultural invention, not a technological one. Sharing must
> > be reinvented in each community and in each generation.
> >
> > 2. Caxton was not a cultural snob.
> >
> > 3. Margaret was one cool hipster.
> >
> > 4. Mennochio and I have a few things in common, but I hope to live to be
> > an old woman and not charcoal on a stick.
> >
> > 5. I regret Lienhard's the analysis of Medieval scholars using
> > Myers-Briggs. I wish that rubric would just die.
> >
> > 6. "We cannot have a clue as to what any technological future will be
> > until we learn it from a new generation of users." <-- What he said!!!
> >
> > 7. We can only know what we know when we have an idea what we don't know.
> > Which is why I love what he said about seeking our ignorance. And: "To
> > impose is not to discover."  Yeah. That.
> >
> > Kind regards,
> >
> > Annalisa
> >
> >
> >
> --
> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal as a natural science with an object
> that creates history. Ernst Boesch.