Learning in an age/time of abundance #change11: A view from the South

In reading Erik Duval’s blog posting “Learning in a time of abundance”, I was immediately aware of how some elements in his blog confirmed what I experience as a privileged white employed male with a good medical aid, living in a three bedroomed-house in suburban Pretoria, South Africa. I have two data contracts as well as a pay-as-you-go data contract (just in case). I have a Kindle, an IPad, a desktop computer, and a Smartphone.  I am connected, in more than one way. I experience on a daily basis the abundance Erik is talking about.

But the above is not my only context. South Africa also has one of the highest discrepancy between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. With an official unemployment figure of close to 25%, and unofficial figure of closer to 40% – South African society is deeply divided among those who experience the abundance and those who don’t and who will most probably never will. Unemployment, racial discrimination, gender discrimination and low levels of literacy and access to technologies meet in a dizzying maze of legacies of the past and missed opportunities of the present.

So when I reflect on learning in a time/age of abundance, I am torn and most probably not a good representative of neither those who experience the abundance nor those who don’t.

So let me try to get out of the maze…

In the first instance, I suspect a generalised statement such as this time/age is one of abundance is and should be qualified and deconstructed.  Depending on your context, this may be true or untrue. Abundance, like the ‘flatness’ of Friedman (2005, 2009) is not equally distributed, shared or experienced. The distribution of ‘flatness’ or ‘abundance’ is based on historical fault lines embedded in historical geopolitical, gender, race, cultural, religious relations and identities.

To put it in short hand – I don’t think we (all) live in an age/time of abundance. Many do. Many more don’t.  Though the world as we know it today is more connected and differently connected than before, Castells (2009 – “Communication power”) proposes that not everyone is included in these networks of communication and abundance; that  networks are immersed in power, money, status and access to more power, status and money; that  not everyone is included, but everyone is affected…; that  networks are not only created to communicate but also to out-communicate; that in these networks the global overwhelms the local – unless the local becomes connected to the global, on global terms… and that  whoever holds the power (and therefore owns the network) decides what is valuable.

I think Ghemawat in his exploration of World 3.0 (2011) provides (at least for me) a more nuanced approach to issues of globalisation and the reach of ‘global prosperity’ and abundance. Ghemawat (2011:20) proposes four different worldviews ranging from World 0.0 (the wild, prehistoric world of small communal enclaves fighting for survival); World 1.0 (the walled world of the age of the Enlightenment and rampant nationalism); World 2.0 (one world – the globalised and connected world) and World 3.0 (a workable world – with semi-integrated and semi-globalised markets, communities and ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’.

The notion of “a time/age of abundance” should therefore be approached more cautiously and critically.

Having said that – let me now turn to reflect on the notion of learning in a time/age of abundance.

Let me immediately take the notion of ‘quality’ out of this discussion. I think it will be a gross oversimplification to claim that learning in a time/age of abundance is ‘better’ or ‘deeper’. It is different.

Having said that, there seems to be a number of authors such as Nicholas Carr (“The shallows. How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember”, 2010) and William H Davidow (“Overconnected. The promise and threat of the Internet” 2011), who point to the fact that ‘abundance’ may actually not be an unqualified ‘better’. Possibly to the contrary.

Evidence that this abundance of information, data and knowledges do not necessarily translate to wisdom is all around us. Humanity knows more than ever before in the history of humankind – but this does not necessarily translate into being a more just and compassionate society… We know more than ever before but somehow we cannot use this abundance of knowing into living more sustainably.  Despite (or in the midst of) the abundance, the present age is increasingly called a new ‘dark age’ (Martin 2007; McLaren 1998) referring to its huge levels of unemployment, natural degradation, people who are classified as permanently poor (their parents and their children will never be able to break out of the cycle of poverty) and the millions of people who are permanently in some or other refugee camp (see Bauman’s extraordinary works “Globalisation. The human consequences”, 1998 and “Wasted lives. Modernity and its outcasts”, 2003).

If teaching and learning in a time or age of so-called abundance cannot and will not make a difference to the lives of those who do not experience the abundance, let us rather fall silent and speak rather hesitantly like a person recovering from aphasia.


About opendistanceteachingandlearning

Research professor in Open Distance and E-Learning (ODeL) at the University of South Africa (Unisa). Interested in teaching and learning in networked and open distance and e-learning environments. I blog in my personal capacity and the views expressed in the blog does not reflect or represent the views of my employer, the University of South Africa (Unisa).
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2 Responses to Learning in an age/time of abundance #change11: A view from the South

  1. erikduval says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Of course, you are right that abundance is not evenly distributed – I made the same point in my blog post (“all of this abundance talk is only relevant to us who are the privileged few, who do not need to worry about where we will sleep this evening, or how we will feed our children…”). It reminds me of the William Gibson quote that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

    It is also true that being more connected to one another (which is just one kind of abundance) has not only benefits, though I do think that for instance Carr often overstates his case: if twitter and facebook and so on are mainly vehicles for verbal abuse and trivia (and worse!), then how come we use these technologies to our advantage in the #change11 MOOC?

    • Erik, thanks for the response. When I first read your blog I was relieved to see your caring acknowledgement that the abundance is not evenly shared/distributed at the end of your posting.

      Being more connected than ever before also means that we now know about an earthquake in a distant land, or human rights abuses, etc. I think my frustration is that the abundance of information and the connectivity do not translate into addressing the foundations of inequality and injustice in the world. Maybe I expect to much?

      While there are glimpses of the power of connectedness and networks in, for example, the ‘Arab spring’ – the networks and connectedness somehow does not go far enough to fundamentally change power-relations and inequal distribution.

      So learning in an age/time of abundance does not only affect the roles and modes of teaching and learning; but must also question what we teach and learn and what impact it has on a world where abundance is not equally distributed (and maybe never will be).

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