In my previous blog in this thread towards-a-theory-of-ed-tech-introducing-simondon.html I proposed developing a theory of educational technology together and introduced the first paper on Simondon. Today I am introducing this paper on Stiegler and explaining why I think that Stiegler might have something to offer our emerging new theory of Educational Technology.
The focus reading is: Roberts, Ben (2012) Technics, individuation and tertiary memory: Bernard Stiegler's challenge to media theory. New Formations, 77 (1). pp. 8-20. ISSN 0950-2378 .
But the discussion is looking Stiegler in general including, for example, his recent comments on the Internet http://www.samkinsley.com/2013/11/21/bernard-stiegler-the-net-blues/
Stiegler builds on from Simondon.
Firstly he takes Simondon's account of the distinctive logic of technical objects and their individuation and goes further to focus on the individuation of the network that unites them. Technical objects individuate with their milieus, as Simondon put it and that milieu can include a network without which they could not exist. Cars require petrol stations, roads, supplies of spares and garage mechanics etc. Whereas Simondon wrote about machines Stiegler is more attuned to the Internet and the emerging Internet of Things. Does this network have its own logic? It seems to have. Something to do with universalising, connecting everything and everyone.
Secondly Stiegler points out that what we think of as human is always already bound up with technology such that human development has been and continues to be a co-evolution between the organic element of human and the technical element. Simondon said something similar but he referred to the human element required in the evolution of technology as being 'anticipation'. In the iterative cycles of innovation human intelligence is needed to read the cues and anticipate what is required next for the concretisation journey of the technical object.
Stiegler looks at human evolution and spends some time establishing that this 'anticipation' is of technical origin. Or rather it is undecidably human/technical or what/who. So, for example, the frontal cortex grew at the same time as, and in slow conjunction with, the anticipation required to make tools like flint chipped axes. Tool making led to human capacity to anticipate as much as other way around. Part of this story is also communication. Language is also more than biological human individual. Words are jointly forged artefacts. Their use implies anticipation. Thinking how others will respond. So what we think of as a who question - who are we? - is also a what question. We are technology on the inside from the beginning.
[Note: Donald Merlin and Tomasello cover similar ground but focus on communication in a more obviously dialogic way. Merlin points to the splitting of the working memory into two in mimesis or gestural communication to see oneself from the the point of view of the other in communication. Tomasello writes of the need for 'dialogic representions' to handle the joint attention needed by apes to understand their increasingly complex social lives.]
These two moves by Stiegler going beyond Simondon are interesting for a theory of educational technology. To be human is to be technological. What we are educating is not just the biological individual but the biological plus the technical. 'Person plus' as David Perkins puts it. But more than that the individuation of specific humans seems to be part of the individuation journey of a socio-technical network. Education is not just about human desires it is following a larger than human logic. So we try to expand literacy without worrying too much whether non-literate cultures really want this 'gift' because we are already literacy on the inside (e.g millenium goals). Now there are moves to promote 21st Century skills or 'Future skills' that are the needs of the emerging network society on the inside. Skills such as how to work together with tools on the internet to get things done even when not co-located. This contrasts to the still common view that ed tech are tools to serve separate education goals - now the ed tech becomes the goal in the sense of teaching how to participate in the tech and with the tech. (Wegerif, 2015).
For Simondon and for Stiegler, transindividuation is carried by cultural tools. Education is not just about individuation it is about transindividuation. Transindividuation is an open-ended ongoing process with multiple facets.
One way to understand this is to take Oakeshott's claim that education is induction into 'the conversation of mankind' through which we become fully human and to push this a little further. Oakeshott ignored the tech required for his vision as literacy was naturalised for him. Clearly the conversation of mankind as taught at Cambridge in his day did not include the voices of non-literates - he did not see the problem with that. With new tech we have to see literacy as not naturalised but as just one technical system of communication amongst others. Education is induction into the dialogue of all things, not just all people, mediated by a range of technics, not just literacy. Through education we move in the direction of becoming most fully ourselves by becoming participants in an ongoing journey of humanisation that is also transhumanisation. In small-scale oral societies education had an endpoint - you knew when you were fully human - it was when the ancestors spoke to you and welcomed you in. With literacy, globalising empires and capitalism a new vision of the fully human emerged - the global citizen. But if we acknowledge the independent voices of technics and things, this humanism is no longer enough - education becomes induction into the ongoing journey towards universal dialogue - all matter, all animals, all peoples, all gods etc. I see this emerging new post-human vision of education as linked to science in the broad 'wissenschaft' sense where science is understood as open-minded shared inquiry.
Stiegler, technics and time
Steigler's account of the role of technics in time is interesting for an emerging theory of ed tech. Roberts, in the reading, outlines this very well:
'Husserl distinguishes between primary retention or memory and secondary retention or memory. Primary retention is the kind of memory that is necessary to perceive a temporal object such as a melody: in effect the melody will not exist as an object of perception unless the listener retains or remembers the notes that precede the one that is currently heard. Secondary retention is, as it were, the more traditional understanding of memory where, for example, I remember a melody I heard last week. There is also a third kind of memory, which Husserl calls ‘image consciousness’ and Stiegler calls ‘tertiary memory’ where an external object, such as a picture or photograph, reactivates a memory. Now for Husserl primary memory can be rigorously distinguished from secondary or tertiary memory because it belongs to the act of perception itself, whereas secondary or tertiary memory involve acts of imaginative selection. Secondary and tertiary memory are thus derivative from primary memory, secondary memory or our perception of the temporal object. ' Stiegler reverses that order. Our experience of time, he says, requires and is mediated by technics.
To put this another way, the Internet is not just a repository of our experiences, it constitutes them. When I click on a music video I have a unique experience.
This is also an account of how come we experience things in time. Historical time, the past that we have not lived, is embodied in objects, texts, videos etc and our experience of time emerges in a kind of dialogue between primary time (the resonance of now) with this tertiary or historical time which is the time of technics. We have conscious awareness of time because of technics.
One way to investigate education technology is in relation to its role in inducting students into time (http://www.rupertwegerif.name/blog/education-as-a-journey-into-time)
Alienation and ed tech
As we saw Simondon corrected Marx to say that the problem of alienation is not so much about ownership of machinery as about participation in the design of machinery. Workers or consumers who are not participating creatively in technology development have their individuation capped - they are truncated and unhappy - not part of the larger transindividuation flow process.
Stiegler refers to the Internet as a 'pharmakon' concept in this respect - pharmakon means both poison and remedy in Ancient Greek and was used by Plato to refer to writing in Socrate's dialogue with Phaedrus. Writing was offered by a god to the Greeks as a remedy curing their problems but Socrates saw it more as a poison destroying current morality and education based on practices of face to face dialogue and memorisation. (http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/phaedrus.html) (http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis and also Bernard in a video https://youtu.be/SRNjImtIA0M Stiegler Keynote www2012 Lyons).
Anamnesis is 'calling to mind' without tech and hypomnesis is memory tech, photos, texts etc . The danger Stiegler sees is that of control of big data. The big data of the Internet is our collective life and our possibility of trans-individuation. Is the culture/data something experienced as opposed to us or experienced as something that we are part of? (http://www.rupertwegerif.name/blog/who-are-we-really-a-blog-for-christmas)
This is about our experience of time. Some forms of education separate the hypomnesis from the anamnesis - historical/cultural time from everyday time. Other forms unite the moment with the history/culture - hypomnesis and anamnesis can be united in dialogue creatively and dynamically. This is the idea of dialogic education from Freire where the dialogue has no limits but includes dialogue between the moment and the culture or between primary memory and Stiegler's tertiary memory. Ed tech has a crucial role in facilitating that dialogue.
Wikis and peer-to-peer learning communities enable not only access to collective knowledge but participation in producing it. Tools such as 'tinkerplots' give interactive access to understanding and working with collective data. Citizen science projects on, e.g, global warming or exploring the interstellar debris of the big bang, give everyone access to live participation in collective inquiry into reality both producing and consuming shared understanding.
So the Internet could be reducing us to isolated passive individuals, dumbed down and distracted, at the mercy of manipulation by big companies - or perhaps it has the potential to facilitate the emergence of a collective intelligence that is much more than human. Stiegler shares his concern about the danger of the Internet shaping our brains in a limiting way http://www.samkinsley.com/2013/11/21/bernard-stiegler-the-net-blues/ But perhaps this depends to some extent on us, our foresight and our use of ed tech. We could use it as a tool to deliver fixed high status 'knowledge' - a framework that locates each present moment in its place and each person in their place - or we could use it as a way to engage each moment and each person more creatively in constructive dialogue with every other moment and every other person - participating in a collective movement of transindividuation that is also a transformation - a turning inside out - of reality.
For Stiegler this is an undecidable question or an aporia. He is side-stepping the potential charge of technological determinism and teleology. But - according to Simondon - our role as researchers is much like that of any other creative engineer - to read the cues and participate in a process of innovation that is more than just our intentions or the intentions of the machine but a kind of synergy. The emergent logic of what needs to be done to take things forward. One possible reading of our situation - a reading inspired by Stiegler's developments from Simondon - is that a coherent human/technical/natural planetary intelligence has the potential to emerge in the next hundred years or so and that the use of education technology can be defined by the role that it can play in facilitating that process.
A glossary of terms:
Stiegler, B. (1998). Technics and time: The fault of Epimetheus (Vol. 1). Stanford University Press.
https://youtu.be/SRNjImtIA0M Stiegler Keynote www2012 Lyons
Donald, M. (1991). Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Harvard University Press.
Tomasello, M., & Herrmann, E. (2010). Ape and human cognition: What's the difference?. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 3-8.
Perkins, D. N. (1993). Person-plus: A distributed view of thinking and learning. Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations, 88-110.
Wegerif, R. (2015). Technology and teaching thinking: Why a dialogic approach is needed for the twenty-first century. In The Routledge international handbook of research on teaching thinking (pp. 451-464). Routledge.
Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.