Virtual convocation reminds us that we are always learning from just outside our social realm to the extent that we apply the elixir of critical thought to as many aspects of our life and our labour as possible.
Daily life in the 20s is probably going to be replete with metaphors equating virtual reality with a force of nature. An email from Telus arrived lately to state that their e-mail delivery service will shortly be taken over by Google. (The message latently reminded me of how email once was state of the art in its electronic anonymity compared to snail mail—delivered to a rural route by enchanting humans from Canada Post.) Telus, speaking in a Hal-like voice, or that’s what I heard in my head anyway, stated that “the migrations will be occurring in waves over the next few months to make the transition smooth. Customers will receive an invitation in their inbox before their migration occurs. Rest assured, we will be migrating all emails, contacts, and calendar events to the new platform.” All of us will be going, even what Telus terms our “aliases”. No one shall escape or be exempt. Have your papers in order. We’re all into one place like jellybeans or nickels into a jar. Or like cattle into a cattle car. Or something.
But wait, besides humming a few tunes of NOFX’s cover of the jazz classic “All of Me” what does this migration really mean? Migration makes me think of noble arctic Caribou traversing steppe lands to arrive at their annual calving rounds. No military satellite can capture the drive and determination of these instinctual beasts as they arrive to deposit their precious cargo of calves and amniotic fluid. Perhaps a sociological obstetrics of this virtual landscape of our culture might begin with a realization that what’s technologically impending is by no means necessary. As the great feminist slogan states: “biology is not destiny.” And when it comes to tech masquerading as natural and inevitable, destiny is not quite destiny either.
Now, you don’t have to be a poli-sci wingnut to recall Eisenhower’s claim that the military industrial complex was soon to dominate and oppress the free world. Yet it wasn’t only the content of Telus’ email that reminded me just how virtual the world has become and how deeply embedded big technology corporations are with one another. I guess all those Telus tv commercials with cute zoo animals against white Anne Geddes backdrops were telling us that we’ll all be herded like heifers someday soon.
The key term they used, migration, sought to naturalize a flow of paying customers into the maw of what old Testament scholars and Allen Ginsberg aficionados alike term the Great Moloch. Moloch was a pagan god that came to dominate a culture, says the Bible, until eventually people were so overawed by Moloch’s power that oppression became total and complete. Hello Google, hello that colourful and infantile logo! Ginsberg’s key poem ‘Howl’ elucidated Moloch in terms of a new skyscraper in his neighbourhood:
“Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the cross bone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”
Reality: Here, There, And Everywhere
Virtual convocation can teach us to be proud that we’ve enmeshed ourselves in the machinery of online learning and emerged wiser and unscathed and probably a heck of a lot more computer-savvy, regardless of our age. Likewise, we are the common denominator in all our studies in life and in school.
Learning is what happens between our ears. As Confucius famously put it, “may you live in interesting times” We do! Even if the whole internet disappeared and all our essays vanished in a mushroom cloud of erased electricity we would still, like a humble woods-person, possess the skills of writing and attention span to keep forever. What matters most in life, as in learning, is beyond quantification, virtual or physical. A marker signifying the ineffable sense of accomplishment is what convocation serves most to embed in our consciousness for the rest of our lives.
‘Athabasca University Convocation: #AthaU20’ ‘Athabasca University: Beyond 50: The Hub’. Retrieved from: https://news.athabascau.ca/events/athabasca-university-convocation-2020