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Catherine Adams & Patti Pente (Edmonton) Teachers Teaching in the New Mediascape: Natural Born Cyborgs or Digital Immigrants?

Andy Clark (2003) opens his Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence recounting the recent loss of his laptop, an experience he likens to “a sudden and vicious type of (hopefully transient) brain damage…the cyborg equivalent of a mild stroke” (p. 4, 10). At a faculty development workshop on applying brain research to enhance instruction, a brief technical glitch prompts the presenter to humorously remark, “If PowerPoint crashes, my IQ will drop 20 points!” Such anecdotes, jokingly hyperbolic in their account, nonetheless allude to the tight intimacies, the primordial interminglings, and, at times, the acute dependencies we find ourselves living with technology today. Our being-in-the-world is evermore adumbrated by, folded into, and transpermeated by the objects of our post-human world. We are, it seems, “natural-born cyborgs, forever ready to merge our mental activities with the operations of pen, paper, and electronics” (Clark, 2003, p. 7). In this paper, I take up Mark Prensky’s (2001) casting of teachers as “digital immigrants” to the new media landscape (and his matching presumption of students as “digital natives”), and reckon this popular metaphor with phenomenological understandings of human-technology relationships. Drawing on insights from media theorists (Hansen, 2000, 2006; McLuhan, 1964; Thrift, 2005) as well as phenomenological philosophers of technology (Borgmann, 2002; Dreyfus, 2004; Harman, 2007; Heidegger, 1971; Ihde, 1990; Introna, 2007), I argue that today’s teachers and students alike are more aptly (and less divisively) visualized as digital migrants or nomads bound to continuous traverse and settle new medial territories—turbulent mixes of old and new media spaces, each inviting and assembling other ways of being, thinking and doing in the world, and simultaneously inaugurating and mobilizing new dialects, fluencies and practices. Dwelling too long in any given world, the scene inevitably changes, the lived space shifts, and “naturalized” digital inhabitants find themselves once more “deterritorialized” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Digital worlds resist “old-fashioned attempts to put down roots, ways of being that sink into the earth in search of a sturdy foundation on which to erect a new life” (Buchanan, 2005). Rather, teacher and students must each learn the supple art of swimming through these vocative landscapes, the difficult task of re-territorializing in new environments, and an open willingness to enter the flow again as the world shifts once more. Further, theoretical constructs such as digital immigrants, natives, and nomads, rest on a more fundamental post-human identity: the cyborg. Within the context of this more phenomenologically-attuned purview, I posit the significances (and insignificances of) cyborg-teachers in the wake of new media technologies. Our interactions with new media, often via a screen and keyboard/mouse/controller, are direct, sensuous and mimetic. Software “affects our experience first and foremost through its infrastructural role, its import occurs prior to and independently of our production of representations” (Hansen, 2000, p. 4). In this way, our lived experience is being radically, but prereflectively re-habilitated; our intentional involvements perturbed and re-inscribed via the constraints and dispensations of pre-fabricated digital architectures. We are now well into an era of technological-becoming, our sensuous bodies quietly adapting to the inhuman rhythms of an evolving, digitally-inscribed and intensifying mechanosphere. Today’s brick and mortar classrooms may persist for decades in one form or another, but tomorrow’s digitally-enhanced teachers and students will increasingly interface, enfold into and inhabit digitally-enhanced environs and virtual spaces. As we grasp hold of these powerful new technologies with growing vigor, they too take hold of us, adumbrating new ways of being, doing and thinking in the world. It is imperative that we attend mindfully to the material, hermeneutic, and existential shifts that are transpiring as our worlds are daily extended, intensified, and complicated by digital technologies. The continued promotion of digital technologies as benign or necessarily progressive agents in the educational landscape—a foundational belief or “posit” of our current ontological epoch—imperils the normative project of pedagogy by concealing the instrumental constructs they materialize. Rather, these paratextual machines must be recognized as effective and affective mimetic interventions that prereflectively inform our being, knowing and doing in the world. Such a view necessarily burdens tomorrow’s teachers with a renewed sense of professional responsibility, one sensitive to the fragile ecology of our classrooms in the wake of digital technology “integration,” but more importantly, for the future well-being of our “post-human” children living in the midst of this brave new world.


Works Cited
Bennett, S. Maton, K., and Kervin, L. (2008).
The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786. Borgmann, A. (1984).
Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Buchanan, I. (2005).
Space in the age of non-place. In I. Buchanan & G. Lambert (Eds.), Deleuze and Space. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press. Clark, A. (2003).
Natural born cyborgs: Mind, technologies, and the future of human intelligence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987).
A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Hansen, M. (2000).
Embodying technesis: technology beyond writing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Hansen, M. (2006).
Media theory. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(2-3), 297 - 306. Harman, G. (2007).
Heidegger explained: From phenomenon to thing. Chicago: Open Court. Introna, L. (2007).
Maintaining the reversibility of foldings: Making the ethics (politics) of information technology visible. Ethics and Information Technology, 9, 11–25. McLuhan, M. (1964).
Understanding media: the extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill. Prensky, M. (2001).
Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1–2. Retrieved from  www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf Thrift, N. (2005).
Beyond mediation: three new material registers and their consequences. In D. Miller (Ed.), Materiality (pp. 231–56). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.