Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Will the 4th screen bring us together?

I saw the Nokia video advertisement “The Fourth Screen” yesterday for the first time when I watched Chris Abani’s TED Talk “Telling stories of our shared humanity” on my iPhone at lunch. The ad plays at the end of the TED talk. Here is the 2 minute and 22 second ad by itself on YouTube:

While I want to reflect briefly on the message of this “4th Screen” video in this post, I’ll also link to Chris’ message as it is even more memorable as well as heart wrenching.

Chris’ TED bio states:

Imprisoned three times by the Nigerian government, Chris Abani turned his experience into poems that Harold Pinter called “the most naked, harrowing expression of prison life and political torture imaginable.” His novels include GraceLand (2004) and The Virgin of Flames (2007).

The story which got to me the most was of the 14 year old optimist on death row, who taught other, older men who were hardened criminals how to read with two comic books he had smuggled into the prison. The boy was killed by the Nigerian government in one of most brutal ways imaginable. Stories like this can be jarring but also help me keep my life in perspective.

After seeing this video, I was quite impressed by the “Fourth Screen” ad. My work commute podcast today was Clarence Fisher and Darren Kuropatwa’s BLC08 presentation “Everything New is Old Again,” and I was surprised as well as pleased to hear the audio again of this ad which they shared as a video in their session.

Cheryl Oakes captured video of this session to Ustream, while Bob Sprankle captured and shared the audio version I heard today driving in the car.

The message of this “4 screens” ad is compelling, but is it accurate? Are mobile devices permitting us as a society to connect in more personal ways that foster a greater sense of community and togetherness?

I think the answer to this question is a qualified yes, because our new senses of community are different from the historical version. While historical communities were geographically defined as well as limited, the extended learning community of which I am a part is ideologically defined (defined by ideas) and geographically untethered. I have worked with Darren a TON as a fellow K-12 Online Conference convener the past two years, so there is a lot of shared time together and shared history which undergirds my feeling that “I know Darren” and he’s a friend of mine. I really don’t know Clarence Fisher that well personally from face to face contact, although we did meet briefly at NECC this year. Despite that lack of F2F time together or synchronous skype audio time together (which is what I’ve experienced with Darren) I really do feel like I “know” Clarence at an idea level. Perhaps ironically, I’ve never met Darren F2F as I have Clarence, but I know him better. From reading Clarence’s blog, to his keynote presentation last year for K12Online07, to comments I read that he’s made from time to time on other blogs and in other learning communities, I feel much more connected to Clarence than I do to 90% of the people in my own neighborhood.

I was so glad, incidentally, to learn via Darren and Clarence a word to describe much of my learning and social interactive behavior over the past several years: Hyperconnected. There is a glaring digital divide of both knowledge as well as perceptions between the hyperconnected, the moderately connected and the unconnected in our society today. This term alone provided me with a great deal of food for thought and reflection today.

I definitely think our information landscape, which is pregnant with hyperconnected potential, offers great promise for connecting individuals and groups together more closely than we’ve ever been connected before. I don’t think the “picture” of that community togetherness is necessarily captured perfectly in this Nokia advertisement, however. It’s hard to picture it in a video, I think, because people are in different places at different times, doing different things, but yet they/we are connected. That LOOKS different than images of traditional communities, or just F2F community meet-ups.

I don’t think anything is inevitable when it comes to human relationships, but there certainly are trends and tendencies to which we should pay attention. While author and futurist John Naisbitt predicted in his 2001 book “High Tech/High Touch. Technology and our Accelerated Search for Meaning” that technology would increasingly encourage us to live our lives “distanced and distracted” from one another, I think there IS great potential for digital technologies to bring us closer together. The dynamics vary considerably, however.

On a personal note, my wife registered for a Jott account today and actually got on my Twitter account to see what I was up to. Hyperconnected people provide multiple avenues for connectedness, but that same potential can also lead to distraction and a tendency to under-prioritize the time we need to spend in F2F conversations and relationships. As Brian Crosby says, it’s messy! But that’s ok. Amidst these messy interactions and choices, there is GREAT potential for community, connectedness, and action toward shared purposes. The 4th screen IS bringing us together. For me at least, and I suspect many others, however, it’s not just the 4th screen. It’s the 3rd screen too. And the 2nd screen is becoming the 3rd screen which is becoming the 4th screen. I guess this is a hyperconnected person’s dream, and the neo-Luddite’s nightmare. At least each of these conclusions is an option and a choice!

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2 responses to “Will the 4th screen bring us together?”

  1. Karla Murray Avatar
    Karla Murray

    Wesley, you continue to inspire and help me question. I think about how much learning there is right here on one page if only one reads, watches, listens, reflects, questions, and then dialogs with others. We have 11 new teachers this year. It’s a challenge to design the framework of pathways that will lead them, and others, to understand the new literacies and pedagogy necessary to change the culture of learning for our students. Thank you, and to so many others, for sharing and shaping some of those pathways! Karla

  2. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thanks Karla. 🙂

    We’ve got to get your 11 new teachers plugged into some global learning communities! Let’s visit about getting some of your teachers in Goodland involved in the Storychasers project.