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The Grindr Model of Education

He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!
   No power hath he of evil in himself…

—Edgar Allan Poe

Reading Sean Michael Morris’s blog post titled “On Silence: Humanising Digital Pedagogy”, I am struck by the anecdote he begins with, about returning to the dating scene for the first time since it went digital, an anecdote that leads to a discussion about the way we read presence and silence via technology.

I think about a novel I just read: Alone by Thomas Moore, in which a character wonders, “Has Grindr killed psychic gay powers?” In a post for Dennis Cooper’s blog about Alone, Moore ends with a chart/graph/thing showing Bartholomew’s two-dimensional model of attachment: the positive quadrant (secure, self-confident, comfortable with intimacy, etc), the semi-positive quadrant (dismissive, but self-assured), the semi-negative (pre-occupied, overly invested), the negative (fearful!).

Psychic gay powers. Two-dimensional attachment. What is graphed as positive, what is graphed as negative…

(As someone whose ideal of a date is mailing handwritten letters back and forth across at least 3,000 miles, I suppose I fall into the attachment quandrant coded as semi-positive and titled Dismissive. Dismissive is, indeed, the right description of how I feel about the dating scene, especially as a middle-aged queer. I have added and deleted Grindr plenty over the years, at best finding it vaguely amusing, mostly finding it horrifying. Why, I wonder, would I ever want to connect with a guy in that way, with that tool?!)

Attachment. Dismissive. Psychic gay powers killed…

I think of my friend Richard Larson’s review of the new bookGay Bar for Harvard Review:

The gay bar I’d once escaped to as a teenager, armed with a fake ID and the need to outrun the stranglehold of the closet, is now a ruin. A friend from adolescence recently texted me a video of what it looks like now, and at first I didn’t recognize it as the refuge it had been. A shaky camera moves through the darkness; it catches glimpses of wood scraps and cinderblocks haphazardly piled up, trash strewn everywhere. A TV appears, cracked open and lying on its side, which I remember had once hung high up on the wall, always playing vintage pornography. For me at the time, the bar was aspirational, representative of a future I wanted for myself outside of the closet. But as Atherton Lin also recalls wondering, when perusing zines from the same era, it’s likely that the actors in those old videos I was watching were already dead.

(I think of my own experience of gay bars, many over the years, good and bad, positive and negative. The good memories are like this: In Provincetown, hanging out with lesbian friends, fascinated by how fascinated they are by the gay male porn on the corner tv. I chuckle at the memory now and imagine friends have sometimes said of me, with exasperation, “Take him to a bar and instead of chatting up guys, he’ll start analyzing the cultural practices of lesbians.” While not the whole truth, I would be lying if I said this characterization were untrue.)

(But also: the sense of refuge. While I have had unsatisfying, boring, annoying experiences in gay bars, I can’t remember ever feeling unsafe there, not the way I do in so many spaces outside of gay bars. Sometimes, the safest I have ever felt has been in gay bars. In fact, were I asked to list the times I have felt most safe in my life, probably half the moments on the list would be in gay bars.)

(I never felt safe on Grindr.)

Sean Michael Morris writes about the thing everybody who invokes the name of Paolo Freire writes about, the “Banking Model of Education”, and I begin to wonder: What is the Grindr Model of Education?

In the Grindr Model of Education, everybody has to create a self and move through education as that self. In the Grindr Model of Education, we are all, teachers and students, selling ourselves to each other — not necessarily for cash, but we are selling our bodies and our desires. In the Grindr Model of Education, we are all bodies, even though we are virtual, because though our bodies may be fictional, may be avatars, nonetheless it is bodies — or the idea of bodies, the dream of bodies — that matter. In the Grindr Model of Education, proximity may help us achieve our ultimate goal of escaping the virtual and putting our bodies together. In the Grindr Model of Education, everything we do has the goal of getting our bodies together.

(Grindr is a two-dimensional model of attachment.)

Sean Michael Morris writes about silence, about how easy it is to misread silence on Grindr and how easy it is to misread silence in a classroom or via Zoom.

I wonder: can we ever not misread silence? Is any reading of silence not a destruction of silence? Is silence readable? Can there be a silent explanation of silence? (And by silence I don’t mean simply not talking or not hearing. I mean not communicating. The absence of communication.)

Is silence data? Does Grindr sell my silence, or is my silence the one way I can refuse, on Grindr, the marketplace of desire?

Is silence the same as swiping away what (who) I don’t desire?

Reading silence feels to me as difficult as proving a negative.

“Silence, in the banking model of education,” Sean Michael Morris writes, “would most likely indicate either incomprehension or rebellion on the part of the student.” This seems true to me, and indicates the problem with any model of education, whether Banking or Grindr: models impose meaning. They may allow, or even demand, meaning-making, but before they get there, they start from assumptions about what things mean, how they mean, and how they should mean, how they can mean. This is not inherently bad. Even a blank canvas has boundaries: edges, obviously, but also the material that it is: canvas, which, like its corporate LMS namesake Canvas, holds some things and not others.

Education demands the student’s presence, the student’s engagement, the student’s participation, the student’s meaning-making — all of which are opposed to silence (and its cousin, absence). Education is, at a very basic level, about the elimination of lacunae, the filling of holes and gaps and silences. To be silenced is a terrible effect of power, a core authoritarian move. To choose silence for oneself, though…?

How can one be silent in an educational setting?

Here, we arrive at Bartleby. Silence as polite refusal. Polite, but devastating. Always preferring not to, you get to a place where there is nothing left to do, even if you find your way to the dead letter office. In the end, you must simply refuse to breathe, refuse to live. Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!

(Perhaps I should download Grindr again and change my screen-name to Bartleby.)

(I would prefer not to.)

The Grindr Model of Education is very ed-tech. Grindr and ed-tech are all about hookups. Grindr is a Yearning Management System.

“How do we learn to reach out across the silence, through the screen, and change the way we teach?” Sean Michael Morris asks. Students who don’t live in the silence are secure, but that’s only one quadrant. What of the dismissive students, the preoccupied students, the fearful students? Should we force them out of the silence? Must they get attached?

The problem with Grindr is the problem with any LMS or any tech tool or any other attachment theory (tech is an attachment theory) — the theory (every theory) has ideas of positive and negative, healthy and harmful built in. Silence is bad because it is not engagement. Dismissiveness is bad because downplaying the importance of intimate relationships is bad, “compulsive” self-reliance is bad, “distance” in relationships is bad.

Here’s one thing I can tell you for sure: the graph/chart/thing of Attachment Theory is not Buddhist. Because a Buddhist would be tempted not to call that lower left quadrant “Dismissive” but “Enlightened”. After all, Buddhist attachment theory is simple: attachment is bad.

I look again at the quadrants, particularly at my own, the Dismissive, and I think, dismissively: Good luck, buddy. If your tech is a gay bar, maybe I’ll hang out, but if you’re trying to get me to return to Grindr, no way. Send me a handwritten letter, then maybe one day we’ll talk, especially if you remain 3,000 miles away. (Here’s some sexxxy talk: Be my dead letter office.) I may “downplay the importance of intimate relationships”, but why should I trust you that intimate relationships are worthwhile, when all they seem to do is cause you misery and angst and money? How do you know that I haven’t found the best way forward, the least oppressive? Maybe your security, so positive and supported by cultural norms, is chutzpah and self-delusion. Let me zen my way forward.

The Grindr Model of Education commodifies desire into surveillance capital. While it announces nodes of desire near you and opens paths of communication, it also imposes something of a culture, as all models do. Grindr is a consolidation of desire: it collects it, transmits it, but also regulates how it gets expressed, received, interpreted. Technology may sell itself as cultureless and valueless, but it is exactly the opposite, because no tech exists in silence. The tool gets used, and as it gets used, it accumulates meanings, expectations, desires of its own.

The Gay Bar Model of Education is one I am maybe more interested in. You can sit in a corner of a gay bar in silence. (I’ve done it!) People will approach, they’ll check in with you, they’ll take your drink orders, maybe chat you up, but you own your silence there, at least at the good bars, the friendly ones. And there are lots of different types of gay bars, too. (Or, once upon a time, before Grindr, there were.) Ones you can bring your lesbian friends to to watch porn, ones that are all about drag, ones where everybody wears leather, ones where the preppies go for overpriced cocktails, and ones that are just good places for rumpled middle-aged queers to hang out for a bit and feel safe.

If your model of education is too much like Grindr, is there some way you might make it more like a gay bar? Can your model of education resuscitate gay psychic powers?

Image: via Melies the Bunny on Flickr