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Living in Important Learning Times or The Gatekeepers’ Removal

August 4, 2009

The Gatekeepers’ Removal
We live in important learning times. Whether that’s a curse or a blessing depends on your point-of-view. I think it’s a blessing for two reasons.

The first time I helped a student correct his error-riddled (green) text on a (dark) computer screen, I knew I would be learning how to use a computer. As a poor and slow typist, I could only get anything I wrote looking like an important document by paying a good typist. Even before the internet, a gatekeeper (the professional typist) stood between me and a polished document. Another and much more restrictive set of gatekeepers stood between me and being published. An agent, an editor, a publisher, and typesetters blocked my writings from being published almost all the time. Gatekeepers had specialized and expensive skills and equipment and I had only ideas that I could rough out (and I do mean rough) by hand.

Early Word Processor

The same kind of situation was true for photographs, audio recordings and film and video. The expense of hiring specialized experts and buying specialized equipment meant that there were very strong gatekeepers limiting people’s ability to practice their creativity fully. Suddenly, with personal computers and software, the expenses were less (a computer and a printer is less expensive than a printing press!) and the different skill sets were reduced and transformed into learning how to use software.

When I saw how easy it was to correct and print what I wrote, I was inspired to learn how to use the computer so I could do graduate studies. I read and wrote and printed up my work, and I’m not sure which was the most important learning, the theory I wrote about, or my learning how to use a word processor. At the same time, the phrase “user-friendly” became central to software development and it became easier and even more fun to create. The gatekeepers were being removed quite quickly.

Word for Windows Manual

So the gatekeepers were being removed ( and there were and are real problems connected with that, but that’s for a different post). But that wasn’t the major change, in my opinion.Living in Important Learning Times
Suddenly (well, in a 20 year time frame) we were all communicating differently. The father of a friend recently told me that when he was in Antarctica 50 years ago, it took eight months to send and receive a return message, by mail, of course. Now he is sending and receiving  messages from all over the world in literally minutes (if the person responding answers right away). And I’m writing and finding illustrations to publish a blog post that anyone in the world who is online can seen almost immediately after I tap on “Send”. Not even time is a gatekeeper anymore.

But the learning I’ve done! the learning we’ve all done!!

I’ve learned how to use various software tools and various web apps. How to make them work technically and how to use them for my own purposes, how to create with them. And all over the world, people are doing the same kind of learning of technical how-to’s and, even more significantly, learning how to connect with the (sometimes very small part of) this huge and hugely diverse audience, how to find their niche, and play in it. We are in a time of great change, and thus great learning. We are all either accepting the learning that faces us, or closing our eyes and denying ourselves. For some of us, this learning, this computer and web stuff comes easily. For some it’s a struggle. I suspect it’s a mixture of ease and struggle for most of us. But it offers us all such opportunities to learn and play and create!

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