Viewing posts from June, 2012
Myths are the most truthful stories we tell. They reach beyond fact and argument to the essence and authentic nature of who we are. Myths are the collected repositories of human wisdom. And every world mythology includes a myth of decline. This myth and its corollary — the myth of redemptive and recaptured glory — are twin narratives in every culture. They match and mirror the trajectories of hope and loss, of empowerment and erasure. They are object lessons in hubris and folly: Atlantis, The Galactic Republic, The Roman Empire, Gilead, The British Empire, Rivendale. The myth of decline describes how these places, how the moods and spirits of a given age, fall away and are lost.
In the first and second Mezzanine tutorials we explored ways of getting and started and building a project with Mezzanine. In this tutorial we’ll examine how to personalize the administration interface, how to tweak a few underlying settings, and how to build a customized theme. But before we travel too far down that track, it’s important to reinforce that these tutorials are intended to be exercises in intentional, self-reflective web development. These days most of us spend a great deal of time participating in online distractions and digital meandering. We have become less focused and mindful than we might be, and we have surrendered much of our attentional autonomy to the persistent keening of technology. Compare, for example, our online habits to the activities for which 200,000 years of evolution have prepared us. The online wanderer sits, shifts focus every few seconds, constantly responds to new stimuli, rides a constant wave of subliminal anxiety rooted in the dread of being left behind. The ancestral nomad of our evolutionary past stands, holds a fierce and singular focus (on an animal, or a stretch of landscape, or a work of craft), remains in the present moment of engagement and experience, and rides a wave of mindful calm rooted in a sense of belonging to place and to people. We tend to look upon those ancient peoples as more primitive than ourselves. But is the modern, distracted, disconnected self more advanced than the ancients? Is the complexity of our technology a sufficient justification for our belief in our superiority? Or, instead, have we lost something fundamental, and do ancient approaches offer important wisdom?
Recently I spent a full day with students talking about the kinds of learning environments and experiences that work best for them. Our group consisted of roughly 20 university students from various disciplines and at different stages along their educational paths. With great candor and enthusiasm, the students worked together to craft their vision of a contemporary learning environment. Their results are shown below.
In the first Mezzanine tutorial we explored various philosophies and approaches to web development using Mezzanine, Django, and Python. The emphasis of that tutorial was on why as much as what. We tend to be reflexive and impressionable in how we choose technologies: we want the new and shiny thing, or we want what others have, or we want what’s easiest. And in the rush to be in the game, to be at the forefront, to ride that turbulent wave of innovation, we often forget to ask deeper questions: why are we doing this, whom does it serve, what do we want? And now, as technologies increasingly drive social culture, the tools we use are themselves voices in that conversation. The technologies speak back to us: they shape us and drive us forward. And so — as I suggested in the first Mezzanine tutorial — our creativity, autonomy, and personal development are woven together with the technologies we use. And further: it would not be hyperbolic in the least to suggest that our very humanity depends on our mindful use of technologies. After all, we are the only species that is dependent on technology for survival. Technology is foundational to who we are. And yet, as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies, we are also becoming less mindful about their use. This is the central dilemma we now face with digital culture: how to choose wisely in an environment ruled by impulse and reflexivity.
Web development is an ever-shifting landscape. New frameworks and practices emerge, fresh approaches evolve, the ground shifts. And it shifts often: it wasn't so long ago that most of us were building static web pages using tools adapted from the world of word processing (I’m looking at you, Dreamweaver). Now we use content management systems such as Drupal and Wordpress, and we fiddle continually with many details of styling and functionality. We tweak, test, break, and rebuild. We try to figure out what snippets of PHP do, we tinker with CSS files, and we routinely find ourselves copying and pasting error messages into Google.