Friday, March 18, 2022

The Dark Side of the Web

As we discuss the early years of the Internet, we will discover how, as with many things, it can be both good and bad, having both a bright side and a dark side. Many of its elements can belong to both sides, depending on their use.

In 1993, Peter Steiner captured the spirit of the Internet at the time with his cartoon in the New Yorker: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." 

People were realizing that the Internet could be used as a tool of liberation, allowing them to reinvent themselves and leave their bodies behind. At first, they made small changes, such as making themselves ten to thirty years younger when talking with others on chat. But they soon began experimenting with many more changes to their profile and soon realized that they could become a different persona, altogether. This raised many criticisms, regarding moral and security issues, thus sending this element to the dark side.

But others saw the situation much differently. Sure it raised negative possibilities but it offered some ground breaking positive possibilities as well. Take "school" for example. The school environment can be both harsh and psychologically damaging. The school society is divided into cliques. The head of the cliques are cool, popular kids: kids that look right. And grouped around them are kids who are physically pleasing enough for now.

So, where does this leave the kids that don't quite fit in: kids that stutter, for example, or are not physically pleasing enough? They are usually shut out, laughed at, bullied - all because of their physical appearance. 

And this is where the Internet comes in. In 1991, we ran a program where a number of schools from different socio-economic areas were involved. Each student was paired with students from two different schools. They started out by introducing themselve through email. After they became fairly well acquainted, they discussed issues which were brought up. We soon discovered that the social framework of the class greatly changed as the kids related only to the writing without knowing anything about their physical appearance. As such, kids who were usuallly at the bottom of the social ladder often appeared now at the top because of their writing skills. What made it even more interesting was the day when the students from all of the participating schools got onto buses and travelled to a common meeting point. There was an awkward point when it was discovered that a girl student who was writing to two girls had pretended that she was a boy and the girls were apparently quite infatuated with her through her writing. But that won't stop us from sending this experience to the bright side.

In my first novel - "As I Died Laughing" - I took this one step further, where a husband invents a virtual character to seduce his wife. Why did he do it? We won't go into that here. Let's just say that things worked out much differently than he had expected. His wife fell in love with this virtual character that he invented and he discovered that he could now only find true intimacy with his wife through the eyes of his virtual character.

Do you have similar experiences that you want to share with us? You can write about them in the "comments section" down below or send me the description for a guest posting.

Back to the Future

In the early days of the Internet (early 1990's) there was a group of visionary educators from around the world who realized that we were on the brink of a digital revolution. In those days, almost all of the K12 (kindergarten until grade 12) educators online either knew each other or knew of each other. All you needed was at least one Internet connection in the school and you could take off. 

Many exciting international, educational projects were initiated by teachers in the field during this time. Ministries of Education from around the world still had no idea what the Internet was all about and Bill Gates hadn't yet realized that the Internet was the next big thing. By the time he did, the Internet was already firmly entrenched as a grassroot phenomenon and noone was going to take it away. It was for the people, by the people and belonged to the people - where teachers were empowered in ways never thought possible before. They were no longer dependent only on those things dictated from above. It was an exciting time to be a teacher.

I will try to recreate some of the excitement from these years in posts to come. I know that many of my old virtual colleagues are still out there - whether still teaching or retired. You are warmly invited to tell us something about your own initiatives during these years, either in the "comments section" below this post or by sending me a posting which I will post as a "guest posting".
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Dark Side of the Moon

It's been a little over a year since I wrote my last blog post. Since then, the well has dried up. Is this connected to my slipping out of the workforce and into the dark side of retirement? 

To truly answer that question, I suppose I should first ask myself why I am writing a blog at all. In Where Ketchup Will Travel, my first blog post written ten years ago, I described my original motivation as follows:

"For all of you Canadians still out there in the mother country, and you Israelis who are still wondering how all of these immigrants made it in here, I offer you a slightly different look at identity mislaid, sometimes lost, and occasionally gained - here, and in further entries to come."

Most people who knew me were surprised at how someone as socially autistic as myself could open himself up in that way. What they didn't realize was that I had found the perfect medium for doing so.

So, eighty-eight blog posts and ten years later, I ask myself where do I go from here. The emphasis, until now, has been on sharing. By sharing, we shed light on ideas and they become real. But these two last years, a worldwide epidemic has changed the world greatly, forcing us to adapt. And now we have seen how a despot can hold the world captive, turning millions of people into refugees, threatening world order, and perhaps leading to World War Three.

That's the world. And we also have our own personal trials and tribulations where we can exchange notes,

Until now, we have been travelling under the light of the moon. Now is the time to also visit the dark side. You are welcome to join me on the journey.