Asking how we identify the future – and how we bring the future into the present form a large part of current educational discourse – especially those edu_conference keynote conversations.
Jensen (Witnessing the Future pdf) cites Serres and Latour and suggests that “assemblage”, “design”, “finish” and “slickness of advertising” all play a role in how we identify the future .
"What are things contemporary? Consider a late-model car. It is a disparate aggregate of scientific and technical solutions dating from different periods. One can date it component by component: this part was invented at the turn of the century, another ten years ago … Not to mention that the wheel dates back to neolithic times. The ensemble is only contemporary by assemblage, by its design, its finish, sometimes only by the slickness of the advertising surrounding it" (SERRES & LATOUR, 1995, p.45). 
It made me wonder why we focus so much of our attention on the future, when our educational present needs so much help.
Jensen provided an answer when he identifies the critical shift in the conversation as being the shift from “"looking into the future to looking at the future, or how the future is mobilized in real time to marshal resources, coordinate activities and manage uncertainty" (BROWN & MICHAEL, 2003, p.4).
So people like us to look at the future (or at least think we are), because the existence of a classroom of the future (or a school of the future) allows resources to be marshalled.
Marshalling resources is high focus activity in education. And it is not just the educational technology companies that are trying to do this. Monday’s NZ Herald features a local special education centre that would like to marshall some resources to keep paying the salaries of two therapists.
Finding out how to persuade people they are looking at the future so we can marshall resources would be useful for lots of people.
Jensen’s study suggests that “looking at the future” is all about persuasion and witnessing; and that these strategies are not as different as you might imagine. Both are artificial, constructed situations.
So if you want to marshal resources in education by marketing yourself as the future you will need to learn how to play with both.
When reading “Witnessing the Future” I realised that I had never really understood persuasion – nor did I have any clear measure of how to judge whether persuasion had taken place.
In describing “the procedures and rhetorical strategies” used by a manager to persuade business journalists that it was “the office of the future”, Jensen argued that we can tell if “Persuasion has taken place if a second actor follows a first actor in such a way that the first actor's program is strengthened.”
So power is understood as a consequence of an action rather than a cause.
The actions of others make me powerful.
I take this to mean that when I am persuaded to RT a fellow tweetcher – I am enhancing their power.
Persuasion has occurred because I have acted in a way that empowers/ strengthens the credibility of a fellow tweetchers message. All that “repeating and disseminating” makes Twitter as much a strategy for persuading other tweetchers as it is a strategy for informing others. Something already understood by those educators controlling multiple accounts who regularly re-tweet themselves – an activity I found bewildering and just a little sad until now.
So repetition reveals an act of persuasion; because repetition reinforces the power of the persuader. “One hundred million blowflies can’t be wrong” thinking rules Ok.
NetGen Sceptic’s recent post describes repetition as a Snark Effect strategy The Snark Syndrome and the Net Gen Discourse
In Women and Science: The Snark Syndrome, Byrne says about women in science:
"By dint of repetition three times (or thirty), the educational community had internalized an oversimplified and often unscholarly selection of beliefs and premises which had descended to the 'everyone knows that...' level of slogan-like impact."
Thus the Snark Syndrome is the "assertion of an alleged truth or belief or principle as the basis for policymaking or for educational practice, although this proves to have no previous credible base in sound empirical research"
The Snark Effect is the application of the Snark Syndrome to implement specific educational policies and practices.
The post identifies the advantages to be gained/ resources that might be marshalled if repetition is used to persuade educators that the NetGen exists as being related to digital technology.
“I have lost track of the number of times I have heard educators repeat the stereotypes about the Net Generation: short attention span, expert mutitaskers, technologically savvy etc etc. Countless Michael Wesch-like You Tube videos are circulating urging us to wake up and change our ways or else risk losing an entire generation of learners who we are failing to engage. The answer, we are told, is more digital technology.”
I recognise high levels of “Snark Syndrome” repetitive NetGen and witnessing the future educational discourse in Twitter streams, blog posts, newsletters and educational conference presentations in New Zealand. And it is working. Resources are being marshalled through digital technology because of it.
So once we have the repetition thing going how else do we mobilise the future in real time to marshal resources?
Jensen’s article moves from repetition to “Tricks of the Witnessing Trade” – many of which will be familiar to educators who are charged with witnessing digital classrooms bedecked with wirelessly lap-topped/mobile phoned students.
Think of strategies of virtual witnessing, drawing in multiple allies and those courtroom strategies of highlighting, categorising and undermining.
The United Spaces manager persuaded others they were witnessing the future by contrasting what was going on in the offices with what was happening elsewhere. He used categories of social isolation, professional demarcations, stable patterns of work, and distrust. The result was visitors “witnessing” the United Spaces offices as a place of community, boundarilessness, flexibility and trust.
Interestingly Jensen identifies that in this case study the most effective strategy in persuading others (and thus marshalling resources) is to “act like a kite” –
United Spaces gains upward drift by blocking and resisting. It works by posing itself up against something else. Thus United Spaces' source of persuasive power is that it draws contrasts rather than drawing things together. With its arrangements of tables and with the rule of sitting at a new place every day, it has found a way to articulate a number of problems or even absurdities of "normal work". And like a protest movement, it lifts off the ground at the moment when it is able to channel diffuse dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs into support for a clear rallying point.
Perhaps our local education centre needs to persuade others to witness how it is “the future” education facility by adopting repetition and act like a kite strategies –
Remembering all the while that “The ensemble is only contemporary by assemblage, by its design, its finish, sometimes only by the slickness of the advertising surrounding it"
Then it may marshall back some of the resources that went to those “we are the future / we are creating remarkable futures” independent schools who swallowed up an extra 35 million dollars in funding in the last budget.
Elgaard Jensen, Torben (2007). Witnessing the Future [59 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative
Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 8(1), Art. 1, http://nbnresolving.