In a Nation of Immigrants: How Millennials in Digital Diasporas Influence the Classroom
November 18–19, 2011
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Introduction: Kairos Time and Chronos Time
In the Greek world, there was chronos time, that which we tell by the watch, and kairos time, holy time, sacred time, a time apart (Keen, 2011). The Hebrews made this division in time defined through the world of weekday work and Sabbath. The weekday world operated in chromos time. Sabbath time, kairos time, did not require a watch; it required simply sitting back and observing creation.
In the world of the Millennial student, the computer is the pivotal pin around which society works: it is technological time, measured by seconds on a digital watch or phone, or megabytes, kilobytes or pixtels (German, 2006). The computer operates in chromos time; all email is stamped by time of arrival. Software, cyberspace, operates in a more fluid, kairos time.
Due to liberal United States immigration policies in the 1980s, more immigrants came as singletons who married here or young couples who had children in the late-80s to mid-90s. Their children then melded into the native-born Millennial generation (Strauss and Howe, 2000). However, one factor distinguishes this group: a sense of belonging through their parents to digital diasporas which share hyphenated-identities (or half) around the globe (Alonso & Oiarzabel, 2010). Hyphenated identities include: Indo-Americans; Indo-Australians; Chinese-Americans; Chinese-Australians; and Chinese-Italians. The parents communicate with counterparts who originated from the same towns or countries and settled elsewhere. What sets this group apart is their use of the technologies that allow instantaneous communication with counterparts who made other emigration destination decisions. Individuals have been able to remain in touch through Skype, chat rooms, cell phone, email, Facebook, or LinkedIn (German & Banerjee, 2011).
Their children communicated with their cousins in other countries through the same communication vehicles. The question then becomes: How can these technologies be used in the classroom? Can relatives be interviewed on Skype as part of a presentation, for instance, in a course on global societies? These technologies create a “hyper-reality,” according to Buzzi & Megele (2011, in German & Banerjee, p. 30).
Chinese-Italians living in Milan’s Chinatown (2011, Manzo, in German & Banerjee) developed a way of life that is neither Chinese nor Italian, but reflects a hybridity. How can this hybridity be turned into a global learning tool and illuminate the lives of those who have not had the same opportunity to travel through space and time?
If we look at history—personal history—as the cycling and re-cycling of generations, set patterns emerge. At any given time, four-to-five generations tend to populate the planet. At the moment, we Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) have as parents the aging GIs (born 1901-1924). We have as children the “Millennial generation.” (Strauss & Howe, 2000).
Many of the parents of this Millennial generation were born in India, South America, China—areas where there was low involvement in World War II, and hence it is hard to call their parents the GI-generation. As I mentioned, immigration laws were very liberal in the 1980s in the U.S., so many immigrants came to America and had children who are about the same age as my own children (19 and 23).
In the global context, many of these children belong to “digital diasporas,” linked by Skype, Facebook, Orkut, and other similar services. Once a student belongs to the service, they communicate digitally with other Indian, Chinese, or South Americans whose parents were just as likely to relocate to Australia, Italy, the U.K. and to the U.S. Speaking a common language and having a common culture (or sub-culture), these students are just as likely to marry someone from that diaspora in another culture as the U.S. Typically, one spouse then relocates to the other’s new home country or they settle in yet a third place.
Lidia Manzo discusses Chinatown in Milan in an ethnographic article (2011), calling them “Asian Betweeners,” thoroughly adopted to Milan but with a foothold back in China. Toloyan (1991: 3) says “diasporas are the exemplary communities of the transnational movement.” As such, they epitomize the vague interconnectedness and exigencies of the cyber-world, where identities are shaped, tried on, and molded across national, religious, and gender borders.
How does this affect the classroom, as some students take on global experiences through digital attachments, study abroad—and others do not? Will the students that experience global attachment have a higher success rate in the global marketplace because they are already acclimated to diversity?
As we look at the “Millennial generation,” a characteristic that distinguishes its members is how they view technology. An exploratory study at our university found that students rate courses higher that employ new technology. Could this new technology be used by more globally oriented students during talks and demonstrations to create Skype hook ups to other countries, thus allowing more regionally based students to benefit from the real-time global exposure? Friends in other countries could be interviewed in the classroom using this technology.
The Generations and Technological Progress
Millennial students—cyber-students—are demanding an electronically-charged classroom. Coinciding with this is a literature on the role of hyper-reality (Buzzi & Megele, 2011) in our contemporary lives and its impact on global migration. Hyper-reality is defined as the somewhat surreal ability to peer into living rooms thousands of miles away using state-of-the-art communication technology such as Skype. It allows for instantaneous access of emotion and connection to others at a distance through the processes of actually seeing someone who is far away through webcam technology.
New technologies, enriched with long-distance communication and internet-linked carriers such as mobile phones and virtual social interactive networks like Facebook or Orkut, have rapidly extended the reach and influence of social networks. They are instrumental in providing social capital and social control in the lives of migrants whose social networks span host and home countries in new and unexpected ways. (Roy, 2011)
The GI generation is called a “civic” generation (Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 35), as are the Millennials. They rebuild the “outer world of technology and institutions” (p. 35). The “silent generation” is “reactive,” checking the excesses of their more public counterparts. The Millennial generation is an active generation, and demand active learning.
The internet, the joy-baby of the Millennials, was first invented by the U.S. Defense Department in the 1980s. For the Millennials, computerization is as basic as water or the air we breathe. Strauss & Howe (1991, p. 342) note that while the Woodstock generation of the Baby Boomers pondered the inner world (p. 342), the Millennials were raised to achieve and excel in the outer world.
While Boomers saw computers as a “force for social individuation,” Millennials see them as a “force for social homogenization” (Strauss & Howe 1991, p. 419). A team spirit pervades the cyber-student. While their parents were the Baby Boomers who went to Woodstock in the 1960s and became the “me” generation in the 1970s, the Millennials see computer networks as making them all the same, whether you live in China, the U.S., India, or South America.
How Are Millennials Different in Their Classroom Wants and Needs?
What do they want in the classroom? Entertainment. This generation wants to be spoon-fed their entertainment in the classroom rather than have to dig and ferret out truth. The machine will talk to them, make them feel cozy, and provide the social links that the Boomers found in-person through gathering collectively. This generation’s idea of face-time is meeting online in front of a screen tube and cultivating relationships that way; hence, the proliferation of Match.com and online services.
For a young Millennial, it is possible to find a girl in another country or buddies engaged in the same pastime such as “Fantasy Baseball” in India, China, and Japan through the internet. They become instant friends and start instant-messaging, e-mailing, and may even meet some day. As we all know, the internet has no international boundaries. Can this be shared in the classroom by the globally conscious and influence more those who lack this consciousness? How?
By the time a student comes to college, he may have corresponded with his new roommate in real time from India, China, or Japan; this is just one example of the relaxing of international boundaries. Millennials are seen as upbeat and engaged (Strauss & Howe, 2000, p. 4), and this is reflected in their electronic use profile (German, 2006).
Bringing Digital Diasporas Into the Classroom
The Millennial childhood is peppered with interactive TV, streaming and MP3s, DVDs, microchips, and personal computers (Strauss & Howe, 2000, p. 49). ) A key characteristic of the Millennial childhood is diversity, with immigration rates rising from the time of the Boomer childhood. This is a major difference.
When the Boomers were young, suburbs were very white and homogeneous; immigration was very much a non-issue outside the largest cities. The Millennials, even in the smallest towns, are familiar with immigrants from other cultures. In addition, the internet has introduced them to other cultures and this familiarity is part of their everyday life. As of 2000, only 2.4 million Millennials, or 3.5 percent of the entire generation, were themselves immigrants. But some 14 million Millennials are the children of immigrants. According to Strauss & Howe (2000, p. 85), it is very common for Millennials to live in “mixed status” households where at least one parent is not a U.S. citizen.
Millennials are growing up as familiar with computers as Boomers were with television. In fact, more teens say they can live without a television (28%) than without a computer (23%) (Strauss & Howe, 2000, p. 73). Technological progress, a liberating force for boomers and a diversifying force for Generation Xers, is serving a unifying purpose for today’s teens.
Link with Reception Theory
Louise Rosenblatt, in The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, outlines a theory of reading as a transactional process (1978, p. 12). According to her, the literary work “is not an object or an ideal entity. It happens during a coming together, a compenetration, of a reader and a text. The reader brings to the text his past experience and present personality. Under the magnetism of the ordered symbols of the text, he marshals his own resources and crystallizes out from the stuff of memory, thought, and feeling a new order, a new experience, which he sees as the poem.”
Television, film, and the visual media bring together creator and audience, but it is the audience that creates the interpretative community, where shared meaning is created based on individual background, reception, and the conversations between friends and well-meaning strangers in the audience.
One could almost look at the vehicle of the classroom with the instructor at the podium as a creator of text, and the student-audience as the interpreter. Meaning is made of the experience through how the audience, student body, interprets the text (discussion) rather than the text (the lecture) having a life of its own.
Into this theory comes the idea of the screen, the focal point in the automated classroom around which all learning is based. On the screen, one can link up through interactive technologies and Skype to living rooms around the world. Could not students in presentations hook into the living rooms of those they know through digital diasporas and give students who have never left their city or hometown the same richness of experience?
Have you ever left the theater and entered into a conversation with a seatmate about “what that play really meant” and the interpretation of the art work crystallizes in the joint minds through the interplay of ideas between them? The play is seen as the text but the meaning evolves in an individual and social environment.
The classroom is a theater of sorts, in which the students make meaning of the drama or presentation based on their perceptual set. By Skyping into the home cultures of the students, they have a chance to show a cultural sensitivity that is engaging and also to offer the other students a chance to electronically explore the world beyond in their own language.
One has to make technology a friend rather than an enemy in the educating of Millennial students, for whom it is their lifeblood. We need to allow them to be our guides, reverse-mentors so to speak, in educating their professors into the world beyond.
In cyberspace, you are in “kairos time,” outside the ordinary life. Have you ever flown in a plane across many time zones, and another sense of time is created when days are changing and then not had the correct time no matter how many watches or clocks you have with you? That is because then you are in kairos time. Whatever movie you watch on the flight you remember very well, because what goes on in kairos time is more primitive, more primeval.
In communicating all over the world through different electronic vehicles that span large spaces and time zones, you are outside ordinary time in the world of kairos time, much as on a plane or attending a religious service. Just as we avail ourselves of other resources of the Millennial, we could avail ourselves of the opportunity to escape time and space and operate in another dimension. Distance-learning courses are already playing upon this need to operate outside the ordinary realms of time and space and the day, as defined by the working world in the U.S.
It is clear that Millennials are global and operate on cyber time, rather than real world time. This feeling needs to be infused into the classroom. Millennial students value ingenuity and progress. Colleges need to adapt to this spirit, and enlist students as teachers, sharing their far-flung resources with the local population of the classroom. Putting students to work as facilitators of the new technology, including Skype, makes them co-creators of knowledge and allows them to function as both stewards of technology and links with the homeland.
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