Letter from Cyberia

The ongoing revolution in information technology is profoundly shaping our world. We crave continuity and predictability, yet we live on a cusp of exponential change. Take a typical 15-year-old and their 75-year-old grandfather. When the grandfather was a teen there were no personal computers, no cell phones, and no Internet. Life to a 15-year-old would be inconceivable without those elements of their lifestyle. Now imagine the teen trying to explain to the grandparent their digital, always-on, multiplexed, and socially networked world.

Letter from Cyberia is a blog designed to capture and analyze the trends of a culture in which information is becoming like air. What use is another blog? The blogosphere has upward of 40 million entries clamoring for attention, and they range from thoughtful ruminations to bile-filled rants. Two thirds of those blogs are not even active, and the thought of so many web pages lying forlorn and fallow is sad. But the existence a free market of ideas, and a web of conversations about those ideas, is one of the most positive outcomes of the Information Age. Hopefully, Letter from Cyberia will find its audience.

Twice a month there will be posts on topics at the interface of information technology and education. Letter from Cyberia does not contain IT news, or reviews of the latest gizmos or Web 2.0 tools; there are plenty of outlets to serve those needs. Also, it isn’t concerned purely with instructional technology or with university audiences. The walls between formal and informal learning, and between structured and social learning, are rapidly dissolving. Information is becoming democratized and ubiquitous. Educators in particular are being presented with challenges and opportunities. The author of this blog takes the view that technology is value-neutral. We are being offered a more and more powerful set of tools for gathering and organizing information. We can either inundate ourselves in the mundane or the trivial, or choose to become more educated citizens of a planet that sorely needs educated citizens.

Chris Impey brings to bear over twenty years experience as an educator and information technology user at a major public university. Having teenagers and welcoming a new set of 18-year-olds into his classroom every year doesn’t necessarily keep him young, but it does keep him receptive to new ideas and challenges his perceptions of how people learn. He tries to use technology to make students more active in their educational process. He also admits to being occasionally swayed by the pure “cool” factor; sometimes the inner geek wins out. He’s on Facebook and MySpace, he has become reluctantly wedded to his web-enabled cell phone, and he owns an island in the 3D virtual Second Life. He’s also a professional astronomer, working in a field where knowledge of the universe is couched almost entirely in the form of digital information.

The title of the blog conveys some of the intentions and goals. “Letter” is designed to counter the trend towards the atomized and degraded form of communication in most emails, on-line discussions, and instant message threads. Blogs can occupy the divide between the dry discourse of the academic literature and the inchoate and ephemeral nature of most communication. Cogency and timeliness needn’t be mutually exclusive. “Cyberia” is a reference to a world defined by information, and also an indirect allusion to the visionary novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stevenson. Letter from Cyberia views the future without fear or trepidation, but the tone sometimes reflects genuine amazement at the forces that have been unleashed by technology in human hands.