My Self-Directed LearningWith this semester's self-directed learning program, I was able to develop research skills beyond my previous capacity. Perhaps this was because my studies were more intentional. After the lecture on "Industrialization and Imagination", in which Dr. Burton mentioned that the Romantic period of the arts was a response to the ideologies expressed in the early 1900's, I decided to explore music from this period. The years 1750-1900 showed an explosion of ideas regarding individuals, governments, and technology. The music produced during this time definitely demonstrated this; for example, it was during this time that it became very popular for musicians to go "freelance" and live the "bohemian lifestyle"; a major change from their previous lives of servitude. This way of living resulted in financially struggling musicians--but musicians who could write the way they wanted. To study, I decided to listen to a 45 minute symphony by Hector Berlioz, entitled "Symphonie Fantastique". This piece was considered very radical for the era, and featured a larger ensemble and a larger sound than had ever been used before.
Later on in class, we learned about the 21st century and the Digital Age (a launching point for our final project). While I've never been hugely interested in economics, the "long tail" concept interested me. I did some research and found the website of the guy who created this theory. The Long Tail theory essentially explains "niche" culture. Because production and storage costs are going down (since we do so much of our business online), it can now be economically efficient to cater to a wide variety of niches instead of just selling one thing catered to the masses. This concept alone helped me to better understand the demands of the digital age: individualism and identity.
My Evolving ProjectMy project definitely started out in the theme of identity, but I was surprised by how much it evolved (and how much my opinions changed) within this topic. My first iteration argued that the connections facilitated by our online identities was actually driving wedges between cultures and societies. While I ended up moving in a different direction, Mitchell Cottrell, a member of my group, ended up having a similar perspective which he developed here.
My project unfolded as I sought out social proof and tried to answer the questions posed by my classmates. Jolene Hammond, a member of my class and group project, mentioned that when we are online, we tend to be a different version of ourselves. This caused me to start thinking about how our online identities differ from our "real" identities. After my second project iteration, Adrian Foong commented with an extremely pertinent question: "does it matter how I live my personal life if I give 100% in my professional life?" Keeping this question in the back of my mind helped me to develop a major component of my final personal project, where I argue that it is completely ethical for employers to review the social media profiles of potential employees.
Once we were put into groups for our final project, I was able to see what facets of identity other members of the group would be focusing on so that I could specialize my topic. Our group project changed drastically inbetween iterations. While our first group post was centered around a video we made detailing the digital presence of our professor, our final project had a personal video that applied to a wider audience, as well as concise "hooks" for each of our personal projects.
Communication and HistoryI would argue that communication can define society, as as such, methods of communication demarcates cultures and generations. Whether it's the printing press that came about it the 1400's, allowing Martin Luther to more broadly disseminate his 95 theses, or the coffeehouses and salons of the 1700's that allowed the Republic of Letters to function, or the text messages and social media platforms of today that allow major news items to be announced in 140 characters or less, the way we communicate causes social progress.
Whether we like it or not, history is cyclical. In the words of Edmund Burke, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it". By studying many eras of civilization so quickly this semester, I was able to make more connections between them and see those patterns. Perhaps most importantly, this allowed me to make connections between past eras and the current time. For example, new forms of communication always causes unrest. People resist change. It happened when the transition between illuminated manuscripts and the printing press was being made. People were uncomfortable with this new method, so printers tried to print books to look like illuminated manuscripts. However, the potential of the printing press was eventually unleashed. Because I know this pattern of the past, it doesn't surprise me when society gets stuck on the PDF file and struggles to move on to more interactive forms of text documents. I know that the potential will eventually be discovered.
The way we communicate now will determine the amount and type of social progress that will be made. The sooner we can find a balance between sticking with what we know works and being flexible with change, the sooner and more efficiently we will be able to progress.