Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Wed, 24 May 1995
As I left this morning for a walk, I noticed a large, magnificently engineered spider web shimmering in the moonlight. It's strands were attached to and brought together in common purpose some day lilies, a rose bush, a few purple cone flowers, and an overhanging branch of a Japanese magnolia. And I thought of a brief discussion I had with by an e-mail friend about, from my own experiences, the values of the internet in terms of education, professionalism, and community. Now, I am no guru when it comes to discussing the places you can reach, the things you can see, the people you can meet, the information you can garnished, the education you can receive as you ride on this electronic superhighway. I know tomes have been written on the psychology participating on the internet, the sociology of the internet, and all the imaginable --ologies involved in the networking process. I would just like to offer a sliver of a few quick personal reflections.
First, let me say something I have already said a long time ago. How the internet operates is a very technical thing. What WE do with the internet is a very human thing. I will add, however, using the internet serves little meaningful purpose unless it helps tap our human potential for life-long learning and teaching, and makes us all a bit more humane.
That being said, the internet constantly reminds me that I live in a time of remarkable connectedness, where distance can be close community. Imagine, if I send this message out on all the electronic lists of which I am a member, it will go out instantly to at least 10,000 people around the world! And if some of them strike up a conversation, people will be talking to people from different walks of professional life in different lands who otherwise would never have known each other, cared to know each other, cared about each other, much less known of each other's existence. One message, to 10,000 readers passing over natural barriers, oblivious to mountains and rivers and oceans, ignoring manmade borders without regard to restricting visas and passports or inspecting customs officials or imposing armed guards! One message, entering into a host of officers and homes as if invited to a cordial electronic cocktail party. It's exciting, fascinating, fantastic.
I find myself joined globally in a way that I am only seconds away from people on the other side of the planet when I need information, when I need guidance, when I need to share, or when someone needs me to listen. So very few give a flip about nationality, religion, accent, age, degrees, profession, gender, or race. It gives me a stronger uniting sense of human and global bonding and relegates disuniting differences to the musty attic of irrelevance. For me the internet forges a super-classroom or a super campus, and, at times, an extended loving family. On a scale I could not have imagined several years ago, the internet gives me a sense of being a part of something larger than myself; it gives me a sense of belonging; it gives me a feeling in my bones that I am not alone; it gives me a sense that there are extended hands out there ready to help, support, and share in jubilation, and in some cases, offer comfort to ease pain; it is a relationship from which I draw satisfaction, encouragement, perseverance, strength and endurance.
There are people on this list whose voice I have never heard; whose face I have never seen. As a "toucher", I regret that I can't flesh them out. But I count them respectfully as my colleagues, as my CLOSE friends, as my teachers, some as my students, whom I would love to meet, with whom to have a toast, and who I would someday love to hug. I am closer to some of the people working on another campus or living on another continent than I am with my colleagues on my campus. And I have had more intimate conversations with both students and teachers across continents and oceans than I have had with colleagues in the next building. That is fascinating, exciting, and fantastic--and in some ways sad. I also have found to my unexpected delight that the internet can have, if given a chance, a leveling and humanizing effect. Think about it. I was just conversing with a high school student whom I have never met and whose very existence I didn't know about until last week. She is graduating from a small mid-Western high school. Her first message started with a "Dear Louis." Can you imagine that? Can you imagine her coming up to me on my campus or at her school, before or after I gave a presentation, never having met me however much of my writings she may have read, and greeting me with a "hi, Louis?" I don't think so. Yet, except for the most pretentious, we all come across on the internet as just people, stripped naked of our positions, degrees, authorities. I constantly talk with individuals on a first name basis. We all do, and it happens almost instantly--and that would rarely happen if we were physically gathered at a conference. Unless someone wishes to tell me, I don't know if anyone is a college, community college, or university "professor"; I don't know if anyone is an elementary or secondary "school teacher;" I don't ask if I am talking with a "student." The internet allows me with greater ease to ignore these buzzwords, to ignore the barriers of labelling that otherwise interject themselves between people, in which we normally freeze and separate people with de-humanizing "I know all about you" stereotyping and divisive walls. I know we have to use these categorizing words to give us a handle on conversation. But, they are so separating. I'd love to throw them out the window. The internet lets us do just that, to just talk, if we wish, with mutual respect, person to person, without the damn distancing labels. And when we talk people, we see everything from a different perspective; we see that everything is about people, nothing or no one is irrelevant, and the differences are inconsequential compared to the common bonds of interest and humanity.
And finally, when another same high school student ended his message with "I count you as one of my teachers", or when my favorite fourth graders taught me a lesson in humility, I think how the internet affords me untold and unimagined opportunity to change, develop and grow; to learn about me and others, to learn from and teach others, to learn about and teach about the importance of others, their ideas and efforts, their human dignity and respectability. We cannot grow in this world without taking in other worlds; and the more worlds we take in, the more we become; and the more we become the more we discover we are less then what we thought we were; and the more we discover that we are less then what we thought we were, the more we become far more than what we think we are.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____