Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Jose Bowen's Tales from Cyberspace

A few weeks ago I went to a CUNY pedagogy conference at Hostos Community College. It featured a keynote speech by Jose Antonio Bowen, author of the book Teaching Naked, which is nominally a manifesto for flipped classrooms, in which more "pure" interactions can occur between students and instructors during class time. Weirdly, however, he spends the majority of his time waxing prosaically about how incredible, saturated, future-shocky technology is today, and how we must work mostly to provide everything to students outside of class time using this technology.

Here's how he started his TED-Talky address that Friday: He contrasted the once-a-week pay phone call home that college students would make a few decades ago ("Do dimes even exist anymore?") with the habits of college students today, supposedly contacting their parents a half-dozen times daily. In fact, he claimed, his 21-year-old daughter will actually call him for permission to date a young man when she first meets/starts chatting with him online. She supposedly argues in favor of the given caller by using three websites (shown floridly by Bowen on the projector behind the stage):
  • She has started chatting with the man on Tinder.
  • She has looked up his dating-review score on Lulu.
  • She has examined his current STD test status on Healthvana.
Now, that's heady stuff, and of course the audience of faculty and administrators "ooh"'ed and "ahh"'ed and "oh, my stars!"'ed in appropriate pearl-clutching fashion. Review dates and look up STD status before a date online? Kids these days -- we're so out of touch, we must change everything in the academy!

But this presentation doesn't pass the smell test. First of all, we should be suspicious of an adult daughter supposedly interrupting her real-time chat to "get permission" from her father. That's just sort of ridiculous. Admittedly at least Tinder really is a thing and you can chat on it; that much is true. (Although Bowen presented this as the daughter and a friend communally chatting to two guys together, which is not a group event that can actually happen.) But worse:

The dating-review site Lulu doesn't actually exist anymore. In February of this year (3 months ago), the site was acquired by Badoo and the dating-reviews shut down. If you go to the link above you'll realize that the whole site is offline as of this writing. (Link.) And:

You can't access anyone else's STD result on Healthvana. Yes, Healthvana is a site that allows you to quickly access and view your own STD results without returning to a doctor's office to pick them up. But it's only for your own results, and it requires an account and password to view them after a test. Obviously there are all kinds of federal regulations about keeping medical records private, so it's not even conceivable that those could be made available to the general public on a website. One might theoretically imagine a culture in which one pulls up your own STD records on a phone and shows it to someone you're meeting -- but there's no evidence that actually occurs, and of course it's strictly impossible in Bowen's account, in which his daughter had not yet physically met with her supposed suitor. (Link.)

That "Reefer Madness"-like scare-mongering accounted for the first 30 minutes of Bowen's hour-long presentation, at which point I couldn't take anymore bullshit and I got up and left the auditorium. In summary: The half of Bowen's presentation that I saw was entirely fabricated and fictitious, frankly designed to frighten older faculty and staff for some reason that is opaque to me. Keep that in mind if you pick up his book or see an article or presentation by Mr. Bowen.

How did I get clued in to the real situation with these websites, after my BS-warning radar first went off? I asked some 20-year-old friends of mine, who immediately told me that Lulu was shut down months ago, and Healthvana was nothing they'd ever heard of. Crazy idea, I know, actually talking to people without instantly fetishizing new technology.


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