Adapt to Experience Journal writing is your private record of what you know

Propaganda and Personal Learning

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Personal Understanding

R A Heinlien said, "The right to figure things out for yourself is the only true freedom that every person shares."

If only that were so.  Our world is filled with propaganda. When the news media feed me on nonsense and call it truth, when "freedom of speech" is used as an excuse to distort facts and to mock history, when people who seek my support are dishonest with me, they take away my ability to make sense of anything.  How well the future turns out turns out depends entirely on the values of the leadership and the values of the community members. 

We can't have an information society if the only wise people are monks and shepherds, those who are disconnected from the world.  Sadly that is the result if to be connected is merely to become a target for propaganda.  Hence the plea for freedom of personal peer to peer communication, in every country.  Let people learn about the world from each other.  If my friend tries to indoctrinate me with some propaganda he ceases to be my friend.  Businesses or governments may chose to "spin" the truth, but my friends never do. 

It's said that it took Copernicus 36 years to learn that the earth orbits around the sun.  I can't be sure about that, but I can confirm that it's taken me most of a lifetime to learn that you can't teach people things. 

Education is something learners do, and if they don't "do" then they don't learn.  All the important lessons of life are driven by the demand of the learner for understanding.  That's why the internet has value to individuals, and a good reason to see wide public assess in every community.  However most people use the Internet poorly. The key value is not in using Google to search the web for dead data, which is too often all that people do. The key value of the Internet is not as a way to advertise or to make sales. The key value of the Internet is in peer to peer communcation made more powerful by the ability to join groups. In groups you find sources of "living data" or what I call "rich data©".

Your Own Data

A useful way to think about data and information is to think about the effect of heat on matter.  If you cool something down the nuclei slow their motion and the atom becomes more ordered.  If you add heat the nuclei increase in excitement and at some stage the stability of the material will change, heated metals or plastics can be pressed into new shapes for instance.  A person living a normal life might be thought of as cold or cool.  If you read, study, collect you own data, take notes about your observations you get warmer.  Getting connected to the internet will certainly have the effect of raising the temperature, but not instantly. 

On the internet it takes time to find your way about.  Your most important task is to find peers with whom you can exchange ideas.  You need to listen to what they are saying.  You read and think.  This has the effect of raising the "temperature".  The constant addition of new data raises your "information pressure" and increases the chance that some sort of learning change will take place.  Be prepared to lurk in the background for awhile and as you develop confidence you may be able to share some ideas, and learn from the reaction you get.  Once you begin to express your own opinion, the intensity of your engagement rises and the rate of learning increases.

People learn best from other people they trust. 

All learning is at one time both personal and social.  If I am to learn, whatever it is that I learn today must be in a form that I can graft onto or build into whatever previous knowledge I have.  Since my previous knowledge came to me almost entirely from people I know and respect, it is likely that I will learn best from that same cultural source.  I am adapted to this style of learning because of historic and social ties to those particular people and to other people whom are recognised by me as their peers. 

The Internet enlarges my ability to find new teachers and to learn with a more diverse group of fellow students.  Newspapers, radio and television carry broadcast messages, but they don't carry personal messages.  From broadcast media I can learn about some things in a general way, but the news is often "spun" and mis-reported.  The easiest thing to learn from mass media is the "pop-culture" of the time, ways of dress, popular sayings, urban myths, who the "stars" of sport, film and music are supposed to be.  For adults the discussion on Oprah Winfrey might seem to be importantbut it seldom is.  The news media and entertainment services attempt to control your experience.  There is a large element of propaganda and indoctrination.  On the internet you control your own experience and shape it to suit yourself.  Ultimately that is far more satisfying than being entertained and told what to think. 

People seek to Connect to the Centre. 

There is a strong desire to connect with the widest possible world and to feel that you are a full member of it.  The Internet gives people that opportunity in a productive way.  People love to learn, because learning is an act of participation, it's a expression of the desire to become a member or to maintain membership.  When people learn together they develop a community of shared understanding and shared practice.  This desire to share ideas across national boundaries offers a lot of hope for the future of the world.  Once on the Internet, people will tend to connect to the wider world first.  There is huge demand to find the centre of activity, to be a citizen of the world, so chosen interests and the links with other people tend not to be local.  It's clear today in ways that were not so obvious six or seven years ago that the Internet is intrinsically world wide first, distance is not important. 

Local groups need a compelling local purpose.

Community leaders have been dismayed at the lack of interest in "local groups" and events on the Internet.  Local people seldom if ever visit local sites like the city council site for instance.  Efforts to form purely local on-line groups are unlikely to be supported unless there is a compelling local purpose.  There is a place for local groups on the Internet, when people want to do practical things in the local community.  For that to work there needs to be practical on the ground activities too, a face to face relationship as well as an on-line relationship.  Local lists, based on social issues are possible, but getting the membership above 20 or 30 will always be difficult.  Social networks and blogging can in theory also be effective at a local level, but the number of internet literate people in any local area is always too small to sustain active local networks.

Developing confidence on-line takes time and effort.

Even in the developed societies access to the internet doesn't change things quickly.  It takes time, at least 2-3 years to get familiar with the system.  It takes even longer to understand new ideas and concepts well enough to use them effectively in a public situation.  John Veitch comments, "In my own experience (which without research is the only experience I know) I can report that after about 5 years I began to feel more confident and began to feel that I could say what I thought and be fairly sure I wouldn't get flamed by other people on-line.  (Getting "flamed" is an expression from usenet, a news service that is now largely defunct because of abusive behaviour by commercial users.  It means to be criticised for being foolish or for breaking the rules.)  When I get new ideas today I have enough confidence in my own judgement to say what I'm thinking, usually in group email and often talking to a hundred or so people spread across the world."

Critical Living Questions

All learning is social.  Being a valued member of the community is to engage in this practice for the sake of the community.  Being a full member of the community requires something more substantial than having a David Beckham haircut, wearing jeans, or owning a cell phone.  The internet can help to empower people by giving them the missing pieces to life puzzles they are struggling to resolve.  If you have such a living question you will value the solution because it's critical to your future.  You can't proceed "knowing the answer".  Not knowing the answer gives the question value, and you need to pursue the solution wherever it takes you.  That's what seeking truth and meaning is about.  We learn by asking better questions.  We learn when we suspend judgement and taking the time to find better evidence.  We learn by taking down the structures in our minds that are faulty and by rebuilding more robust structures.  We learn by finding ways to explain what we are discovering to ourselves.  We learn when we share these new ideas with other people.  We learn if at first they don't really understand us.  We learn when our ideas are challenged, and we get a chance to see how strong they really are.  This process of is not efficient.  Sometimes understanding comes quickly, but learning new things as a adult when you also have to unlearn some old things, can be a long difficult business.

That's why the internet has value to individuals, and a good reason to see wide public assess in every community. The Internet supports personal life-long learning but cannot guarantee it. 

Internet Communication Skills

Access to the Internet is a necessary but not sufficient factor in helping people become information aware.  Training is essential if people are to quickly gain the skills they need to find information and to connect with other people who can be the keys to further knowledge.  This training may involve help with record keeping and with dealing with large volumes of data, most of which can be safely ignored.  Yaacov Iland identified these skills as "information techniques" but I prefer the idea of communication skills.  I include in those skills, ability to search for data, maintaining one's own sources of data, joining peer to peer networks, collecting and evaluating the ideas of other people, and contributing your own thoughts to the pool of ideas.  A person who has these skills will be connected with several communities of practice.  Membership of these communities will provide new data for consideration and a continuing flow of challenging questions to ponder.  Within such groups the process of lifelong learning seems the natural thing to do. 

John Stephen Veitch