This post is a little off-topic but relates to learning, and more specifically, my own learning online. In a previous lifetime (about 15 years ago now) I was going to school to be an audio engineer – and we learned about electronics as part of the core courses to graduate. It’s been handy to know about circuits and electrical theory, but I haven’t used it in many years so it’s not on top of my mind. I’ve been thinking about building guitar effects pedals, so I’ve been prowling around the web looking for lessons on soldering (my weakness), schematics and whatever else I could find. And I’ve found a lot! Tons of message boards, plenty of PDF schematics, lots of discussion around noise-making, adapting circuits, bent circuits and many beginners tutorials. In fact, had I known back then what I know now, I might not have given it up to do something else.
What this has to do with learning is simple, in my case, I’m motivated to learn and will spend most of my time doing so if given the freedom to do so. Much like learning in informal settings – motivated learners taking on tasks that are directed to solving their problems.
I was reading the article that the Guardian posted about excessive use of the Internet being a possible relation to increased depression, to which they posed the idea that maybe the people who use the Internet “excessively” are predisposed to an isolated life, where depression is a likely symptom.
I know I use the Internet excessively, more than most people, and I often wonder about the effects of this use, and the isolation I sometimes inflict on myself. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself bereft of any human contact, and certainly I’m not a melancholy sort of fellow…. still, the study abstract does not define what addiction is, nor what it means to be addicted or how much use construes addiction (and the three academic libraries I have access to don’t link to the journal it was published in).
Combine the information that 14% or so of excessive Internet users are also depressed, which begs the question, what’s the percentage of folks that are depressed in general? Do we have reason to be worried? This sort of infographic that recounts the State of the Internet 2009 adds a level of depth to those finding… well, maybe it does. Does that mean that approximately 13% of people aged 18-29 are depressed?
In the same interview that Howard Rheingold did, that I wrote about in my last post, he also touched on some ideas of the political ramifications of online communities. They aren’t new ideas, in fact they’re old ideas. It’s what attracted me to the Internet, and the World Wide Web in the first place. The idea of communication, finding like minds and working together (collaboration). The interesting part to me is collaboration – with collaboration you have an element of taking responsibility and control of what you’re working on. That level of personal responsibility has always been something that interested me since I see it as a keystone of civilization. As things move progressively more fractional, and large governments continue to become more and more unable to operate efficiently, we’ll see a return to local government and more personal responsibility for what we do.
Which is exactly like what we have online – what I say and publish online I will stand behind. The fact that most people who are online stand behind what they say is encouraging for a future where we have more individual responsibility. The follies that celebrities encounter online hopefully will subside as celebrities learn how to manager their identity and communities form around them to attempt to mitigate some of the damage done.
Maybe too the online community will lead us to smaller nation-states which are manageable and where people feel that their vote matters. Maybe, just maybe that means we won’t blow each other up so often as we start to collaborate with others across the world. Maybe that might grow some empathy for tragedies that occur elsewhere, and incur rage at repression in other places (and at home).