Having My Cake and Eating It Too: Learning through Distance and Interdependence, by G. Van Alstyne

Book cover for Poissant and Tremblay, eds. 2011, Together ElsewhereHaving My Cake and Eating It Too: Learning through Distance and Interdependence, by Greg Van Alstyne

In Ensemble ailleurs — Together Elsewhere
Ed. Louise Poissant, Pierre Tremblay
Published by Presses de l'Université du Québec

Download the paper, Having My Cake and Eating It Too: Learning through Distance and Interdependence, by Greg Van Alstyne (PDF) — https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/714546
Open Access provided by Project MUSE


The author shares personal and pedagogical insights and implications arising from an ad hoc, technosocial, distance-learning mashup in which their disembodied, McLuhanesque telepresence joined a seminar room of flesh-and-blood engineering graduate students at the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center (BxmC) in New York City.

To live and work full time as a design professor and researcher in Toronto, at the same time pursuing a Master of Science degree with one of the oldest engineering schools in the US, was the seemingly impossible opportunity I undertook through a unique arrangement with BxmC at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, and my employer, OCAD University. As the real challenges arose, from the limits of commodity video conferencing technologies to the psychology of ability and entitlement, I learned the power of cooperation, ingenuity and collegiality, and witnessed it overcoming many obstacles.

The result was a striking deployment of human-centred, problem-solving capacity – the essence of design thinking – within a technological, engineering-based academic culture. My aim in this paper is to share something from the experience and more importantly to critically reflect on what can be learned from this regarding the history, theory, and pragmatics of telepresence. I articulate significant overlaps and gaps between my own first-hand experience in a constrained, real-world situation, and a few of the more imaginative speculations offered in the last half-century of digital media theory. In these interference patterns I hope to reveal areas of clarity and partial cloudiness in the landscape of contemporary telepresence, including places where what is possible has caught up with the earlier visions, and others where the reality has begun to evolve beyond our recognition.

About the book

Être branché représente plus encore que McLuhan ne l’avait prédit, une réalité qui condamne à l’oubli ou à la disparition tout ce qui est hors circuit. Isolement, solitude et fragilité semblent se mesurer en largeur de bande passante, pour les individus aussi bien que pour les pays. La connexité change donc les façons de voir, de penser et de faire, et détermine, dans un même élan, le rayon d’action et le mode d’existence de ce qui résiste ou échappe à cette connectivité.

Ce livre présente des travaux d’artistes et les réflexions de théoriciens qui explorent ou illustrent les deux faces de cette réalité : d’une part, l’immense et la profonde infiltration de la connexité qui ouvre tant de perspectives, et d’autre part la négativité que peuvent engendrer les changements actuels qui se déploient à grande vitesse. Comment pouvons-nous envisager d’être-ensemble, pour reprendre la belle expression d’Hannah Arendt ? Quelles sont les modalités à inventer pour un vivre-ensemble et un agir-ensemble permettant de conjuguer différences et spécificités dans le village global ? Quels sont les paris à relever dans un contexte où l’on ignore les limites des technologies que l’on a conçues ?

Being technologically connected, being online, represents a reality still greater and more complex than Marshall McLuhan predicted ; it represents a reality that seems to neglect or even obliterate the unconnected. Connection allows us all to be together and elsewhere simultaneously. Isolation, loneliness and fragility seem to be measured in bandwidth, for individuals as well as for countries. Connection is changing ways of seeing, thinking and doing – and it determines the range and mode of existence of those that resist or escape this connectivity.

This book presents the work of artists and the reflections of theorists who explore or illustrate both sides of this reality : firstly, the immense and deep infiltration of connection that opens many perspectives, and secondly, the social malaise which is often the result of rapid change. To borrow from the lexicon of Hannah Arendt, how can we foresee being together ? What are the modalities we need to invent in order to create new ways of living together and new ways of acting together, modalities that will allow us to unite despite differences and specificities in the global village ? What are the stakes of this game when we attempt to think beyond the limits of current technology?

468 pages, G2485, ISBN 978-2-7605-2485-9