Nine pieces from Tony Martin’s popular ‘Scarcely Relevant’ column at the much-missed ‘The Scrivener’s Fancy’, now in spoken-word form and exclusive to Bandcamp.
Awkward encounters with journalists, shop assistants, delivery men and members of the public who have mistaken him for someone else are mined for comic gold; two contrasting movies, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Alvin Rides Again’, are commemorated nerd-style; a feeding frenzy by tabloid commenters is dissected in ludicrous detail; and a five-year attempt to domesticate an ungrateful cat is recalled with more affection than was ever shown by the subject. All this plus Anna Wintour guest-edits Australia’s notoriously filthy ‘Picture’ magazine.
Lolly Scramble: A Memoir of Little Consequence, published in 2005, is collection of autobiographical essays by New Zealand-Australian comedian Tony Martin. A second volume, A Nest of Occasionals, appeared in 2009.
I always wondered about the association between Tony Martin and Damien Cowell, but they both have the skill to put a spotlight on the everyday and leave the world forever different. Personally, it had me thinking about my own past and how sometimes life is about perspective.
As we imagine a different path forward for teaching and learning, perhaps we can devise a carrier bag theory of ed-tech, if you will. Indeed, as I hope I’ve shown you this morning, so much of the ed-tech imaginary is wrapped up in narratives about the Hero, the Weapon, the Machine, the Behavior, the Action, the Disruption. And it’s so striking because education should be a practice of care, not conquest. Knowledge as a bag that sustains a community, not as a cudgel. Imagine that.
Acknowledging that schools are in reality a “fiction” or a social construct is the first step in creating a more just and effective experience for students.
The idea of schools as “fictions” is bracing at first. But if you flip the idea over a few times, less so. The narrative of schooling runs deep, but it is simply that: a narrative.
According to RIchardson, this fiction covers up “our greatest unpleasant truth that schools are not really built for learning.”
Labaree’s thesis is this: we may say that we want great schools because they are a public good, because (as I said above) they serve the purpose of preparing children to live in a democracy and to hopefully improve society. But what we truly value in schools in the private good they offer in terms of promoting privilege and the current meritocracy, and in the assumed role of providing access to “a better life.”
We choose to build our narrative of schooling around the “private good” of schools and education in order to maintain access to social standing and individual opportunity, rather than as a “public good” which emphasizes citizenship and civic mindedness at its core.
In response to all this, Richardson argues that we need to reclaim the narrative around education.
In my own workshops, I’ve certainly been guilty of focusing on communication skills at the expense of strategy and not fully addressing the flawed deficit model. But I’m learning to better challenge scientists’ assumptions about how communication works. The deficit model, I’ve found, is difficult to unlearn. It’s very logical, and my hunch is that it comes naturally to scientists because most have largely spent their lives in school—whether as students, professors, or mentors—and the deficit model perfectly explains how a scientist learns science. But the obstacles faced by science communicators are not epistemological but cultural. The skills required are not those of a university lecturer but a rhetorician.
We live in a consumerist society where everything is presented in terms of products. So, let’s talk products. Tim Burton’s Batman was released 30 years ago. So was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. And, yes, Star Trek: The Next Generation is thirty-two years old. In less time than that, it could all be over.
The show did indeed take a turn for the worse, but the reasons for that downturn goes way deeper than the usual suspects that have been identified (new and inferior writers, shortened season, too many plot holes). It’s not that these are incorrect, but they’re just superficial shifts. In fact, the souring of Game of Thrones exposes a fundamental shortcoming of our storytelling culture in general: we don’t really know how to tell sociological stories.
The overly personal mode of storytelling or analysis leaves us bereft of deeper comprehension of events and history. Understanding Hitler’s personality alone will not tell us much about rise of fascism, for example. Not that it didn’t matter, but a different demagogue would probably have appeared to take his place in Germany in between the two bloody world wars in the 20th century. Hence, the answer to “would you kill baby Hitler?,” sometimes presented as an ethical time-travel challenge, should be “no,” because it would very likely not matter much. It is not a true dilemma.
Tufekci explains that this is the same reason we have problems talking about historic technological transition.
In my own area of research and writing, the impact of digital technology and machine intelligence on society, I encounter this obstacle all the time. There are a significant number of stories, books, narratives and journalistic accounts that focus on the personalities of key players such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos. Of course, their personalities matter, but only in the context of business models, technological advances, the political environment, (lack of) meaningful regulation, the existing economic and political forces that fuel wealth inequality and lack of accountability for powerful actors, geopolitical dynamics, societal characteristics and more.
Maybe this is a part of what Douglas Rushkoff touches on in his criticism of storytelling.
Teju Cole joined Twitter in 2009 but didn’t really take to it until 2011, when he was beginning work on a long nonfiction book about his native Lagos. While researching in Nigeria he began to tweet as part of a project he titled Small Fates, an imprecise translation of the French faits divers, referring to compressed news items, typically just a single sentence in length. Cole suggests that the original faits divers influenced the writing of Flaubert and later Gide, Camus, Le Clézio and Barthes. On his website, Cole mentions twentieth-century French journalist Félix Fénéon as a master of the form.
Social media and the internet could now be seen as our workbooks, where we can test out ideas that we later refine in print or book form. I have drafted and conceptualised several essays in the comments section of other people’s literary blogs (an essay on the Wire published in this journal originated in a thread on James Bradley’s City of Tongues blog). But I want to suggest here that Twitter can be the work as much as the workbook, recalling video-game academic Espen Aarseth’s useful distinction between ‘ergodic writing i.e. writing still emergently based in evolving energy, and canonical writing e.g. unchangeably published’.
A novel is more than a tool, it is a toy … Somehow it is the useless things that gets its hooks into us.source