My previous series of blogs from 4338 is now available for download in Russian (pdf) . In those, the heroine, Lai Zhing, saved the Earth from disaster in the Saint Petersburg of the 44th century as foreseen by Vladimir Odoevsky. (Odoevsky’s 1835 story is available to download in English translation from this site too). Just like in that unfinished novel, some people in the real world in 2018 see destruction approaching their civilization, although the majority prefer not to look so far ahead.
What is the difference between this new blog and the previous one? Lai Zhing is a “philologian-antiquarian” because she lives at a time when all human languages have been subsumed into one, and conversations with other species are possible via machine translation. In the 44th century “dead” languages are studied intensely because poetry has acquired a leading role in organising culture and society.
This new 2018 blog is written by an EFL teacher, at a time when human languages may be starting to converge into one, (Mikanowski, 2018) . Part of the impending catastrophe is that this global trend is happening in a way that seems to strip texts of meaning. Berardi compares this (2015) with the economic phenomenon of inflation. As the volume of information increases, and the time spent on communication decreases, each given piece of text or speech contains less meaning. Research on use of the British Library (Rowlands et al., 2008) found that all ages were “power-browsing”:
“Library users demand 24/7 access, instant gratification at a click, and are increasingly looking for “the answer” rather than for a particular format: a research monograph or a journal article for instance.”
Here finding “the answer” means finding a component that fits an already pre-formed space in the researcher’s mind – not reading to understand something unknown. There’s a danger that habits started online spread until many of the dialogues in education turn into this kind of mechanical interaction. It happens first of all in the social networks, where a ‘like’ or a ‘retweet’ are syntactic connections but not containers of meaning. Long exposure to these big impersonal systems probably has a wider effect on our sensibilities. We may be heading for a future without meaning. The teacher’s mission is to save humanity’s ability to think about the new and the unknown.
- Berardi, F. (2015). And: Phenomenology of the End: Sensibility and Connective Mutation. Semiotext (e) South Pasadena, CA.
- Mikanowski, J. (2018, July 27). Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jul/27/english-language-global-dominance
- Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Williams, P., Huntington, P., Fieldhouse, M., Gunter, B., … Tenopir, C. (2008). The Google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Aslib Proceedings, 60(4), 290–310. https://doi.org/10.1108/00012530810887953