Travel to Lima, Peru to attend HASTAC


I started this post the first day of the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, Technology, Alliance, and Collaboration) Conference in Lima, Peru, April 24-27, 2014. After writing two paragraphs, I abandoned the post, realizing that I had no idea what I wanted to write. From the moment I had arrived in Lima, I had been overwhelmed with stimuli, the usual busy-ness of el aeropuerto, the long, winding taxi ride to my hotel, the images that I saw, peoplescapes and cityscape, various shades of brown and white and gray, as we made our way, the taxi driver and I, rather herky jerkily to the haven for tourists--Miraflores. I was also of course adjusting to the language, calling up long dormant Spanish skills, which would over the course of cinco dias center on siete palabras--cuantos, donde, que, soy, estar, bueno, y si.

Conferences always overwhelm me, so a conference in a foreign country--all the more--and a humanities, arts, sciences, technology conference, well! Enough said. I attend as few conferences as possible because I pretty easily suffer information overload, and most conferences overstuff you with food and information. The HASTAC Conference was not guilty of offering too much food for physical consumption, but it certainly offered plenty for intellectual consumption.

Since I could barely find time to journal or blog, what with a nearly ten-hour schedule of sessions, I did my best to take it all in and to remember most of it though I, along with just about everyone else--okay, at least 40 percent of others--sometimes sat in sessions on my phone or laptop tweeting, texting, or Facebooking. Many of us no longer give our full attention to a speaker. Actually, most of us probably never did, and I for certain never have. In my formative years, I was one of the kids pretending to pay attention to the teacher. I always had my antennae up for what registered as important and ignored the rest so as to create a space in which I might attend to my own interests. This is still a regular practice of mine. I can't imagine that most people are not this way, and I wonder about those who aren't. 

Actually, I would definitely have to say that this was one of the--not directly stated--premises of the HASTAC Conference. Today's learners, catch-phrase--MAKERS--, are always connected and have their own projects going on, ones they feel passionately about, and one of their interests is in finding connections to people across the world who share their interests. Because the world is so connected electronically, opportunities to grow one's networks are constant and grow exponentially each day. So, that said, there really is no time to sleep, no time to sit passively or, even actively, listening to one speaker or one teacher at the front of the room when one can, through mobile devices, devote a fraction of the brain to listening while communicating, maybe, with someone on the other side of the globe who may benefit from a quick tweet of what the speaker in said room is saying. This kind of sharing won't go unappreciated; it will be returned sooner or later. This is the behavior, if I understand the message of the HASTAC Conference correctly--and I'm pretty sure that I do--of MAKERS, or at least of new makers. Author and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin too has highlighted and encouraged transition to connectivity as he thinks people who see themselves as connected to people throughout the world will in time grow in empathy. Rifkin also suggests that the coming economy is a sharing economy, one in which, because of sharing and connectivity--a continual growth in free access to goods and services will lower the cost for doing business. Rifkin concludes that the most significant growth in business will, accordingly, be in the non-profit sector.

I can see with Rifkin this new reality, because the work I have been doing for the last three years with students at Rust College, their inclusion in The Eaton/Bailey/Williams Freepeople's Transcription Project, is a good example of providing the public information it might otherwise take decades or more to develop access to were it not for the Internet and were it not for interests not focused on individual and financial gain. I started EBW-FTP in 2010 (renaming it in 2012) because, as one of my students put it, information on former slave owners should be available to the public and perhaps especially to African Americans. I cannot say at this point that all of my students feel this way. Many have demonstrated little to no interest in this transcription and research project, and others who have provided a bit of free, crowd-sourced, labor have shortened their involvement to a term. In that they have received course credit for their work, I might also reason that this--more than an interest in sharing--too has been a major motivator. Still, I think--or maybe I hope--that Rifkin is on to something. Perhaps Rifkin believes the direction in which we're going is irreversible and inevitable. If so, an economy of sharing would seem require a rethinking of how we educate, beginning in elementary school. Maybe, finally, the children gazing out of the window can lead the way.

In the closing session, Cathy Davidson, the mother of HASTAC, stated that the conference had been about learners and learning. Yes, it was. We have asked for eons how people learn, as well as how people best learn and how many different learning styles there are. Second takeaway, not new news but offered a little bit differently, the one-to-many model doesn't work for many, if not most. As I've stated, it never did work for me. The alternative is peer-to-peer and hyper-connection. Let students work in groups, let them learn from each other, let them develop their own projects so that they may be motivated by their own passions rather than by needs of industry that no longer exists as it used to. And let educators be happy to be nurturers and advisers, maybe, rather than the anointed ones, the only anointed ones in the room.

A couple final thoughts.

For HBCUs, to which I am devoted, this message seems especially important. Sometimes, we bemoan the fact that our campuses are not as highly equipped with technology as state institutions. Perhaps we think to throw in the towel when it comes to competing with tech, or perhaps we feel that the lack of high tech equipment lets us faculty off the hook. But, here's the thing, I'd be willing to bet that no less than fifty percent of our students arrive on campus with a smart phone, which is nothing but a microcomputer. Maybe eight percent or more (and growing) have a tablet. There are many ways, as I tell my own students, to stay connected. As one wise young person said recently, let's stop investing in things that do not matter. He meant Jordans and designer clothing. There is the option of getting one's own hotspot, which I have invested in myself. I have no regrets. Simply put, we pay for what we value. Ensuring one's own connectivity is a great investment at this time.

Lastly, Lima, Peru was an interesting choice of conference site. I will at some point write another post on this alone when I find or MAKE time. But for now, I would like to say that the fact that the digital divide appears to be quickly closing in Lima seems all too obvious. My taxi driver, though in an aged vehicle, had his smartphone out and gave me the password for wifi while we were in motion. This is a metaphor, one of many, to choose from at this moment in history. Lima is alive with capitalism, good news to some, bad news to others, but by most--it would appear at least on the surface of things-- the present has been accepted. Business in Lima exists on every level, from the megla multi-national corporation to the street cart, big business and micro business. Richard Rorty's model of the bazaar that I rejected more than twenty years ago as a basis upon which human relations would be built has fully arrived. As I observed Lima, one in which ten million people find sustenance at varying levels, I realized that the site was chosen very well by HASTAC organizers. It is the model of the future; it is in fact the present.




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