I grew up in Africa. Kenya to be precise. Nairobi to be even more precise. My childhood spanned the 80s and the 90s. While the U.N. was busy describing my upbringing as mundane, deprived and deplorable, I was living some sort of a dream. A dream where the world was simple at least as far as I was aware.
We called margarine blueband, because that was the only brand available. We called toothpaste Colgate, or Aquafresh. Or close-up. But you were clear that you didn’t want the ‘close-up’ Colgate because it really had a sucky taste. Television began at 6pm and then, eventually at 4pm – what a treat. So while there was no television to watch, we played outside, as in ran in the dirt and socialized with other children.
We grew up with ONE, yes one television channel. In high school, we ‘got’ a second one and boy was that revoluntionary. Enter the world of MTV, Fresh Prince of BelAir, Murphy Brown. Those were the days.
Choices were simple. Never mind that structural adjustment was in effect and my parents faced very complex decisions everyday. As a child, choices were simple.
I miss that childhood.
We are now so inundated with billions of meaningless choices in our everyday lives. This grocery store mentality has crept into education. The wonderful world of education has opened up from what it used to be. Once upon a time education was (and perhaps it somewhat still is) quite elitist. Few had access and those who did, became part of the elite few. I did post on the limitations that used to exist in education and poor advise that was available for students when I was growing up – doctor, lawyer, engineer, full stop. So I am quite happy that things have evolved beyond these ‘non-choices’ to some extent. That being said, education today has become much like a grocery store – too many choices and too many ways to grab your money. And although you might just go in for 5 minutes to get milk, you find yourself leaving the big box store with a shopping cart full of items that you eventually realize that you not only don’t need, but that you hadn’t gone in for in the first place…and the bills that follow tend to linger on long after you have feasted on that philosopher and wined and dined about that theory. Education has mushroomed into a money-making business that may superficially offer more options for students but when one digs deeper, might not necessarily equip us for the future ahead of us.
Beyond education, this information-overload culture is making it increasingly difficult to narrow down on what we want – out of our education, out of our careers, out of our lives. While it used to be absolutely necessary to get a higher education to gain certain exclusive knowledge, the internet has opened up the world of information like never imagined almost making a college degree mundane. What a paradox. As a phd candidate, I would never admit to my academic committee that I get the quick basic facts from Wikipedia. Ouch – I didn’t just admit that.
And yet the internet is an even more fascinating game changer in this world of ‘higher’ education. Internet sensations are born almost every day – think Susan Boyle, and the more recent Britain’s Got Talent 2012 audition duo Jonathan Antoine and Charlotte Jaconelli. Beyond entertainment sensations, education through the internet is fast gaining credibility even more than Big box “name-brand” institutions – think TedTalks, YouTube.
So how do we reconcile these two worlds…
Well the internet might have taken the idea of infinite choices, well to infinity. But it has also done something that neither television nor media has succeed to do. It has created a platform for voices to be heard. When the whole series of sh*t girls say hit came out, followed by ALL the subsequent videos I was just amazed at how many people are out there that are NOT main stream but whose voices were previously not a part of dominant discourse. But choice overload hasn’t made us more efficient. Multi-tasking actually leads to less productivity. Easy access to information just makes us have an insatiable thirst to want to know, faster and in more detail.
I am realizing that perspective is everything: if you ask my grandparents, they will probably say that my childhood was overstimulating and involved too many choices compared to theirs. I do know that trying to reduce the number of mundane choices I have to make read simplify my life will probably increase the quality of my life. It is counter-intuitive because we are somehow led to believe that more choices are actually better for you.
Having options is a wonderful privilege to have and is actuallly empowering. Having an information overload of choices can be overwhelming and dis-empowering. So how do we filter the crap out so that we get the most out it, out of life, and know what to pursue, and know what to do with all this newly acquired knowledge that we have?
I wish I knew the answer to that one.
The goal of education is to increase my options, and in the course of the journey, I am faced with a million choices that I have to carefully navigate through. But such is the privilege of a higher education. So I wont complain and will instead look back nostalgically at my childhood.
When life was so much simpler and blueband was margarine and colgate was toothpaste…