Life before the internet, after it, and the PufflesMassiv

I’ve always wanted to do a “discussion piece” on this, and after having sunk more than half a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-pape’s finest, there’s no time like the present. I know, I know, blogging under the influence and that. Especially when listening to music as psychadelic as The GO! Team.

For me, I’m in this strangely fortunate position of having been through an experience where I pretty much experienced life without the internet before a given point in life, and then found I couldn’t live without it after that point. That point in life was October 1999 – when I went to university. Up until then, I was vaguely aware that the internet existed from about 1995, but didn’t really know much of what it was about until the tabloid press picked up on it and told everyone about how ‘orrible it was with all the explicit images, hate material and generally nasty stuff it could do to your computer.

So up until my A-level exams, in a nutshell I had no internet – or rather, I chose not to push at the door of opportunities that were there (mainly due to ignorance & fear) & stuck to studying based on the materials that were put in front of me.

Finding out the wonders of the internet at university was a huge eye-opener – one that brought huge benefits and huge risks. One of the nominal benefits was that it made essay-writing far easier – especially if you had already decided what your conclusion was going to be. In a nutshell, to get an average 2:1 for an essay, you decide what your conclusion is and then hunt around the internet to find sources to back up your claims – a bit like what happened in the run up to the Iraq War in 2002-03 but without the consequences. The essays that I did get ‘firsts’ for were the ones where I did a huge amount of reading around both on and offline before coming to conclusions based upon what I had read. And that, ladies and gentlemen for me is the difference between a first and a 2:1.

The problem in the world of policy-making and politics is that we have too much of the 2:1 & below style arguments and not enough of the “firsts.” (I.e. not enough policy made on the basis of examining all of the evidence that is out there – the complaint being that we make too much policy on a conclusion that seeks evidence to back it up, rather than vice versa).

The risks? At the time the internet became a bit of an addiction – certainly during my second year – to the detriment of a social life and to my mental health at the time. It was after I graduated that I made a conscious decision to ensure that internet use supported, rather than replaced a social life. I’ve never looked back on that decision.

One of the differences I’ve become acutely aware of in recent times is the difference between what some people call “Web 1.0” & “Web 2.0” – or rather, the internet pre-social media and the web with social media.  One of the things that I found with Facebook for example is that it allowed me to get in touch (or vice-versa) with people who I once knew ages ago, or who I once bumped into and had agreed something along the lines of ‘let’s be frendz on Facebook!’ (Followed by zero correspondence and the realisation that we had diddly-squat in common).

Fast forward to Puffles’ appearance on Twitter and I have somehow managed to find a somewhat random group of astonishingly lovely and talented people of a similar mindset and disposition otherwise known as the #PufflesMassiv. (It’s not a membership club, it’s literally a collective of self-selecting people who choose to follow Puffles the baby dragon fairy on Twitter – whether named followers or not).

A number of us gathered down in Brighton earlier this year (2011) for what we called #Pufflescamp. That so many people chose to come down to Brighton or follow online left me completely humbled and lost for words – no – really. None of us really knew what to expect from it – or from each other. I had no idea or inkling that the website Rock Paper Politics would be the result of one of the ideas that would ultimately come to fruition after copious amounts of alcohol, pizza and other yummy stuff courtesy of the lovely @QofE & friends.

Not only that, I have learnt so much from so many people over an incredibly short period of time. It’s people like them that restore my faith in humanity – people who want to make a positive difference to themselves and the world around them because they happen to be nice people. We may have some differences in how to go about this, but that in part helps make the world go round.

The point I’m trying to make? The internet, for all its sins, has enabled us to communicate with each other in ways that we never thought possible 20 years ago. Look at the film “Back to the Future 2” and look at what we thought 2005 would be like back in 1985. (I’m still disappointed that we don’t have hoverboards, but hey, I’ll go with the internet).  Also, the technology is neutral. It’s what people choose to do with it that gives it that moral context. If people are using that technology in a destructive way, the problem is with the people, not the technology. Therefore, a sustainable manner of dealing with it must ultimately involve people, rather than focussing on a technological solution.

Coming back to the school-college-university experiences, one of the things that still scars me is messing up the pure A-level maths exam back in 1998. (Dropping from a ‘B’ that I had got for the coursework element – which was 50%, to a ‘D’). Yet within a few years of me screwing up said exam, the phenomenon otherwise known as ‘Youtube’ exploded onto our screens – to say nothing of websites such as The Student Room where students can discuss problems across a wide range of subjects that they are facing. (They are very good at spotting people who are looking for others to do their homework or essays for them though!) I still wonder to this day what difference to that ‘D’ grade I could have made had I had access to both board and broadcast lectures on subjects that my college lecturers at the time could not get through to me.

Some of you may be aware that I’m looking at doing a basic teacher training course in the post-16 sector sometime this autumn. One of the things I am very interested in is how teaching has changed from what I experienced up to 1998 compared to what is expected of teachers in this social media age. I’ll keep you all posted on how things progress.

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