I just watched a short talk by Melinda French Gates, too a few quick notes, and added a short commentary at the end. Here’s a link to the video.
What Non-Profits can Learn from Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is everywhere
Real-Time Data is Immediately Fed Back into the Product
minimal gaps in feedback loops
evaluation is ongoing, not at the end
general idea: constantly analyze traffic & content; set up a network where this is transparent and comes to you.
Tap Into Local Entrepreneur Talent
worked with (not against) local distributors
local people know local conditions
general idea: people’s own space often overlaps with intermediary space (ie: in blogs, on social media), and this can serve dual purposes.
aspirational – associated with the life people want to live (localized)
need and want are not the same motivation
understand what students/users want, not what you want
general idea: be humble and try to not know what you know when you observe.
I worked my way through undergraduate school working for Coca-cola, and they were a fantastic company to work for. There was something different about coke compared to any other company I’ve known or been a part of. They worked well with smaller companies and independent distributors, as Melinda mentions, and this one one of the things that surprised me, and could also be observed daily. They also were always so clear, and even downright fair, in their policies – even though they were completely focused on profit, they never tried to hide it. This was the most important thing, I always felt, they knew what they were doing. They never hesitated about small set-backs, either, I think because they always had that firm grasp on the bigger picture. I learned so much working there.
I had a small revelation, a nice bit of understanding, while reading on the train earlier tonite. This is from an article called Towards an Ecology of Understanding (which I’m pretty sure I discovered though the McLuhan Misunderstood paper that was posted a few weeks ago), which is a fantastic article:
Over and over I’ve talked to groups and individuals about new technology as new environment. Content of new environment is old environment. The new environment is always invisible. Only the content shows, and yet only the environment is really active as shaping force.
The content of a medium is always older mediums. And the latest, newest medium is the active shaping force of society because we are unaware of its effects – we can’t act any choice on them. So long as this is the case, development of society is out of our control. Society is in the backseat, along for the ride & paying the gas fare, as media technology sits behind the wheel, advancing for its own goals.
Medium and Message is a relationship directly linked to development and progression. It’s the image of Vygotsky again, and his ZPD with the boundaries of Potential and Completed. Except, as a collection of people, compared to one single human, development is so much more difficult to autonomously shape…probably because at that level of distinction, consciousness is a lot less lucid or focused.
One way out of this abusive Medium and Message relationship is to diminish the idea of progression. To stop thinking that a car is better than a horse, that an iPhone17 is better than an iPhone16, and that this year’s model is better than last year’s. Seeing, as a default, available technology as a spectrum of tools, ready for use depending on the situation and need, will make you more aware of the effect of any medium, old or new. This will clarify the choices both in and of environment.
Here’s a summary of Chapter 8 of Understanding Media – The Spoken Word. I’ll publish summaries of Chapters 9 and 10 in future posts. I’ll also add some extended commentary below each summary about an interesting point or quote from each chapter.
Chapter 8 – The Spoken Word: Flower of Evil?
Back in chapter 6 (p.57 in my edition) McLuhan introduces the idea that spoken word is the first technology that allowed humans to consider themselves from an outside perspective. He builds on this idea in Chapter 8, which is a little more than 3 pages long.
McLuhan uses two examples to show that spoken experiences are much different than written experiences. Spoken word experiences are participatory, sensuous, unified, dramatic, and involved. Such orally based cultures even have a distaste for silence, and a strong affectionate characteristic, as illustrated by the travel guide to Greece excerpt.
Contrasting this, the phonetic written experience values privacy, separation of the senses, and the individual. McLuhan goes so far as to claim that individualism cannot occur without the written word. It is the speed or the automatic nature of the spoken word that affords situational reactions not only of language but also of tone or gesture or action, separating it from the detached, emotionless phonetic experience.
At this point McLuhan steps back and flips the script a bit. He considers the spoken word, or language itself, as the first fragmentation of humans – as written word is to speech, so is speech to instinct. Taking from Henri Bergson, he explains how the development of language increased consciousness of the individual at the expense of the consciousness of the collective mankind. The uniqueness of language, with its ability to contain style, created individuals.
McLuhan ends the chapter with a paragraph about how electronic technology has strong implications for the future of language, or, for a future without language. Electronic technology holds the potential return to some type of collective unconscious.
How would a future collective unconscious differ from the past collective unconscious?
To what extent is spoken word (language) an extension of man as opposed to a definition of man?
I’m not exactly sure what McLuhan means with his subtitle to this chapter (The Flower of Evil). It makes me think of the Jungle Book, but that’s fire. Maybe it’s meant to be sarcastic or, alluringly dramatic.
Twice in this very short chapter McLuhan mentions the act of reacting to oneself. This concept of being able to relate to the self is a major aspect of consciousness, I believe, and found in the idea of higher order thinking or learning. It’s stepping outside a self and being able to see is from a larger or smaller scale. It’s the process of reflecting. Dewey would simply call this thinking.
The affordances of (first electric media, and now) digital media have created a different level in which society can relate to itself. “Big Data” gives us this view of society, action, experience, that we don’t get to see in a daily, face-to-face. Technology can give us this ability to relate to ourselves at different scales, however the cost is that often we become numb of the individual at the one-to-one level. Consciousness, created by the emergence of spoken language itself, may be great…but is that evil flower progressing without me?
“…always reacting to his own actions.” (p77)
“…reacting in tone and gesture even to our own act of speaking.” (p79)
How are financial instruments such as mortgage-related investment packages an extension of our senses or ourselves? How are they reorganizing our world? And are they an indication of what McLuhan and Kenneth Boulding call a “break boundary?” (the full question is here – scroll to the end of the text)
I would say yes, these financial instruments/systems have undergone a ‘break boundary” – they have emerged as entities or mediums in themselves.
The week before last I read Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy, and in it he makes the strong case that marketizing something (a product, a service, an activity…anything) changes what that things is. It corrupts it. In other words: The Medium is the Message.
His book is powerful because he’s not exactly anti-markets, he thinks we need to look at individual situations closer, finding the decision points about where markets suit and where they do not. One of the most memorable lines in the book is something like Western Society has gone from having a market culture, to being a market culture.
To continue with Sandel’s example in a McLuhan light, when culture is put wholly through the medium of market we become numb to any cultural goals except for accumulating money (perhaps with a nice side order of justification). It becomes a closed system that tends not to consider any outside suggestion about what to do with our lives, imploding on itself as all activities start to fit this ultimate goal. It reminds me of the Super Mario video game where Mario is supposed to be saving Princess Toadstool, but it’s really just an excuse for him to go around jumping after gold coins. Why couldn’t they have been stars, hearts, unicorns or just plain circles, even?
With a market systems at our disposal (having them as opposed to being them), we can suspend judgment for a time, reflect and decide if it is suitable for that particular activity. We can better asses what the corruptions of that system might be (ie: what the message will be) closer to present time, rather than looking at it in the past. Emergent media comes at us faster than previous, thus we need this separation. In this case, we would be better able to select when we want to use a medium and when we want to experience it.
Throughout my daily routine, I come across numerous other similar examples of medium being the message. When education at the junior or high school level becomes the memorization of dates, names and phrases; When academia becomes not much more than a series of handshakes and a collection of citations; And at any given time when I look around my commuter train and note three-fourths of the riders staring at a smartphone…I feel no surprise that even video game characters can’t escape the numb pursuit of money.
This is a short essay I wrote for the Intro to Philosophy course that concluded last week. The one I post on the course site needs to be a bit shorter, so I’ll have to edit some stuff out. This isn’t really as tight as I’d like, either, but I think an extended version of the idea here might get a bit boring to read.
Despite being thoroughly refuted John Searle’s Chinese Room thought experiment still generates notoriety (it was included in this course). Perhaps it is that the Chinese Room provides a useful background for counter arguments hat are particularly revealing about the relationship between body and mind. My own analysis of the thought experiment would be categorized as a “system reply argument”, with a focal point on the separation provided by walls of the room.
There’s an uneven comparison that Searle makes in presenting the Chinese Room thought experiment: he compares human to human. That is, he compares Humans (in general) not to any idea of artificial intelligence or machine, but to the human in his experiment. With the presence of the room, Searle creates a barrier of information flow between the human on the inside and the one on the outside. Yet, when he considers the mind of Humans in relation to this thought experiment, he looks at the distinction of separation created by the skin of the human inside the room, not by the room itself. His claim that “I would not be able to understand the conversation” would be analogous to saying that a microchip, or a mouse, or some other component of the machine does not have capabilities at that level as the machine does on a whole.
As much as the Humans rely on their limbs, senses and interaction with environment for presence of mind, so does the human in the experiment rely of the walls of the room. What would our concept of intelligence be if we disregarded the barrier of separation that distinguishes humans, in the same way that Searle does away with the walls? How does “ability” exist in this way?
Imagine a brain in a vat inside the room, and suppose this brain can actually understand Chinese, unlike the monolingual poor soul in Searle’s example. Someone on the outside of the room slides a piece of paper with a Chinese character on it into the room and (even if it could perceive the symbol) the brain goes through all of the mental states of replying, yet nothing happens. There’s no action, no evidence of mind. Humans include their inputs and outputs, as do machines, displaying the importance of the distinction of separation.
Searle’s anthropocentric bias is evident, making Putnam’s functionalism argument relevant. The Chinese Room is a human centered test, illustrating the limits of the communication technology (here, spoken language). Ask a question in a different way, to Putnam’s octopus or to a computer, and get a mindful response. If I want to find out what an octopus feels about sandpaper, I rub the paper on its skin and watch the octopus’ reaction. It may be difficult to interpret its reaction meaningfully, but, well, translating between distinctions of networks is never exact. Presence of Mind isn’t limited to language use, or even to interaction in Searle’s example – it’s about contained knowing. The octopus certainly contains its own reaction to sandpaper.
Thus, if we think of a similar situation with a machine or a computer, a non-living object, the ways of interacting might be more limited, but the responses will be more exact. If I want to know which program is best to install on my computer, I use the most relevant method (ie: clicking in the right places) to get the response that will best inform me.
Distinction of separation implies an extended account about multiply realisable and mind. Let’s take the brain in the vat example and reduce the distinction even further. Why not say that the area of the brain that processes language has a mind, in this case? What about only the neurons and synapses? Distinction needs to be considered with more thought to the action, or else the Chinese Room is pointless, simply expressing that: Only humans can have human minds.
An expanded version of multiply realisability is also valid. A community itself can have knowledge that an individual contained within that community does not. Networks of people can have space travel capability, or can be literate, for example..yet, a single person need not be able to command a rocket, nor be able to read. The claims at one distinction are independent of claims made on a larger or smaller scale. The point of distinction is relevant when considering how mind experiences knowing.
This is especially relevant in today’s world. Gone is the strictly dominant Vygotskian idea of internalization of knowledge (it certainly holds up as one way to consider knowing). Modern communication technology has pried open the depths of distributed knowledge and mindfulness that lies in communities, objects and networks of all types. Such external-to-the-human knowledge impacts our world at a much more complex and frequent degree than the previous limits of the long asynchronous and one-way interaction of the plain old paper printed book.
The course notes bring up the idea that the internal structure is a useful determining factor for deciding mindfulness – but, how well do we know the internal structure of anything, let alone humans? Go deep enough into the physical structure of anything and particle physics is still unsolved. As well, at barely more than a century old Psychology’s major insight thus far is the realization that an iceberg sized (minus the tip) unknown we call sub-conscious controls most of our actions. This is digression however, as Consciousness, the relationship with the self, is another story. When it comes to mere mind, our human perspective is not the only one that exists – human mind and mind are not interchangeable.
I’ll probably be posting several thoughts on McLuhan’s Understanding Media over the next while, as the McLuhan reading group I’ve joined is just getting underway. I don’t think there’s any forum set up for discussion, and anyway I prefer to post here since I can feed out to platforms like Twitter and FB, allowing for people outside the group to interact.
One of the themes I’m tagging in the margins of my paper copy of the book is Scale. After reading the first two chapters, this seems to me as part of his main thesis – that there’s a higher scale of human psyche that is emerging from an autonomous reaction to an increase of extensions of ourselves through media/technology. (He’s writing 50 years ago, before the digital boom – and even hints at his context being a transition age – so perhaps I should scratch the ‘is emerging’ and write ‘has emerged’?)
Related to this Scaling, is the division between “individual and society”. His narrative, even this early on in the book, certainly presents an unbalance between these two degrees of considering ‘man’, nearly always neglecting the idea that to live as an individual and in a society aren’t mutually exclusive. In his slower, less dramatic moments, it doesn’t seem like he fully believes this need be the case. However, perhaps his point is to warn of the unbalanced power of the emerging, technology induced, collective scale. After all, one of the drawbacks of long popular capitalism is its tendency to alienate the individual. What could be more powerful than a remedy to that?
It was the capitalist inspired line in chapter 1 (titled The Medium is the Message) that jumped out at me:
In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one and other and to ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out Cornflakes or Cadillacs.
I’ve often actually felt something wrong about the famous line The Medium the Message, and have preferred to think that the Medium has the potential to be the Message. But, here I began to see what he’s trying to say. Translating between scales uses one level’s medium as the destination level’s message. The individual wants breakfast cereal or a car; the society cares not which exact person buys what food or major appliance, but sees the production numbers that have been tallied up for decision making purposes. And, the latter consideration wasn’t nearly as easy to enact 200 years ago as it is today…to state it undramatically.
A few months ago I started the myMOOC project (original post), which is basically just my own informal study put online with some structure added to it. I’ve just now finished the ‘first installment’ of it, and consider it a success.
There’s no shortage of MOOC commentary online recently, and perhaps the majority of it seems to focus on the Coursera/Edx/Udacity style MOOCs that are being run by the big universities. These are great, and a lot of the commentary is good reading. It would be a mistake, though, to think that these represent the extent of what MOOCs are and can be. There’s so much instructional design creativity to be explored with this format – which really is just an extension of the modern distance education technologies we have and their affordances to create cultures of learning.
One of the goals of the myMOOC project is to illustrate that MOOCs can come in a variety of styles. This one happens to be run at a very personal scale, but I would still consider it within the realm of a MOOC. It’s Massive in that when I study by myself only one person participates, yet any interaction at all increases the participation at least twofold; It’s Open in that anyone can participate; It’s Online – check; and it’s a Course because I’ve added a bit of structure to it…I’ve made the educational intention explicit and distributed.
I’ve enjoyed the first installment, and feel that having that bit of structure is motivating and has ended up in more learning than had I decided to simply just ‘read some books’. Regardless of the MOOC classification or not, my lifelong learning abilities are more efficient when I do this. I also have more control over my learning this way.
Here’s a few characteristics and random points I’ve noticed so far
- There wasn’t any overflow of interaction taking place at anytime, but there was enough to be significant. I felt it was efficient interaction, and not socially based interaction but rather content based interaction (if this makes sense) which suits my style, I think. I’ve found a lot of Social Learning I’ve been involved in the past has been more about the Socializing rather than the Learning
- It’ll be interesting to see how the subsequent installments affect my following, as I think most people got involved because they were interested in books, literature or those specific writes. The next few myMOOCs will be different content. I wonder if there will be any carry-over?
- Continuing that thought, I decided that there’s no real reason to end any myMOOC – well, I should rephrase that: I think there is a reason to have some sort of ‘official’ end to any installment, because the encapsulation of it is important, however I decided that there’s no real reason to not post on any given past topic in the future if I ever feel the need to.
- It was time consuming, as there are always other things I need or want to do. This is what made it successful, because had I not bothered to make that small amount of structure and put it online, I’m not sure if I would have read and learned about Japanese Literature as much as I did over the past few months (which was my content goal).
Anyway, I’m going to keep it going, and actually feel my momentum increasing for it (probably because I have more time for my own pursuits these days). One of the aspects I wan to watch out for as I proceed is the tension between doing my own thing and in trying to actively create interaction.
As a side note, the McLuhan Reading Group that I’ve just signed up for is another example of the modern ways that instructional design and lifelong learning can be structured. I’m not sure how popular these types of reading groups are, and to me it seems like another distinctive style of MOOC, if one wished to call it that.