Simulated learning

Big tech and the teaching takeover

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  • Published 20220127
  • ISBN: 978-1-92221-65-8
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IN GILLES DELEUZE’S ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, the philosopher compares a discipline society in which one is always ‘starting again’ to a control society in which ‘one is never finished with anything’. In a control society, graduation is always deferred. We have become lifelong students in the School of Life, whose only prospects for graduation will be to someday enter into that great big gig economy in the sky. What makes a good employee, we are told, is adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to participate in a never-ending regime of micro-credentialling. It pays less these days to market yourself as highly specialised in any given field than to market yourself as highly specialised in your ability to re-specialise. Today, where 88 per cent of Australians believe that job security is a problem, and where 27 per cent believe they may lose their job in the next twelve months, education and career are not so much separate institutional forces whose boundaries occasionally meet as they are nodes of the same chaotic infosphere, self-modulating according to the demands of the market.

In 2020, Google launched its own subsidiary degree program, Google Career Certificates (GCC). For around US$49 per month, Google’s online training program allows students to upskill in IT support, data analytics, project management, user-experience design and Android development. Likewise you can become a social media marketing professional with a certificate from Facebook or a data-science professional with certification from IBM. It is feasible that at some point in the near future all of life’s mile- stones, from the cradle to the grave, will be chaperoned by the corporate Memphis infographics of big tech as your benevolent mother, your disciplinary father, your educator, your employer, your sexual partner and your therapist. The GCC’s YouTube channel features success stories from the program’s graduates. Melinda Williams, for instance, was a cosmetologist by trade who ran her own salon for forty years as well as teaching at the local centre for adult education. When the auto plant in her town suddenly closed, Melinda says that many of her clients were transferred elsewhere, and those who remained were unable to afford beauty services. She decided she needed to upskill as an IT specialist with a GCC. ‘Wherever I had my phone, my laptop, I could squeeze in a few minutes of studying,’ she explains as she jump cuts between washing the soapy suds out of a customer’s hair and taking an online class in the corner of the salon on her iPhone. The advertisement provides a three-minute insight into the dissolution of Middle America, its complex dependence on corporate conglomerates and the financial instability of the working class. In the same vein as Uber’s ‘Olivia chooses flexibility’ advert – where a mother with multiple sclerosis tells how she chooses to drive an Uber because it gives her the ‘flexibility’ to focus on her health – the prevailing commandment of big tech is that precarity is an entrepreneurial opportunity for those that are cunning enough to pivot by educating them- selves when universal healthcare is not available or when the industrial centre of their home town outsources its labour force to an overseas market.

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