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Online test: how media, universities and religion survive the coronavirus

Online test: how media, universities and religion survive the coronavirus

Ksenia Luchenko, the methodologist of "The Earth is Flat - How to Read Media?", Head of the Department of Theory and Practice of Media Communications of RANEPA, journalist and author of the telegram channel Orthodox and Zombies, answers the question of which changes due to the coronavirus epidemic are most noticeable and what prospects await us.

I have three areas of expertise: media, education, and religion. And all of them are now in a state of crisis, forced change. It is very interesting to observe this, try to predict which changes will be temporary and will go away with the virus and quarantine, and which will stick.

The main discovery of infodemic times in Russian media, in my opinion, is the deconstruction of state propaganda. I have no evidence, but the intensity and some, I would say, desperation in the spirit of "dementia and courage" spreading fake news and conspiracy theories in Russia is due to the fact that people will believe anything if it is contrary to television. For once, almost the truth is being told on federal channels, in any case they adhere to global views on coronavirus and methods of dealing with it, but people do not believe it. And the totality of this distrust, if I were the Russian government, would have scared me greatly. Any versions, from "there is no virus, it was all invented by the world behind the scenes led by Bill Gates" to "they hide the truth from us, in Moscow there are corpses on the streets and there are no places in cemeteries" — these are preferable for people rather than official messages. From childhood I remember Soviet television and how it was treated during the late stagnation years, now there are similar impressions. Coronavirus fake news destroy the myth of the omnipotence of propaganda. At least in Russia. And that is why such cruel laws are introduced that punish the distribution of false information, and there are loud demonstration arrests. Paradoxically, fake news become a weapon of grassroots spontaneous opposition, one of the freedoms. And it’s scary to watch: the crisis of confidence leads to death. I think that in other countries there is a specificity of infodemic phenomena that only seem universal.

Meanwhile, education is being tested online. At the very beginning of the transition to a distant place, the video where the American professor Michael Bluring сovers the song "I will survive" about the survival of teachers onlinereceived a huge viral response. Where he сovers the song "I will survive" about the survival of teachers online. In fact, not everyone will survive. Now it is obvious that a significant part of universities will not return to traditional training in full — we crossed the point of no return. On the other hand, the enthusiasm of educational top managers for online opportunities is facing great fatigue for both teachers and students. We all had to realize how much of the educational process is made up of unformalized things that elude any attempts to describe them as an online brief. The other day I had to console my graduate, who was very upset because the diploma presentation would take place at Zoom: graduates want a holiday, presenting is always drama, a little performance, but here everything turns out to be too pragmatic, clicked on the button — got result.

I predict huge changes. The concept of "higher education" was already too general, such a rudiment of the industrial era and classical universities. Now mass education will go online. Obtaining diplomas in exchange for passing tests with extremely clear assessment criteria will be absolutely technological, if not robotic. At the same time, there will remain centers of elite education — old British colleges, Ivy League universities, small private universities and other academic institutions, where in addition to online courses, which will still be a significant part of the curriculum, there will be the possibility of personal contact, mentoring, attending lectures- reasoning, tutoring, life on campus. Both will be as if it were a higher education, but with completely different tasks and prospects. There are likely to be many different intermediate hybrid forms that we cannot even imagine right now.

If until now, students have chosen which program to take as mandatory, which as additional (major and minor), which masters to attach to their specialty, and what to learn at the second higher, now one more color will be added to these sets of Lego blocks — what course take of the program online, and which one to take offline. And this overlaps with a sharp decline in student mobility. In recent decades, it has been the main ideology of the development of universities — exchanges, internships, summer schools, master's programs in different countries. Students traveled all the time. This year they stopped. And we do not yet know whether these programs will resume, how cooperation agreements between universities of different countries are transformed in the context of the departure of some educational programs online, and what will be the next epidemiological situation and the ethics of behavior associated with it.

In addition, the gap between the school and the university will widen. School can’t go online. At least because it has an important function of "overexposing" children while their parents are working, and their socialization, communication skills, and the movement of the child from the context of the family to the context of society. This forced abrupt departure to the Internet showed how really there is really little education in the school as gaining knowledge and how much is inaccurately called "education". Although, of course, home schooling and various online platforms where teachers work with children remotely will now enter their golden age.

The "first year problem", the adaptation of yesterday’s schoolchildren to higher education practices, will worsen. It has only recently been recognized as a problem that leads to disappointment in studies, personality crises, and demotivates students and, to some extent, universities. Online education all the more requires particular skills, above all, self-discipline and freedom of choice, which contradict the school way of life. The school has already stopped preparing children for universities for a long time, the transition has lost its naturalness, and now it will be fundamentally different phases of life, old-fashioned recorded in the same category of "education". And yet it is not clear what changes are required from the school for the docking to take place..

Well, as for religion. Here, too, a lot of things came out that had not been shown before, something would later return to normal, and something would change irreversibly. Of course, the actualization of the eternal story about the sea, the plague, an incurable infectious disease that affects everyone indiscriminately — both the poor, and the rich, and the good, and the evil — sends us back a little to the Middle Ages. Not in the sense of "dark time", I just don't like it when the word "Middle Ages" is used as a synonym for obscurantism, but in the sense of worldview, a picture of the world. Despite the whole entourage of modern megalopolises, a person finds himself face to face with a "wild death", unpredictable, massive, suddenly coming into the light of those ghettos that have been allotted to it in recent decades. And at the same time, the pace of life slowed down drastically, you cannot "do something", run away, take urgent steps, and you have to live the same difficult days from dawn till dusk. This, of course, is also the return of some kind of "old" way of life, and here, perforce, existential and ethical questions make their way through anxiety. What remains of these issues after leaving the lockdown will have to deal with philosophers and theologians. But for me it’s more about the relationship between the eternal and the temporary, alluvial and unchanging. A man, after all, does not change as much as is commonly thought.

In addition, there is a sacralization of doctors, medicine, biology. A lot of memes have already appeared, where doctors are depicted with nimbuses, in the form of saints who plunge the dragon virus. In Rio de Janeiro, on Easter, a medical gown was projected onto the statue of Christ in solidarity with doctors. That is, self-sacrifice and charity still evoke religious feelings and associations. This is not to say that this is a new type of holiness. No, it’s just very old, here you can stretch a long thread of tradition from the healer Panteleimon to the great martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna and Dr. Botkin, who was shot along with the royal family. In general, the theme "Heroes and saints: what are the differences?" is relevant again.

Well, if we talk about religion in the context of media literacy, and this is done very rarely, then it’s "inherited" online too. Since the late 90's I have been researching the topic "Russian Orthodox Church and the Internet" (at first it was called the "Internet" by analogy with "radio" and "television", then became "new media", now "digital space"), This was first my diploma, then a dissertation. And only now, it seems to me, twenty years later, a new stage is beginning. Previously, there was still more likely a quantitative growth, without serious qualitative changes. And now, thanks to quarantine, the transition to online is not just information flows, but everyday church practices, and these are serious changes. In recent weeks, Easter services have streamed from most parishes, transferred donations online, broadcast live with the names remembered on the Instagram (and they also wrote notes there), together they performed services in Zoom, living in different countries and time zones (not as passive viewers in the event of broadcasting, but participating in them), began to discuss and try the possibility of performing the sacraments remotely, trying to revive the ancient rite of agapa, which, as it turned out, is perfect for Zoom. And, of course, a very sad format that has now even been routinized — broadcasts of the funeral services of priests who died from the coronavirus. People cannot say goodbye alive, but somehow they want to attend. And then the question arises, what is presence in general? Where have we been and where haven't we been? What did we participate in and what were we watching?




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