Quote That: Darn Internet

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And here we come to the real crux of the matter: the less people who participate, the more people end up just becoming consumers, and if the only people producing things for these people to consume are corporate entities, then we’re subjected to an overwhelming quantity of spewed-out, predigested ‘culture’.  People have stopped participating and are content just being present, and thats a problem and whoever thinks “oh shut up dude, this happens all the time” you’re wrong, the internet leaves nothing hidden, every fuck dick can copy and paste a personality they found on the internet, and thats never been possible before.   But fuck it, who needs to actually go out and do something worthwhile IRL when you get the same chemical reaction from 100 internet strangers telling you your outfit is awesome. -Johnny Love, Subculture as we know it is dead, and its all the internets fault.

 

 

Paper: Identity, Quiet, and Power

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In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability. -Atul Gawande, Slow Ideas

Uncontrolled variability, as Gawande briefly illustrates is anathema to efficiency. However, the converse of messy and anachronistic communication through slow channels is not always the domain of the technologically disadvantaged, but it also a way to display privilege in a technologically obsessed world. Literally, to not care about efficiency in communication, to do something the old fashioned way is in some ways a projected indication of class. So, in the United States, we are what we buy. Consider the Molskine Notebook:

The  reason for the brand’s success is its unique positioning, which combines  identity and culture thanks to its high design and iconic content, as the product  satisfies a sense of belonging to a community sharing common values, rather  than just a function. This also justifies its premium positioning. -Chiara Rotelli & Emanuela Mazzoni, Moleskine: Initial Public Offering

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Paper, especially a leather-bound notebook of blank paper, is a luxury. It stands opposed to the cheap xerox stock that overflows despite the birth of the digital age, and implies a non-work time suck of doodles, drawings, notes, and mental sketches. It also implies creativity, over, and over. The kinds of notebooks alone tell a tale of the creative class in mashed fibers: passion, city, reporter, professional, creativity, black page, cover art, limited edition. This is paper for the privileged. It is messy and anachronistic, but also private. These notebooks are places for mistakes, first drafts, and experiments, only to be communicated to a few, and almost never without revision. Privacy, silence, and a lack of communication are bound up nicely in pages, blank in a discreet black book that projects a quiet power as a brand object.

This takes me back to Illich (1983) and his call for the defense of the silent commons. This call, essentially a manifesto, declared silence to be a shared condition placed under threat by new technologies and their amplificatory functions. It functions as a critique of mass media, regarded as a deeply non–convivial technology in which communication ‘machines’ provide prostheses and do so selectively, so that certain dominant groups (those who get the equipment) become louder hailers with the power to silence others. -Caroline Bassett, Silence, Delirium, Lies?

Bassett is worried about people being silenced by loud hailers, and the 21st century has proven no different. But the inverse is also a problem. More often than not, we are encouraged to participate, to make ourselves seen and known. Now to have the quiet space, to communicate slowly or not at all, but to just jot some notes and doodles is the position of power.

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Disruptor of NYC, or Why I Live in the Middle of the Country.

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We installed the ethos that pedigree was over and all money was now equally valuable. The mythology of Silicon Alley was forced to coalesce for good, with City Hall’s fervor behind it. The start-up culture wars—a fresh beef with the West Coast, except boring!—intentionally pitted us against the weirdo jerks of Palo Alto. The scrunchy-face foxy Foursquare co-founders appeared in Gap ads, clad in mediocre jeans but form-fitting venture capital. You were a good person if you were an entrepreneur. You were creating jobs, until you weren’t. The big floor-through lofts of Broadway between Houston and Spring filled up with inexpensive furniture and even less expensive young people, each with a bitter mouthful of Adderall, each office bright and identical. So far, we’ve disrupted a few things, mostly coffee-related. – Choire Sicha, Let Me Tell You About the Most Heartfelt $200 I Ever Made

Quote That:

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Mindblindedness dwells in the neurotypical world. It lurks on the edges of the notion of politics that speaks of democracy as though we all had acceded to the level of easy breathing. And it lurks within a macropolitical notion of ethics that seeks to place moral standards on behavior, and ethics that overwrites, that judges and sequesters into so-called intelligibility the agitation of all ecologies that do not resemble it. -Erin Manning, Always More Than One, pgs 170-171.

EduTech and the Hipster

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6) The demand for new methods of teaching, such as flipped classrooms and blended learning, is coming from the students. Untrue.

Students are, for the most part, perfectly happy with traditional lecture courses. They know what to expect from and how to navigate courses that put no more demands on them but to reflect back the knowledge transmitted from the front of the room. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

In this defense of educational technology, it appears that student demand isn’t driving classroom change. While being protective of educational technologists broadly, it tries to point out that educators are also driving the uptake of educational technology.  Given the precarious lives of educators, the additional need to innovate, both pedagogically and technologically is important. Taken individually, pedagogical innovation is difficult, and requires a lot of work and support. What it does not necessarily include is an expanded budget for hardware, software, and associated staff. While Joshua Kim makes the argument that:

What is so important about this transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain. Technology folks are moving from server rooms to the classrooms, from provisioning and monitoring server applications to collaborating with faculty and librarians on flipped classrooms and blended learning. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

The line of reasoning inextricably ties consumerism to technology and pedagogical innovation, which might free people up, but still ties up more money than if the connection between them was severed. The final and most curious point is this: if consumerism is the model, and students aren’t viewed as consumers, then why does this feel like marketing? While it is proposed that businesses are “consumer driven” and schools are “student driven” then why is demand for innovation not coming from students? Marketing, the art of tell others that they need something they didn’t know existed, is at the center of the pedagogy/technology coupling’s consumerist model. Even for the pedagogically well-intentioned, the inclusion of further goods and services on behalf of the students or the school means that we as educators are selling those products to students.

Such an outgrowth of the broader cultural imperative to sell is very much the Liberal Man’s Burden taken up by technology providers: everything is fixable by technology, which you are free to purchase, but it is not your right to that solution. Government, the cash-thirsty guarantor of hypothetical equality stands directly in the way:

Eric Schnuerer writes of a world where government literally is a product you can buy, an eventuality he sees foretold in the increase in private security forces and flight from public schools. In other words, “‘Government’ is, everywhere, an industry in serious trouble,” and his remedy is to “resize,” “redesign” the “products,” and “compete effectively against new competitors and in whole new markets.”

This misconception is at the heart of Silicon Valley’s approach to politics, both at home and abroad. In Packer’s words, technology “has little to say about larger issues of justice and fairness, unless you think that political problems are bugs that can be fixed by engineering rather than fundamental conflicts of interest and value.” -Kate Redburn, Google and The Liberal Man’s Burden.

The technologist approach is also marketing driven: it creates more needs than it solves in order to be financially profitable. Solving problems with existing tools, specifically through the application of pedagogy rather than pedagogy and technology, is less focused on consumption and more on hard-to-capitalize creation. The Liberal Man’s burden that technology has brought to bear in education is to make it profitable and condition the educational system to seek out profitable solutions to the human problem of educational values in the 21st century. Popular culture has a word for those who push back against the technological thrust in education based on such grounds: they are the hipsters of education:

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Its zombie-like persistence in anti-hipster discourse must be recognized for what it is: an urbane, and socially acceptable, form of ideologically inflected shaming on the part of American elites who must delegitimize those segments of a largely white, college educated population who didn’t do the “acceptable thing.” -Anthony Galluzzo, The ‘Fucking Hipster’ Show.

Hipsters are the fixie-mounted, left-leaning, do-your-own-canning types who accept technology with reservations, but without Luddism. This is the analogy for those who question the efficacy of the technology/pedagogy pairing, and libraries, as places where older technologies sit comfortably beside newer ones, is hipsterism par excellence. Questioning the imperative to maximize one’s own economic advantage at one’s own expense runs counter to the “self-made” maximalist culture represented by the span of men from Carnegie to Zuckerberg. When a product is made, it bears the personality and values of its maker through and through. In education, we teach people to fit in or resist culture, so it has always been the site of contests for power. Defining educational institutions as site of “transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain” will teach students not to provide, but to consume.

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Quote That:

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It is therefore aesthetic theory that needs resuscitation in our contemporary moment, not the aesthetic as such…By paying closer attention to the aesthetic categories that speak to the most significant objects and socially binding activities of late capitalist life–our affectively complicated relations to commodities, information, and performing, the ways in which we labor, exchange, and consume–one can at least make a start at closing the gulf between aesthetic theory and practice… -Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

Libraries & The MOOC Trois: On Disruption

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Although the traditional archive used to be a rather static memory, the notion of the archive in internet communication tends to move the archive toward an economy of circulation: permanent transfer and updating. -Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 99.

Ernst starts out with this blazing redefinition of what an archive is, which substitutes use and reuse which essentially conflates the idea of archives with that of communication. In reference to my earlier posts, the canon has become the archive. The archive of internet communication is not an archive at all. When you “archive” a email in Gmail, it becomes a saved but inaccessible, a digital parody of a dusty box on a lost shelf. But that sense of archive is a misnomer: a body of work which stays relevant through re-circulation is not an archive. By keeping things past present, it is a canon. This is why all the talk of organizing the world’s knowledge and slapping it all online has become a quixotic project. While one can create an honest-to-god archive on the internet, the best function of the internet always will be communicative acts. That which is curatorial will usually take a back seat. The grafting of archives and other institutional models tend to follow this pattern:

Less so a library, the internet feels like a mall, albeit one with a robust newsstand (and adult video section). It’s open 24/7 and now offers same-day delivery. Less so a school, it’s a playground, equipped with a billboard for our personal brand. From this vantage point, the internet is less the revolutionary invention that it is, or can and should be, instead acting as a glorified telephone and digital, sepia-filtered distraction, one lubricated and optimized for constant, frictionless consumption. -Alec Liu, Groupon, Aaron Swartz and the Failings of the Second Great Tech Boom

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It is acting as optimized. Wolfgang Ernst calls it an “economy of circulation” with certainty, but that phrase understates the nature of this massive  shiny, lubricated entertain-ucation-plex, where the hustle of self-promotion edges other things out. Trying to wade through a discussion board or a tumblr looking for something that rises above the merely interesting can be exhausting, and now it’s part of education:

Taking a cue from Twitter and LinkedIn, education online also needs to do a better job leveraging peer interaction and collaboration. Most MOOCs do already promote discussions among classmates to help with homework and grading. But the emergence of Twitter and LinkedIn (and soon Facebook) as go-to sources of professional insights shows that people want to actually learn from, and work with, their colleagues and business contacts just as much as from PhDs, editors and other experts. -Todd Tauber, The Dirty Little Secret of Online Learning: Students Are Bored and Dropping Out

Granted, learning has always been communicative, but it also requires critical thinking, time away from other pressures, and focus. Making the claim that being more like commercial, entertainment-driven websites like Twitter or Linkedin as example of how people learn now is wildly disingenuous: how we entertain ourselves and use those tools in a professional setting is not at all how “we” learn. We all learn differently, and as the industrial educational complex of the early 20th century gets dismantled, the silicon-valley wet-dream of edutainment is seen for what it is: an economic tool. It follows a new advertising narrative of disruption, a familiar call in many a educational sector that is “ripe”:

The drive to create is no different, no less human than that the urge to profit. But only recently it has taken on this sickly pallor–the desire to present itself as different… as difference. It has become a drama, a narrative of success or failure. -Adam Rothstein, Disruption

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Disruption is the story of startup culture through advertising. Rothstein brings the sickly obsession to be different to the fore, as opposed to the long lines of actual institutional change which involve considerable human effort and goodwill. Disruption promises to short-circuit that, a techno-economic fix in the stead of humanity’s emotional dirty work. As they currently stand, the MOOC’s biggest supporters want to sell the disruption narrative. Less so a school, it brings the world of personal branding into the classroom. And with the work of students and teachers reformated to fit the digital insta-canon, one taken away at the end of the communicative performance, the archive dies. The cycles of knowledge get shorter and shorter, and the long memory of dusty stacks will fade. One direction out of this is a new archivist manifesto, one that emphasizes the personal ethic of care.

The current discussions on search, open access, archives, preservation of information and digital objects, often hide away the politics of individuals under the disguise of “users”. Users to technological capitalism, are consumers to consumerist capitalism. Archivist manifesto is a call for the reinsertion of knowledge and skills for developing personal archives, that on one hand, reinstall the culture of care and a technological culture; on the other hand, develop an infrastructure that allows sharing of information on individual level and bypasses marketing tools such as search engines and commercial social networks. -Yuk Hui, Archivist Manifesto

Somebody ought to add the MOOC to that last list.

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