When we use Web 2.0 tools on social networking platforms, there's a login button to click on. There's usually a check box to indicate if we want to remain logged in on the computer we're using. We think nothing of those buttons and boxes. When we're blogging, adding a comment to a blog or contributing to a wiki or discussion thread, there's a publish button to click on. It seems pretty silent as we use the tool. When we're reading the feeds we've subscribed to via RSS, Atom or email, we click on messages or folders to see what's inside. There's plenty of content to look over but no apparent communication in the feed reader or email program itself.
Marshall McLuhan disagreed. He said "the medium is the message". What the tool tells us speaks more loudly than the content conveyed by the tool. In his day, he saw televisions saying a lot more than the TV programs we watched on them. Nowadays he'd say a wiki, blog, feed or social networking platform tell us much more than what we thought we were being told by the content in them.
Bruno Latour agrees with McLuhan (and me). He regards Web 2.0 tools as actants that function just like actors. They perform for us in ways that move us, stabilize us or combine something about us with them even though they are not human. Through our relating with any actants and/or actors, we are made to act differently ourselves. They mediate, translate and transform whatever made them act they way they did. We pass it on by mediating, translating or transforming what made us act.
So the question I've been exploring lately can be reframed this way: Are the Web 2.0 tools of engagement making us students disengage, lose interest, act bored and cut back on our participating? if we assume those tools don't tell us anything, the answer is obviously "no". Once we accept how profoundly we get transformed by media/actants, the answer is "yes". The next question is "how?".
Perhaps when we click on a login window, publish button or message, we come under a spell. What if we're made to act in the same way as everyone else who clicks on those. Maybe we're transformed into acting more selectively, expressively and exploratorily. Perhaps these tools feel like powerful extensions that amplify our inclinations to socialize, connect, get understood and validate others.
If that's occurring without our conscious intentions, then we've slipped into an echo chamber. We're indulging in consensus and collusion. We're thinking alike and doing the same things as everyone else. We've lost contrasts and contradictions. There are no differences that make a difference in our understanding of ourselves, others or what's called for right now. It would then make perfect sense to disengage. The tools would make us act less involved emotionally, less active in contributing and less interactive with others. We'd seek ways to make a difference outside the echo chamber. We'd be made to act more effectively by escaping the conformity and collusion.