On the Outer Side of Places

But we live near the Oakland end of the Bay Bridge, whose other end is in San Francisco, and it happened that on the anniversary we walked along it in the rain. The bridge is divided into west and east spans by Yerba Buena Island, which it tunnels through. The eastern span was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, and after many delays and overruns, its replacement opened two years ago. It’s the widest bridge segment in the world, with five lanes of traffic in either direction on one level. And on its south edge, an eleventh lane, for cyclists and pedestrians.

https://tinyletter.com/vruba/letters/6-92-small-cat

Charlie Loyd is a person with a tinyletter, and the most recent delivery of this newsletter is a fantastic read.

I once visited the bay area, and was impressed as rode a rented bicycle across the Golden Gate bridge. However, it was when I peddled over to the Bay Bridge, that I was stopped in my tracks. I was stunned at the scale of it. It was like standing at the base of the CN Tower, trying to imagine that humans could have constructed such an object.

The piece of writing jumps from the Bay Bridge to Hokkaido tunnels, to Polaroid cameras, and it then enters into deeper matters of large human endeavors. Enjoyable read.

More Than Technology

Inuyashiki is a show about two people, one a teenager and the other a man in his 50s, who get abducted by space aliens or something (the viewer never really find out) and are killed. The aliens, who seem to have a conscience about killing humans, decide to replace the humans, however they replace them as superpowered robots that have a full range of technical, digital, and healing powers. This all happens in the first episode.

The elder man struggles to learn how to use his powers. He achieves a certain amount of competence to go around saving people in emergency situations, and curing terminally ill patients at the hospital. The teenager learns quickly – the viewer never even sees his learning process, he just knows how to use it fluently. He doesn’t cure people though, he kills people anonymously for fun. Then, the teen begins to struggle with the consequences of his actions.

The meaning of Inuyashiki is pretty blunt: our society is giving powerful technology to younger generations before they are ready for it, before they can understand the consequences of their actions. The adults, who traditionally have passed down society and values to younger generations, are struggling just to understand how the mechanics of society.

Younger people are proficient at using technology but lack substance in their purpose (so the show states, very generally). Society risks falling apart because of this gap. Inuyashiki has strong things to say about smartphone use and trolling, among other tech related behaviors.

This was a good show, a bit disturbing in its violence, so definitely not for kids. It was also a quick watch at only 11 episodes.

“The Gestalt has a head and hands, organs and a mind. But the most human thing about anyone is a thing he learns”

Related – I also recently just finished re-reading More than Human, an old sci-fi novel about a group of odd kids and emotionally unstable people who form a new type of higher being through their telekinetic powers and mind communication.

The message in MTH, we find out at the end, is that this “new being” has always been incomplete because they’ve lacked a sense of ethics or morality. The human that fills this role role of ‘conscience’ is spectacularly unspectacular, but this is what ethics is. Not flashy, and very necessary. This with this new member, the being is able to advance into a new realm of existence. The reader gets a glimpse of this at the end, which is fantastic.

 

Both Inuyashiki and More than Human are relevant today because they are telling us, 60 years apart, that sure it’s great to know how to do things, but unless we have knowledge and balance about what we are doing, things can go haywire quickly. ‘What’ matters just as much as ‘How’. Teach substance.

Adobe’s Exciting Journey

“And now, we’re pleased to announce that beginning May 15, 2018, the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps will be available to K-12 schools via their authorized Adobe reseller for $4.99 per user license, per year, with a minimum purchase quantity of 500 licenses for a single school, or 2,500 licenses for a school district.”

“We are on an exciting journey, collaborating with educators to empower the next generation to be lifelong creators.”

https://theblog.adobe.com/adobe-bolsters-commitment-k12-schools-new-creative-cloud-offerings-investment-professional-development/

So, Adobe is giving their Creative Cloud Suite to K-12 schools for next to nothing.

I’ve already started teaching my 10-year old Adobe Audition and Photoshop. She picks it up easily, and I honestly think that these are the sorts of skills that kids can learn easily if you just help them along with some fun projects.

That being said, I also try to maintain a balance. I keep her time limited in front of the screen and in using these programs. I’m not worried about her “keeping up to date with 21st century skills” or stuff like that, mainly because there’s so much non-digital things that she can use her time to experience now while she’s a kid, before her life gets taken over by virtual environments as she gets older.

This is nice news from Adobe. I would be a bit worried that this is one company, getting kids culturalized to one type of literacy, but that worry might be taking it too far (despite the red flag that comes up from that “exciting journey” sentence). My bigger worry is that introducing digital too much too early will detach future generations from our physical world and physical space.

There’s nothing wrong with scissors, glue, and cardboard paper – I hope schools are not so quick to discard such fun, fulfilling, and slowed down activities.

More: When Real Worlds Collide

Looking at the Moon

“Why is looking at the moon somehow perceived to be more ‘present’ than looking at your phone?”

This article (well worth the read) about phones, our attention, and all that stuff, doesn’t include the word ‘addiction’ anywhere. Nor does it include the word ‘balance’. It’s a fine article for discussing type of attention, but not about degree.

To answer the quote above: When driving a car (among other things in life) both excessive looking at a phone and looking at the moon are dangerously un-present.

Cultural Racism

I’ve been thinking about that Loury and McWhorter video again – it’s difficult not to think about racism these past few days. Stars and stripes are in the news.

The term ‘structural racism’ comes up at one point in the video, a term that McWhorter takes issue with because of it’s lack on involvement with people, the human. Perhaps the concept is better stated as ‘cultural racism’. Culture does involve people and humans and their learned behavior. Racism is certainly a part of American culture, as it is in many countries around the world. For various reasons, America’s racism is more extreme, more tragic.

Cultures don’t change quickly, they go through centuries of evolution – extended debate, civil wars, policy and law reform, budgets, and elections. The process of cultural change is a process that a culture or society usually undergoes, rather than actively decides. But does this need to be the case? Are we at a point that masses of people, through the help of certain technology, can start to make conscious decisions about the evolution of their culture?

This next election is turning out to be a critical point America’s long struggle with cultural racism. For one political party, it’s still an advantage to avoid openly condemning racism. Until it becomes a disadvantage for that party, until they lose more at the polls than they gain (the only thing political parties care about), they won’t condemn racism.

Technology has been a magnifying glass on society in the social media age – the good, the bad, the lingering behaviors that have been slow to mature. Perhaps technology can also be used as a reactive instrument in confronting exposed cultural flaws. It may be a lot to hope for, but as someone watching America from the outside, I hope the many, many people in America who detest their cultural racism decide to make this next election about racism and racism only.

Technology can help spread the message that if a political party won’t openly condemn racism, then they will never stand a chance at winning an election, regardless of any of their other beliefs. Democracy is meant to be representational, but it can also be representation full of aspiration.

Aspiring towards a conscious shift in culture is a massive outcome to hope for. America itself is also a massive place, with an amazing, still developing, culture.

 

Attending to Reciprocity

To start off Attending to Technology, Jacobs writes about the ‘Attending’ part of the title, or what it means to give attention to someone or something:

What we fail to perceive we have on some level chosen not to perceive; we have looked away; we have allowed indifference to have sway over us. Genuinely to attend is to give of oneself with intent; it is to say: For as long as I contemplate this person, or this experience, or even this thing, I grant it a degree of dominion over me. But I will choose where my attention goes; it is in my power to grant or withhold.

The choice to use “Attending” in this thesis is fantastic, and gives this exploration of technology a fresh feeling. To think about our own attention is to consider such questions as:

Do I really have the power to grant or withhold? If not, how might I acquire that power? And even if I possess it, on what grounds do I decide how to use it?

In answering, I suspect that Ursula Franklin would use the word reciprocity. How can we increase (or force) reciprocity when we communicate? Or, even, how can we use reciprocity to change the increasingly tendency for interaction back into a form of actual communication:

In general, technical arrangements reduce or eliminate reciprocity. Reciprocity is some manner of give and take, a genuine communication among interacting parties.

Apparent Confusion

I can’t seem to get that Facebook/Microsoft Ocean Length Cable story out of my mind. I’m looking through an infrastructure lens of late, mostly because I wonder if this is the next step for tech company giants.

To what extent does the description of Facebook below change if FB continues to build more massive infrastructure projects? The confusion described below is solved by altering the structure of the internet to fit (or, catch up with) the language of the people in Indonesia. From Attending to Technology:

In May 2012, some researchers reported their surprise at learning that many people in Indonesia said they did not use the Internet but they did use Facebook. Similar patterns have since been observed elsewhere. The researchers are not sure precisely what these people mean, but the most likely explanation is that their online lives happen wholly, or almost wholly, on Facebook; if they click links that take them out of Facebook, they are not aware of that. This apparent confusion is likely to spread as Facebook continues to roll out its Internet.org, which provides for a number of developing countries free mobile Internet access — limited to particular services.

An innocent reading of this phenomenon would say that it is a version of calling all soft drinks “Coke”; a less innocent one would say that it is like the world envisioned by WALL-E, a world in which both the ruined Earth and the spaceships that allow people to escape from it are controlled by the megacorporation Buy n Large.

The innocent reading perhaps isn’t so innocent. Calling all soft-drinks “Coke” (or, a “Coke Product”) is more accurate now than was the case when this version of the phenomenon started. Buy a beverage at the store, call it a Coke, and chances are that you’re correct.

Will referring to the internet or the WWW as “Facebook” eventually have similar odds?

Tech Blind Spots

enabling platform

 

There’s something to be said about the decision of where to spend large amounts of money on infrastructure and on (as Andrew Keen states in the quote above) ‘public projects’. There would be even more to say on who should makes these decisions.

Education in recent years has had it’s own balancing issues between What vs the How. This quote from John Seely Brown:

What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.

What society decides to make matters for what it will become, and what individuals decide to learn matters for who they will become.

Everyone working in EdTech knows that you’re never never ever supposed to choose technology for technology’s sake – I read stuff, I wonder how large the blind spots are in our culture’s technology infatuation.

Learner Benefits

One of the things I’ve learned from reading Ursula Franklin is the important role that infrastructure has with technology and on society:

Since the time of the Industrial Revolution the growth and development of tech has required as a necessary prerequisite a support relationship from governments and public institutions that did not exist in earlier times.

She goes on to talk about the divisible and indivisible benefits of infrastructure, and how infrastructure technology has shifted its role over time from indivisible benefits to divisible ones. With tech company infrastructures, they’ve taken it a step further and bundled benefits:

Another way apps hijack you is by taking your reasons for visiting the app (to perform a task) and make them inseparable from the app’s business reasons (maximizing how much we consume once we’re there).

(I urge you to read the entire post, it is great: https://medium.com/@tristanharris/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3#.yxx3qvjuk)

Presumably tech companies bundle the benefits because people aren’t as hooked in to their product and they are to their government. (You can’t take your tax dollar elsewhere)

Educational institutions are not tech companies, but they do have departments that need to make infrastructure decisions that will create certain benefits. To what degree these choices will benefit learners might be considered in terms of divisible or indivisible benefits. Learners can benefit foremost from infrastructure decisions, or they can be bundled in as an after-thought, expected to be the ones to adapt.

Distance as Center

I just finished a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. It’s a book from the early 1980s that takes a television specific look at how technology and media influence North American society. The book may be a bit dated in that TV is no longer the apex of mass communication that it was 30 years ago, although from several other perspectives many of the ideas in the book transfer well to other technology and media contexts. I love these types of books – books on tech that are just a few decades old – because they present ideas about the effects of tech and media on a simpler backdrop.

The book ends (the last 2 chapters) with some strong ideas, one of which is that education curriculum is bending toward the particular affordances of television. A related point that Postman makes is that because television is so prevalent in everyday life (he states that teenagers watch 16,000 hrs of TV by High School graduation) schools have simply forgotten to question television’s character.
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Looking back at this claim from 2015, we can easily see the limitations of mere television broadcasting. And we now know that it is much better to unquestioningly prepare our educational systems for a “21st century world” in which digital technology, asynchronous communication, and social learning are the real tech and media powerhouses that the next generation will inherit. Right?
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No, not right.
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Despite being written in 1985 and focusing specifically on television, the 2nd last paragraph of the book provides a timeless quote:
 
“…it is an acknowledged task of the schools to assist the young in learning how to interpret the symbols of their culture. That this task should now require that they learn how to distance themselves from their forms of information is not so bizarre an enterprise that we cannot hope for its inclusion in the curriculum; even hope that it will be placed at the center of education.”
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