Growing 2.0 Gills: Immersion

August 17th, 2011

It’s the final week of LIBR559M, and I have spent most of the day working on the presentation for Group 6. For our final project, we looked at the works of art and the archives of Emily Carr, one of Canada–and especially the West Coast’s–most widely recognized painters. The pieces of her life are dispersed at multiple art museums, galleries, and her house is a historic museum. We proposed creating a Drupal site to aggregate the digital surrogates of her archives and works of art in one location for the benefit of students, educators, researchers, the general public, and the institutions themselves. Drupal is awesome because it’s open source, its free, and it is highly customizable through widgets and add-ons. User participation will be encouraged in many ways–from wikis to discussion forums to social tagging.

Anyway! That’s not what I meant to write about. I wanted to write a blog post on immersion in the 2.0 environment, which is LIBR559M’s sixth and final module. For our project, my task was to make the presentation, and I used a 2.0 online program called Prezi. Prezi is free up to 100 mb, and is like a much less linear version of Powerpoint on psychedelics in a subatomic string theorized universe. Text lies both flat on the surface, and receeds into space.  It’s trippy. I was pleased to note that the editing process is wholly collaborative–other group members even have little flat avatars on the prezi, so I can see what parts they are editing. Presentations in 2.0! I was showing my partner, Andrew, the prezi, and I ended up showing him all sorts of new 2.0 platforms I’ve started using in the past month and a half. I just downloaded Jing, which I will use shortly to screencast my part of the presentation, since I will not be present during our slot tomorrow. The I showed him Pearltrees, and finally, we watched the video demo of Open Cobalt before exploring Second Life for a few minutes. I’ll admit, I was feeling pretty immersed in 2.0 technologies until I saw Second Life and Open Cobalt, especially. I found Open Cobalt fascinating in concept, but the dramatic music in the video was a bit much, to put it lightly.

I “walked” around in SL for a few minutes, and was struck by the true implications of this game, simulated world, whatever you want to call it. I used to play The Sims when I was in highschool, and had this game been available, I would have been obsessed with it. The Sims is the ancestor of SL, practically. I like how people/avatars can engage in a number of creative endeavors, from publishing and trying to sell books, paintings, furniture, anything. Not only are there SL art galleries, they hold conferences on how to run a successful SL art gallery! That’s being proactive! But, half the time the work for sale/display is mediocre, and I do wonder how much exercise these people are getting (though many reputable museums, galleries, and active people have SL presences). SL would have been an incredible platform for our aggregation of Emily Carr’s life and works. How cool to walk around a simulation of Emily Carr’s house and look at her works on her walls, her letters in her desk, perhaps. Unfortunately, not everyone participated in SL, and our goal was to reach the broadest demographics possible.

I’ll be honest, at first I considered Second Life and Open Cobalt to be immersive simulations for those who wanted to escape the realities of the three-dimensional world (why look at a digitized sunset rather than the REAL sun setting JUST OUTSIDE?). And though I still think that is a component, I was very impressed by Open Cobalt, despite the cheesy music. This is a very ambitious alternative reality that has huge potential for sparking learning in people because it is more exciting than real life! I think that’s the thing about Second Life and Open Cobalt–they’re more exciting than reality, because they lack the constraints of reality. When this is applied to science and interactive learning, this can be hugely valuable–for example, imagine looking at digitized representations of DNA strands in Open Cobalt, rather than as a static image. The DNA strand could be enlarged, rotated, and truly explored. Projects and plans can be organized AND implemented! Imagine building your own plane, or submarine! This really could be an incredible tool for integrating learning into play, and play into learning.

 

Critical Thinking 2.0

August 12th, 2011

Module V for LIBR559M is all about Aggregation–how to take seemingly infinite and often disparate 2.0 tools and utilize them as a social media network or web. The goal is not to focus on the individual components–not Twitter or Flickr, but Twitter and Flickr and wikis and all of these participatory learning platforms–and see exponential strengths. Specifically, this week’s module focuses on how libraries, archives, and museums can utilize these aggregations of social media tools. The ultimate goal of aggregation in the information sphere is to allow and encourage greater participation by users in a range of new ways–it is no longer just the librarians who catalogue, no longer just the archives which preserve, no longer just the musems which exhibit and question. Now, the users can be active in these tasks as well–the death of the expert and the birth of all as experts is now possible because the power of expertise is taken out of the hands of the few, and now possible by all interested parties.  Michael Wesch discussed this in his lecture, “A Portal to Media Literacy.”

My focus has been on archives and 2.0 technologies throughout this course, but I was struck by how so much of what Wesch was talking about in his lecture directly related to what inspired me about museums and archives in the first place–especially museums. I have come to identify museums especially as a realm of learning which throws the traditional educational model (ie k-12) on its head. Rather than learners being passive vessels for the transmission of information, in museums the learner controls the path and the depth of their own meaning-making experience. The learner is active, the information is passive. Wesch discusses in detail innovative 2.0 technologies which utilize the same ideas of participatory, constructivist learning, but in a different realm. As a college professor, Wesch came to realize that many “students do not like the institution of learning, but like learning”–the “readings and information presented are not relevant” to their lives. This makes sense, because in the traditional educational model, students are not consulted on what is relevant to their lives–assumptions are made, and facts are related for them to memorize. Wesch brings up an awesome point–facts can be looked up and verified using Google and any computer or smartphone, so why not encourage students to learn in more meaningful, critically-minded ways? Rather than absorbing passively, the time is now ripe for students to be primed to question actively–THIS is what has drawn me to both museums, and 2.0 technologies.

One part of Wesch’s presentation dealt with”What [the walls of academia] have to say”:

1. To learn is to acquire information

2. Information is scarce and hard to find

3. Trust authority for good information

4. Authorized information is beyond discussion

5. Obey the authority

6. Follow Along

Wesch goes on to explore how 2.0 technologies can break down these barriers that academia creates which prevent students from achieving truly meaningful knowledge-building experiences. With 2.0 participatory technologies, learning is no longer passive–students are actively involved in creating the content, rather than just being a receptacle for what Wesch calls an “information dump.” With 2.0 technologies, the ivory tower of “expert knowledge” crumbles–Wesch points out that all of us are at the same starting point with social media 2.0, that there is no a priori understanding. No longer is it necessary to TRUST authority mindlessly, because everything is verifiable, and should be questioned! Wesch deconstructs many components of classroom design which inhibit critical thinking:  chairs in a lecture hall do not swivel to allow conversation with peers, they are fixed straight-ahead. This sends the strong message of passive reception of information, without questioning.

Wesch’s lecture really helped me process the potential for these 2.0 technologies to be harnessed into a comprehensive whole which can fundamentally change the way students engage with information, reducing the power of the inflexible academic machine, and giving new strength to the true purpose of education–to create citizens who are capable of thinking critically, and thinking for themselves.

Blurring the lines

August 6th, 2011

For the first time, I’m dealing with the distinctions between a blog, done specifically for a class, and a livejournal. Oh, I was an avid livejournaler back in the day. Then I forgot about it for a few years before remembering it. Lo and behold, there were the ramblings of my 15 year old self, right where I left them, “exposed as a meat sandwich” (a line from my favorite Margaret Atwood poem). If this was my livejournal (which I have since downloaded and then deleted), I would write about how my grandpa died this week, and the whirlwind I’ve been within, being with family and arrangements and the heartache. But since this is my blog for LIBR559M, I’ll only mention this as the reason why I have been so disconnected this past week. This class has been a part of the intensity of this week, though; LIBR559M is permanently etched into me because of it. I was writing that last blog-post when he died, sitting quietly next to him holding his hand with one of mine and typing with the other. I was the only one there, everyone else had finally left after being at the hospice house for three days. After he passed and everyone arrived, my Aunt asked me why I had stayed. I wanted to say something profound but instead I told the truth–that my grandparent’s don’t have internet, and I needed the wifi connection at hospice to get some overdue classwork done. So I guess I have this class to thank for being there with him in his last moments. Heavy, right? These last sentences are reminiscent of my lj, but I’ll let them stand.

 

Only today, Saturday, have I finally had the brain space to listen to the powerpoint for Module IV on Creativity and Social Media. And it gave me some more to think about regarding the last post, about the potential for a social media campaign at the art museum’s archives to sustain researcher and visitor participation. Dean made some great points in the powerpoint about the necessity of creating a social media program that responds to the needs of the researchers instead of the staff building a program based on perceived user needs. To sell the idea to my boss, I would suggest doing some focus groups of researchers, donors, and members to get their insight into what would be most valuable to them. Perhaps even set up a planning committee for it, which could bring in younger, more social-media savvy participants who could introduce older or less 2.0-aware participants to the potential inherent in social media. Also, I would include artists in the focus groups and planning committee, because part of the goal of an arts archive is to allow artists from the past to inspire those in the present and future. Talk about creativity in 2.0.

 

In the past, archival interns have written papers or done powerpoint presentations on their research, and I would advocate for these presentations and papers to be made accessible on the archive part of the website. One of the long-term goals of the archive is to increase awareness and recognition of the influence of the regional artists which they celebrate, and making research public is a great way to allow research endeavors to continually inspire people. In his powerpoint for Module IV, Dean talked about “life-long learners” which was a phrase I heard often during my time in the education department of the science museum I worked at for a while. It was great to think about how that term applies to so many different spheres, and how 2.0 technologies can help create and sustain those drives in others through collaborative participation.

 

The wake is tomorrow, the funeral Monday. My task today has been to go through my grandparent’s photo albums and pull out all of the pictures of him to fill two large photo boards. Earlier, I had two of my younger cousins helping me, and I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that I unknowingly had set up a loose catalogue schema to protect the original order of the photos–each of the kids had some sticky notes and a pencil, noting which book each photo had come from. I had to go through the books again after they left, though, because they had missed some photos of their grandfather–they didn’t recognize him when he was younger. I also couldn’t help but remind my mother that we would have to redo many of the albums, because the photos are on those gross acidic sticky pages. Gotta get some inert polyethylene sleeves, or acid-free lignin-free paper. The archivist in daily life.

This entry will be brief, and hopefully concise as well, but no promises.  Module IV of LIBR559M is about how social media affords for individuals to participate in the process of information creation, and how libraries, archives and museums can utilize these new conductivities and creative endeavors. If you think about it, this is new territory for LAMs–the users of libraries archives and museums have traditionally been receptive of the information held within these institutions, but rarely involved in the creation of information unless they were published, dead, or if they donated objects. Involving users in the knowledge creative process is an incredible way to get people more involved with LAMs–if people actually take part–**and create new contexts for the formation of new methods of learning.

The arts institution I interned at this summer is in the process of creating a new website which will feature the archives prominently online, so I began thinking about how 2.0 technologies could further be integrated to highlight the newly digitized archival holdings. The archive focuses on the materials of the creative process for regional artists: sketches, journals, notebooks, etc. These objects have value as unique objects which create a better understanding of the artist’s techniques and influences.  Over the next 5 years, the institution will be making the archival holdings accessible through the website. Granted, in 5 years, social media will be light years away, and the integration of participatory cyber-culture may be totally ubiquitous.

Let’s say for the sake of the exercise that the website was going up in six months, with 30% of the archives going live with the debut of the website. Initial interest garnered by PR for the site should be taken advantage of to keep people interested in the archival holdings. Certain people we want very interested, such as potential funders. Archives and donors are both changing. Taking advantage of social media platforms has the potential to increase local awareness and participation as well as create new forms of collaborative research. I love what the National Archives have created in theory, when making the wiki ‘Our Archives,’ as platform for an entire array of collaborative and creative tasks: creating pages dedicated to a research focus, expanding the catalogue, and even publishing transcriptions. As a concept, it sounds incredible and mutually beneficial the archivist (there’s *always* something to transcribe), the user, and ultimately the institution and its reputation for scholarship. Wikis a  relatively low output of financial and time resources to have a large impact. Collaborative research wikis are support information sharing and a spirit of learning. In conjunction with a Twitter campaign to highlight the holdings and scholarship, the archives could continue to keep audiences engaged long after the splash of the new website.

 

 

Cocreativity 2.0

July 28th, 2011

I think collaboration is hard-wired in humans. As social creatures, we cannot exist completely on our own; collaboration and working together is how we have survived as a species. I greatly enjoyed reading Dana Ouellette‘s blog on collaboration in academic libraries, which I found to be a good reminder of what collaboration 0.0 is–collaboration  outside of the 2.0 virtual world.

Collaboration has always been necessary to accomplish tasks or goals, whether it be hunting for dinner, building a barn, or making a wiki. But, as any student who has had to work on a group project knows, collaboration is not always easy. We’ve all been in those group projects where someone doesn’t pull their weight, and everyone else has to pick up the slack. I often wonder if that stems from a lack of interest and connectivity on the part of that person, or perhaps because the person was not sufficiently engaged and excited by the learning experience. Or they were just a selfish s.o.b., but I prefer to give people a little more credit than that–even the ones that leave me hanging (though perhaps this is a sign of a larger personality flaw on my part). When collaboration is not connected with creativity, but rather with rigorous goals which just aren’t fun, some people disengage and check out.

That’s why I found Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on Collaboration in the 21st Century to be so exciting. I saw Robinson’s TED talk on “Do Schools Kill Creativity” last year, and found it incredibly eye-opening and stimulating. Kids in schools (in America, specifically) are not being taught to collaborate, rather they are learning how to be mindless vessels for information, if that. Without encouraging creativity and imaginative thinking, how can we collaborate effectively? Collaboration is useful because multiple people or entities come together to create something one person could not have created on their own effectively. As  M. Shrage wrote, “the true medium of collaboration is other people.” I find the value of collaboration in the discourse it engenders. Conversations, bouncing ideas off of each other, figuring out which ideas suck and which ones have value….this is the purpose and strength of collaboration. I can’t always see all of the holes If people are the medium, then innovation is the finished work. Robinsoin says at one point, “if you’re interested in innovation, you have to cultivate your imagination…creativity is a step up from imaginative.” I like how Robinson looked at creativity and collaboration systematically, addressing collaboration as an “operating principle,” and looking at creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value.”

Dean posted some questions about collaboration to us in Module III of LIBR559M, and I thought I’d tackle a few of them here:

Developing a collaborative spirit and skills – how will you learn them?

I think developing a collaborative spirit begins in childhood, in play-learn environments which foster team-building and inquisitive thinking.  Which is why Robinson’s TED talk about how schools kill creativity is so gut-wrenching. Because if kids are not being encouraged to develop these critical thinking skills in childhood, many will not have the framework to really delve into collaborative enterprises later on. This is a generalization, of course, but if you grow up abhorring learning, or even just being disinterested, because you equate it with the life-suckingness of school, then you’re not  primed to collaborate effectively.

Collaboration skills:

1. articulating ideas as they form

2. accepting that there is not “one right answer”

this is especially relevant, because so much of the 4-12 educational system [in the US] focuses on standardized tests that are dependent on the ONE right answer. By collaborating, people create the best way possible, but there’s no RIGHT bubble to fill out–it all comes from within the person; there is nothing to memorize and spew out later.

3. ability to think abstractly

4. LISTENING skills–making all parties feel heard

-ability to pull apart other (multiple) people’s ideas for the salient components and build something new

5. The ability to work smarter, not harder

6. and then the social media component!

which leads to…

How can you use communication technologies to promote collaboration?

7. Collaborating effectively in the 21st century means taking advantage of the collaborative platforms now available! Skype! Google Docs! Wikis (though, as my group works on our wiki for LIBR559M, I realize those things are hella complicated)! These social media technologies make collaboration global, efficient, and affordable. People on opposite ends of the country or continent can collaborate on projects which would not have been possible even five years ago. Just a few months ago I was working on creating a meta-finding aid for researchers online, and the web-designer was in Toronto when I was in Vancouver. Through Skype and e-mail we were able to collaborate and work together to create the necessary documents. It was awesome.

 

And…scene!

 

I’ve spent the better part of the morning researching Library 2.0 and Archive 2.0, and thinking about the two realms of social media connectivity possible between the two.  Though both libraries and archives are still trying to figure out how this whole “social media thing” applies to and beyond them, I feel that libraries do have a leg up because users have always been more central to libraries than archives. The characterization of “archivist as gatekeeper,” keeping the hounds away from the precious primary-sources still lingers, though that perspective is becoming more and more outdated as users advocate for transparency and access to the archival record.

In addition to Library 2.0, Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk published an article in Library Journal in 2006 , entitled “Service for the Next-Generation Library“. Casey and Savastinuk highlight many of the points on participation that they later discuss in Library 2.0, that “the heart of Library 2.0 is user-centered change….[library 2.0] encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation in the creation of both the physical and the virtual services they want, supported by consistently evaluating services.”  This increased level of involvement for users is empowering in the library setting, and I think the implications could be even more radical for archives, if they can figure out how to understand and harness these new capabilities in a way that asks users what they need rather than telling users what they can and cannot do.

Casey and Savastinuk do drop this enegmatic line, though, when discussing Library 2.0: “While not required, technology can help libraries create a customer-driven, 2.0 environment. Web 2.0 technologies have played a significant role in our ability to keep up with the changing needs of library users. Technological advances in the past several years have enabled libraries to create new services that before were not possible, such as virtual reference, personalized OPAC interfaces, or downloadable media that library customers can use in the comfort of their own homes.”

All of these new interactive opportunities sound awesome, but I don’t understand what they mean by that caveat “technology not required.” Technology IS required! Certainly, the beauty of social media is that it is ubiquitous and available to most people, but from the library and especially the archival perspective, it will require new platforms such as ICA ATOM or a proprietary service to make finding aids available to the public in a digital format, let alone a format that encourages participation on the part of the user. Casey and Savastinuk highlight the “customizable and participatory services” possible, which I think closely relates to Chapter V of their book Library 2.0, which deals with wikis in the library context.

Speaking of wikis, here’s what Wikipedia had to say about Library 2.0:

“Like Web 2.0, a full-featured Library 2.0 OPAC gets better the more that users are involved in the process of interacting with the catalog and sharing content.

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC
  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services
  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services
  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models
  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.
  • Ripping off Web 2.0 is the ultimate main key concept of this library 2.0″

Rather than “ripping off” I would say that Library 2.0 is an appropriation of Web 2.0, which is both very post-modern and very much what social media itself is all about.

 

Then, while searching “archives 2.0,” I came across an article by Joy Palmer entitled “Archives 2.0: If We Build It, Will They Come?” She points out what I was kind of saying:

“The emergence of Archives 2.0 is less about technological change than a broader epistemological shift which concerns the very nature of the archive, and particularly traditional archival practice which privileges the ‘original’ context of the archival object. In ‘Archives 2.0’ the archive is potentially less a physical space than an online platform that supports participation. In this potentially radical vision, users can contribute to the archive, engage with it, and play a central role in defining its meaning.” BUT “…the alternative face of this celebratory stance is a more cautious or even a concerned one, revealing many of the anxieties and tensions that have existed around authority, control, truth-telling and trust.”

Issues of copyright, transparency, and trust are going to be increasingly difficult for archives especially. I was telling my boss at the Burchfield Penney Arts Center about some cool ways that the Vancouver City Archives and the National Archives in the US have been utilizing Twitter–by writings fun little posts about a certain document, and then linking to the document on flickr. Tullis pointed out that there are concerns with copyright and who actually holds the copyright–google, for example, retains copyright of any image posted on their sites. This is a non-starter for archives, and especially archives of cultural or artistic works.

Palmer related some 2.0 obstacles Sharon Howard, working on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online Project identified a few other obstacles, such as the necessity of  posts being mediated by archivists, which therefore make users contributions not transparent. Users could not get the instant-gratification “high” of seeing their impact in “real-time”.  Howard identified instant gratification and usefulness as “key motivators for effective-crowd-sourcing” (Palmer).  Howard related her feelings that wikis are not the answer for archives and primary-source history projects because they are non-intuitive. Palmer argued that this indicated that interactive tools must be simple to use, and enjoyable to use as well. The coding on wiki sites isn’t horribly complicated, but it is daunting to the novice user. T

Palmer also discusses the implications and possibilities of “Finding Aid 2.0″ a concept I find to be very fascinating and relevant. The finding aid is the current accordance of archives, however imperfect and unstandardized. Finding aids do need to become digitally accessible, as well as more intuitive! The complications of understanding finding aids can sometimes put wikis to shame, but I think there’s a huge opportunity for overlap and cohesion here. Finding aids are often outdated as soon as they are made, and often do not reflect newer accruals of records. Digitization of finding aids into a STANDARDIZED meta-format is the first step, and coding languages such as EAD are attempting to tackle that. Some archives already take advantage of 2.0 capabilities to encourage users to post their family histories in relation to a place, photo, or document. There is a huge opportunity for integration of living histories within the archival record by utilizing social media, but it is up to the archivists to first establish the framework for careful, and necessary, steps forward.

Some fun examples of Archives 2.0:

Polar Bear Expedition Collections

Old Bailey Proceedings Online

UK National Archives: Your Archives

MemoryBC.ca

The Great War Archive (participatory poetry archive–awesome implications for oral histories)

The Galaxy Zoo (participatory galexy identification project)

For one of our assignments for Module 1 of LIBR 559M, my friend J and I chose to define and edit the term “cyber-balkanization” on the social media wiki for the course. I admit, at first we chose the term because it sounded cool. Or at least I did. J is light years ahead of me in tech-savvy skills, so perhaps he actually knew what he was doing. As I began doing research on the term, I came to recognize that cyber-balkanization is something that I have deep concerns about, within and without the World Wide Web: the ability for people to create small, heterogeneous communities where their views are not questioned or forced to be reconciled with truth or FACT.  In short, rather than thinking critically, cyber-balkanization and balkanization allow people to hold their opinions, no matter how incorrect, as Truth. Being an American myself, I think about this quite often.

So! First, you may be wondering what Balkanization is. “Balkanization” is a term coined to describe how regions which are not on good terms with one another break down into smaller states rather than finding a common group and cooperating with other groups in the region. Instead of playing well in the sandbox, everyone grabs a bucket of sand and goes and sits on their own without acknowledging the others at all.

Cyber-balkanization is defined by wordspy.com as “the division of the Internet into narrowly focused groups of like-minded individuals who dislike or have little patience for outsiders.” On a more basic level, cyber-balkanization can be viewed as a process of how people construct social media networks of people, ideas, and organizations which correspond with their preconceived value structure. These communities which share one’s subjective perspectives can solidify values but also harden them, causing communities to fracture and exist in relative isolation from the larger web framework which may offer opposing views. If the value structure held by an individual is not open to questioning or thinking critically about one’s own views and beliefs, the results can be a repeating affirmation of factually incorrect beliefs, without ever having to confront information which may make one question their values, which is indeed an uncomfortable feeling.  Conservapedia is a good example of what this level of close-mindedness can be manifested as, dressing up in the robes of collaborative creation, but really just forwarding an immutable, awfully negative ideology. But upon stepping back, I recognize that cyber-balkanization is not just a tool of the conservative mentality, it is something we all do. When I follow “PlanetEarth” on Twitter, and other similar green organizations, I am constructing my own network of organizations, people, and ideas, which correspond and have value to me.

It is not only through premeditated meaning-making that cyber-balkanization can take place. Watch this video by Eli Pariser about his new book, “The Filter Bubble” to learn more about how Google and other search engines customize search results based on what the algorithm thinks you want.  In his TED Talk, Pariser discusses how this takes place, and how the filter bubble can lead us away from more meaningful content:  “filters looking at what you click on first; often you end up surrounded by ‘information junkfood.'” The scariest thing is that YOU don’t decide what gets included in your return searches, AND you don’t see what gets edited out. I wonder how many people are even aware of these practices; it’s so easy to assume that the internet is the same for everyone, but nothing could be farther from the truth. If the Web is going to herald in the new era of classless democracy, someone has got to clue in the algorithms first.

Baby, it’s a wild world

July 17th, 2011

I think I’m getting the hang of this! I just added my blog to my iGoogle aggregator (though is there a less-formal term for what iGoogle does, I wonder?). Seeing my one measly post did make me want to write more posts, to start delving into this component of social media. Though I have not had time to be on the computer much the past few days, these terms and concepts have been swirling around my head. Last night, working an overnight shift at the burger joint I am currently employed at, I was thinking about how social media can be used to increase awareness not just of archives and libraries, but of the loaded vegan dogs and other goodies available at this independent business.

During the slow times (3-4 am, while everyone is throwing back one more drink before last call) I had my laptop out,  reading over the terms in the social media glossary, and looking over some other pages I had opened earlier.  I was frustrated by a lack of wi-fi access. I had all these great thoughts about cyber-balkinization, the term Jonathan and I choose to define, but I could not connect to the internet to investigate further (more on that later). Which got me to thinking about the increased divide between the World Wide Web and the tangible world. They are two realities, and sometimes I wonder that there are not enough hours in the day to fully experience one, let alone both.

I also wonder about how communities that do not have easy access to internet can take advantage of the benefits of social media for creativity, meaning-making, and critical thinking. Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Hillary Clinton, talked about the “digital divide” in relation to the Congo, one of th poorest countries in the world.

“50% of the country right now is covered by a wireless signal and fourteen out of every one hundred people in the Congo are already mobile phone subscribers. And one of the things that’s different in the United States is that, in the United States, everybody has their own phone. But in the Congo, it’s normal actually for three or four people to share the same phone. And so if you just do the math—today fourteen out of every 100 people are mobile phone subscribers; if you assume that there are three users per phone, what that means that today, without the United States doing a thing, 42% of the country is already on mobile phones. So [in] one of the poorest regions of the earth, the Congo, we already see that half of the people are connecting to the network.”

-Social Media Conquers the Third World

That made me feel awesome to recognize, and excited about the possibilities inherent. Ross went on to discuss paternalism, colonialism, classism, whatever you want to call it:

“I think there’s a lot of unintended paternalism when people think about technology. We oftentimes assume that people who are low income or people who are racial minorities are somehow not going to understand technology, and that we need to parcel out giving access to people who are low income or people who are racial minorities. And I think that is just completely contradictory to what all the data and evidence show, which is that it doesn’t matter how much money is in your wallet, it doesn’t matter from where you’ve come.

Young people all around the globe right now has this incredibly intuitive understanding of technology and its power, and so introducing technology into poor communities doesn’t need to be done so paternalistically because, guess what—within a couple of days these fifteen-year-olds are going to be way ahead of you.

That’s one thing that is very important to me—to take some of the paternalism that I think lives in a lot of our development practices, and recognize that, when it comes to introducing technology, when it comes to introducing innovation into poor communities, don’t be too arrogant about it, because the folks there could be a lot quicker with it and a lot smarter about it than you in very short order.”

So, okay, Ross is talking about “Third World” countries here. But apply it a little closer to home:  in inner city Detroit, “emergency financial measures” ave increased high school class sizes to 60 students per class (Huffington Post). In such large classes (which focus heavily on required standardized tests to begin with, but that’s another story) these students are being herded through the educational system without getting the attention necessary to develop the required critical thinking skills needed to utilize social media for more than just entertainment. Anyway. Personal tangent. No closure.

Ciao!

July 15th, 2011

Wow. My first blog post. I feel like there should be some sort of fanfare, or deep, meaningful comments. This post will contain neither. I begin not with a bang, but a whisper.