Saturday, June 18, 2016

Week Two Reading Critique: Exploring Empathy

What a great week of readings.  I have to admit, I am enjoying the recommended readings almost more than I am the required ones--and perhaps I should be less apologetic about that.

"An Open Letter to My Students" was such a great piece.  I know on its face, it may seem to be of less value than some of the more academic readings we are doing.  However, at this stage in my life, I wish I could go back and re-live some of my earlier academic experiences through this lens.  I was an undergraduate in the early 1980's--and yes, a good number of you were not born yet.  In the 80's, it was all about achievement, prospering, conspicuous consumption and, as an undergraduate, we were all hyper-focused on the almighty grade point average.  When you become focused on a gpa as a measure of your success, you become dependent and reliant upon someone else's measure for your achievement and success.

I so wish that I had not been quite that intensely focused on grades--and more focused upon learning to develop my identity through my own lens instead of through someone else's perception.  This is heady stuff--which I am even now just beginning to wrap my own head around.  However, there is a wonderful freedom in exploring the boundaries of your own understanding in a way that makes sense for you.  Which is only saying that I am enjoying exploring the boundaries of my own understanding in a way that makes sense for me!

To that end, I stumbled upon a jewel of an article about digital storytelling and empathy in my reading journey this week.  "Mirror Neurons, the development of empathy, and digital story telling" proved not only to be interesting but also a purposeful look at how telling our own stories allows viewers to engage in a mirrored experience and that current research on the brain supports the idea that when we engage in the experiences of others in this way, the biological structures known as mirror neurons actually fire and we experience the experience of others in a very intimate personalized way.

The other aspect of this article is the concept of developed by Michael Wesch which is really worth digging into a lot more deeply.  Wesch has explored vlogging, or video blogging as a way of creating a mask, or identity, in both a very private space but yet one where the whole world has the potential of watching.  A vlogger is essentially alone--with a video camera--speaking often very personal and intimate thoughts directly in the camera.  Within this private space, which appears to me to be somewhat analogous to a confessional, the vlogger is solitary and simply alone with his thoughts. Yet, once the vlog is published, it is at once a most personal reflection released into a most public space.

Wesch describes this as a whole new space for creating, contextualizing and communicating and refers to it as a "context collapse."  The digitally mediated environment is in fact a different kind of space where communication takes on a different aspect that it ever has previously.  There is Wensch explains a "freedom to experience humanity without fear of anxiety."  Like the experience of empathy--this is a drawing in rather than a pushing out and away.

This is fascinating material to dig into.  I'm learning to be surprised at the serendipity that is ILT5340 and just go with it.  The readings themselves present multiple ways of understanding ourselves and the material and I'm just happy to explore where it takes me.

  • Hess, M. (2012). Mirror neurons, the development of empathy, and digital story telling. Religious Education,107(4), 401. doi:10.1080/00344087.2012.699412

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