My “So Called” Lives (Physical and Virtual) Gangnam Style

We all now live both physical and virtual lives.  If you don’t agree, take a look at how close your digital device is at this moment.  We are networking, connected, and always online. This evolution of networked culture has challenged me to be both a physical world librarian and a virtual world librarian.

Within this past month, I was coincidentally (I am not sure if that is the right word when you realize how pop culture inspired this post) asked to edit a Gangnam Style video in both worlds.

As a school librarian, I was asked to edit a video showing student engagement.  The popular Gangnam Style dance parody was embraced by everyone from kindergarten to our principal, pictured dancing in my library loft.


Just a few days later, as a virtual world librarian leading an exhibit tour to the Museum of Virtual Media, I was asked to edit another Gangnam Style dance- this time with avatars from around the globe. One of the tour guides, from Argentina, gave the participants a dance animation for the closing festivities. The exhibit was built by the University of Washington’s Certificate in Virtual Worlds Class of 2012 and features the evolution of media from ancient cave paintings, through radio & movies, into the future. Being asked to produce a video by two completely different patron communities fascinated me.

We all hear every day, as educators and librarians, about how we now live in a participatory culture. Spending time editing such diverse groups, in both physical and virtual worlds, made participatory culture clear to me in a way that I had never before experienced. Learning theorists, like Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey, proposed that learning is social in nature nearly a century ago, way before digital culture took hold. Witnessing this human desire to be part of a social experience through the global phenomenon of a popular dance video illustrated a new frontier in constructivist learning.

Seeing Past the Transitional Moment

There’s a question for you at the bottom of this post.

The Transitional Moment

This phrase (by Cathy N. Davidson) captures my life over the past five years. Both my library and my profession (librarian, information architect, media specialist, whatever) are in the transitional moment.  Many of us are diligently searching for ways to embrace 21st century information literacy skills to help others cope with what I call the “toppled hierarchy of information”.  Numerous recent professional books mirror the dystopian fiction (so popular with YA readers) through dark and foreboding predictions about the future of education, learning, and our changing humanity (see my recommendation list).

I just finished Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy N. Davidson and was pleasantly surprised by the more hopeful outlook on the exponential evolution of technology or the “singularity”.  I could write a 20 page-blog post as I flip through the tons of post-it notes I used to highlight fascinating tidbits in this text. Realizing nobody reads 20 page blog-posts, I will share a sample quote and a question for colleagues.


Davidson says, “We are both adopting new information technologies all the time and being alarmed by them, even wondering if they are causing us harm, exceeding our human capacities” (p. 16).  I sense anxiety when I discuss the digital revolution with educators because participatory culture no longer values expertise and uniformity.  Crowdsourcing places difference, collective wisdom, and diversity at the top of the value list (p. 65).  How does it make educators feel to hear that the knowledge and expertise acquired over years in the profession is no longer highly valued?  So, I ask myself – how do I cope? Answer: I cope with the closing of “the Gutenberg parentheses” by striving to adapt, evolve, and become information flexible.  I seek the ability to let go of formats and collide with others to learn adaptive skills.  In the new hierarchy, the law may be “survival of the information literacy fittest”.


The Science of Attention


Davidson brings together the topics of the changing hierarchy of information, participatory culture, and current brain research on the science of attention.  Her idea that we are always selectively paying attention to something (and NOT paying attention to something else) is a simple yet enlightening truth. She includes a checklist for teaching 21st century literacies, including: attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness and many more (p. 297).


A Question/Concern


A critical concept for the future of learning (included on Davidson’s checklist) is Critical Consumption of Information.   Without gatekeepers to verify accuracy, authority, credibility, and standards for ethical and aesthetically pleasing content, it can be difficult to find the cream of the crop (which used to be housed physically in a library) and to teach students to evaluate content.  Many people, in my opinion, simply do not care. I see them intrigued by the novelty and ease of sharing user-generated content through social media tools.  Sharing through social media is fun (nothing wrong with fun and I totally agree that all learning should be fun), however; social media often promotes a trivial , narcissistic, entertainment focused culture.  I totally agree with Davidson’s positive perspective on the future of teaching and learning. That being said, does anyone agree that the flood of images, videos, and witticisms we face daily can bury the best content under a mound of mediocre mud?  How do we promote tools for spraying off the mud and uncovering high quality resources when there are so many adorable cupcakes to be photographed and pinned? Awwwww…


We Are Not Gadgets

I first heard of the book, You Are Not a Gadget, from a fellow librarian colleague in  my professional learning network (thanks Lane).  I don’t know where to begin to consolidate the ideas I encountered in this book into a quick blog post.  You can see the plethora of post-its sticking out the pages which are also bookmarked, underlined and highlighted.

by Jarom Lanier










Jaron Lanier eloquently- or should I say bluntly- points out that the digital revolution has glorified the “wisdom of the crowd” to the extent of making us believe the digital fragments we post about ourselves are top priority in the hierarchy of information.  As individuals, we are becoming fragments of information bits. See page 21 for tips on “things you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.


The “wiki” trend of glorifying the crowd’s knowledge is propelling us toward becoming a “society with a single book” (p. 46). On the web, we jump from link to link, many of which are copied and pasted without any credit to the original source, as we cruise the net with a gluttonous appetite to intake what appeals to us and then spew it out to others, as though these stolen fragments can somehow define our individuality.


Participatory culture is a term that has become almost synonymous with democracy and who doesn’t love democracy? Personally, I work very well in groups and believe, as Vygotsky did, that we learn best in collaboration not in isolation.  I admire my co-workers and colleagues. In fact, I am often humbled by their talents, abilities and the genuine human kindness I witness from those around me.  What I admire, however, is the uniqueness of the individual and what each brings to the group.  Once again, I come face to face with opposites- which is more important- the group or the individual?  I believe it is both.


Lanier has challenged me to contemplate the balance between the “hive mind” of interconnectivity and the quest to actually think for myself. We are NOT our devices, although many people now feel vulnerable without them. (Come on, admit it- we all do!) The digital revolution has changed us more than we yet can understand.  (Isn’t the Apple store the busiest place you will see at the mall, even in hard economic times?) Perhaps people are afraid they will be left behind and will not be able to survive in the technological future without the latest gadget.  Lanier makes a great point by saying that the gadgets are “only useful because people have the magical ability to communicate meaning through them”.  Unfortunately, that personal meaning is often lost in the clutter of a million clamoring voices, all repeating each other or repeating what has been repeated and retweeted and reposted and repinned and mashed up into the one giant book we call the web.