sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘cats’ Category

what I know of love’s austere and lonely offices

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on April 18, 2010

This is Max:

Max got sick six years ago; he was diagnosed with kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease, which is basically like Crohn’s disease for cats. Here’s a list of his medications:

  • Metoclopramide (reglan), a drug to treat nausea and vomiting;
  • Metronidazole (flagyl), an antibiotic that treats diarrhea;
  • Famotidine (pepcid), to treat acid reflux;
  • Budesonide (entocort), a site-specific steroid to treat intestinal inflammation;
  • Injectable Vitamin B-12, to counteract the chronic loss of  nutrients;
  • Lactated Ringers Solution, fluids injected subcutaneously to support kidney function.

Twice a day, every day, Max gets a pile of pills. One of the medications, Flagyl, causes him to froth and vomit if it touches his tongue, so I pack it into gelatin capsules to avoid the mess.

Twice a week, every week, I inject Max with a dose of Vitamin B-12.

Twice a week, every week, I inject fluids under Max’s skin. Lactated Ringer’s solution is an electrolyte mixture of sodium lactate, potassium chlorate, and calcium chloride, and the fluids are designed to support cats with decreased kidney function.

Twice a day, every day, I put together a mix of prescription foods designed to strike a balance between supporting Max’s kidneys and soothing his angry intestines. The ideal high fat, low protein food for one condition, see, is the exact opposite of the low fat, high protein food the other condition calls for. So I have to pay close attention and make tiny adjustments to the mixture as needed.

For six years, I’ve been caring for my chronically ill cat. For much of that time, my sister Laura shared in the responsibility, even though he wasn’t technically her cat. (Max’s secret power is the ability to get people to fall hopelessly in love with him.) Now, because Laura’s in Boston and I’m in Indiana, I care for Max alone. 

There are people who argue that making the internet free and open was a mistake. There are people who believe that humans are essentially selfish, self-motivated individuals, and that the free, open model of most collaborative social media projects are misaligned to our basic human traits. Jaron Lanier, for example, has explained that an enormous mistake was the decision to make contribution to online projects like Wikipedia unpaid and often anonymous. He argues this has led, and will continue to lead, to a decline in quality of collaborative products and projects.

When I first started encountering this argument, about three years into my effort to manage Max’s chronic illnesses, I found it preposterous–just simply ridiculous. I wondered what kind of person could actually believe that humans are guided by selfishness. Our species is driven by the strangest of motivators, making us deeply irrational an awful lot of the time. We do an awful lot of things for love, and not for money; we act in chronically selfless ways an awful lot of the time. I’m not talking about the big acts of selflessness–the martyrdom, the dedication to causes or social movements, the sacrifice of personal needs for a greater good. I’m talking about the smaller acts of empathy that guide our everyday practices. These are the behaviors that get obscured, because they’re too small, too out of sight, for us to notice in any sort of systematic way. They’re obscured in analyses of online communities, too.

And a lot of the time, because they’re so small, because they’re so inherent to our daily operation as humans, these acts of empathy go unnoticed even by the people who commit them. They’re not moving, they’re not touching, not in isolation. We wouldn’t even know how to identify them or add them up, not for a single person and not for us all. And anyway, these moments are so often overshadowed by bigger moments of tragedy, cruelty, sacrifice, and love that we focus on those instead.

Which is how it probably should be. But let’s not forget that the life of human beings is guided by the smaller acts too, by the moments and methods that fill up our hours and days. And let’s not forget that those moments and methods are made up of kindness, love, and generosity an awful lot of the time.

Posted in cats | 4 Comments »

The Professor Is Sorry: Or, earn a degree on your iPod in just two months!

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on February 13, 2009

I was recently directed to the following TV commercial presented by Kaplan University:

On the one hand, I kinda love the message of this commercial. On the other hand, I want to kill the messenger. Kind of. I think.

The commercial is for Kaplan University, which bills itself as an institution of higher learning dedicated to providing innovative undergraduate, graduate, and continuing professional education. The site proclaims with pride:

Our programs foster student learning with opportunities to launch, enhance, or change careers in a diverse global society. The University is committed to general education, a student-centered service and support approach, and applied scholarship in a practical environment.

What you don’t get from this description is the fact that Kaplan is an online university, also known in some circles as a distance learning institution and in others as a <a href="http://us.bbb.org/WWWRoot/SitePage.aspx?site=113&id=193afce4-b86b-4e84-adf9-30bfadbe5445&art=4865
” target=”_blank”>diploma mill. Through Kaplan, you can earn degrees ranging from a professional certificate to a master’s degree. You can, for godsake, earn a juris doctorate through Kaplan Online.

In many important ways, of course, this is worrisome. Aside from the fact that a student could ostensibly become, say, a <a href="http://www.mlive.com/flintjournal/index.ssf/2008/08/looking_for_a_colllege_degree.html
” target=”_blank”>police officer with no field training, there’s also the question of fraud. Fraud. <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/story/personal-finance/on-topic/education/fauxplomas–billion-industry/
” target=”_blank”>Fraud. <a href="http://www.innovationads.com/morning-coffee/kaplan-university-accused-defrauding-us-govt-billions
” target=”_blank”>Fraud.

On the other hand, the rise in popularity of online universities points to a shift in how we think about expertise. While web 2.0 technologies increasingly allow us to offer expertise in a variety of areas, with or without educational credentials, the desire for evidence of expertise lingers in our collective psyches. Ultimately, we still believe that when our cat’s kidneys start to fail, the single veterinarian who spent 8 years in school followed by years of field experience can provide better advice than the two thousand cat owners on a devoted forum.

There is something to be said for the apprenticeship model of learning, one in which an aspiring neurosurgeon trains under the watchful and caring eye of a senior and more experienced expert. At the same time, however, one of the enormous affordances of participatory culture is that it enables us to tap into collective knowledge and collaborate on continuing to build that knowledge. We might call this collective expertise: All of us are more expert than one of us (especially if we can get the vet to join the forum).

This doesn’t mean I would trust two thousand pet owners to perform surgery on my cat, of course. Collective expertise does not always, after all, exchange at the same rate as apprenticeship, especially when the field requires a high degree of specialization and an intricate web of skills, mindsets, and practices. It does mean, though, that the meanings of “expertise” and, therefore, “credibility” have gotten just a little broader. And it means we need to reconsider what it means to be an “expert,” in professional domains as well as those defined by personal and social affinities.

Posted in cats, collective intelligence, education, graduate school, new media, open education, participatory culture, teaching | 1 Comment »