Yet does the adoption of a learner-centric network logic require us to develop aggressive, neo-liberal marketing strategies with an emphasis on self-promotion and immediacy to get noticed?
This is the impression I have from my students. However, more importantly, I see the next generation of internet users developing these skills on their own. As a result, there is more social identity based on how many "friends" you have on facebook, risky behavior that will get immediate attention, and less ability to take part in long, well-thought out indepth discussion. Part of the trouble I see from my students is the inability to read longer articles and/or interpret complex instructions.
While working in a computer lab for one of my classes this semester, I found most students, rather than reading the information provided to them, preferred to ask me simplistic questions on how to get the answer for one piece of their project. They never connected the dots and had little attention for the long term project. Once a piece was found, they never went back to it or connected it to other pieces of the problem. I can't tell you how many times I said to them, "It's in the information on Blackboard. Read through it." At which point, many of them chose to ask a classmate instead.
Is this at the expense of the richer communication and identity formation associated with traditional modes of participation and interaction?
Yes, there is a certain shallowness to the current communication. However, I am finding a backlash to this expedient form of communication. One of my students gave a speech on how facebook and texting is making personal conversations less "personal." I was surprised to see how many people agreed with him and felt that while they did not like this less personal style, they felt trapped by the current tools available to them to communicate this way. I think we will find two camps that develop: those that are "telegraph" communicators and those that reject the current forms of communication and commercialization.
There remains a natural human inclination to want to engage in, and become identified as a member of, communities, but how can this be cultivated in a more network-based culture?
Good question. I think that new tools to help develop these communities will need to be developed. I think the audio/visual tools that allow for two way communication will need to be developed. Most of these tools currently only allow for one way communication. However, as the need for engagement (including certain privacy and easy editing tools within the equipment) increases, there might be better use of video for community building.
However, this cannot happen as long as large corporations increasing control over the internet. This is where mobile technology and new apps might be able to create more democratic access that allows for engagement and community building. Ultimately, however, there needs to be more "personal" indepth contact with others in order to create the community. There needs to be public spaces for meeting, and private spaces for engagement.
Does this equate to a trade-off, where we embrace the advantages of an expansive engagement with wider networks and multifarious communities, or do we restrict ourselves to fewer, or even singular, localised groups?
I do think part of this has to with age. Looking at educational development, teens and young adults tend to have more superficial relationships as they are still creating their identity. Regardless of what tools are available, or even what culture you are looking at, teens will belong to multiple communities. As we age, however, and our identity is established, either by profession, culture, religion, local community, or a larger global community, we tend to limit those organizations and communities we join or are actively engaged in. This happens with or without technology.
I feel the same will happen with the networked society. The difference will be that we may have longer term relationships as a result of the networked society. For example, I have found that I can reconnect with those I went to graduate school with. We created a friendship which will last whether we are constant contact or not. However, the fact that we can connect through the internet means we can still feel connected even when we aren't face to face.
In other words there will be true friends and communities we feel connected to whether we communicate often or not, and then there will be "network friends." I see this even with my children. Facebook's new privacy settings allows this differences in engagements, I have found.