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Mobility Shifts

October 17, 2011

I just got back from a week-long conference at The New School dealing with questions of learning, communication, and art against the backdrop of our technological landscape. Basically, it became a meeting point for pedagogically-minded, politically-minded, philosophically-minded techies. I’ll try to sum up some of my own “take aways”, and will put up some links to some of the projects that most excited me (see “What else is out there?” page).

I should mention that, before I left, in a beautifully serendipitous moment as I was doing some last-minute 4am packing, I slipped Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget into my bag. I figured there was an off chance that I’d get some downtime for reading during the trip. I nibbled into the first few chapters on the plane over, and upon arrival, I soon found myself making time for Lanier–even if it meant skipping Lady Liberty and MoMA (both of which I’d seen before, anyway). His book provided a brilliant backdrop for my emotional and intellectual engagement at the conference, and I’m likely going to have to grapple with him in another blog post. At this point, though, I feel that Lanier at least deserves a mention, as he colored a lot of my thought for the past week.

And now some general discoveries from the conference, in my own words and of my own opinion:

  • There are people out there who are balancing being teachers, activists, artists, and philosophers first, and “tech geeks” second. These roles can be mutually enhancing.
  • There seems to be a growing philosophical tension between “open information” ideals and more traditional notions of “authorship”. There are people out there living out innovative (and provocative) ideas of collective authorship, free appropriation, and content remixing. My gut instinct, however, says that the more traditional idea of “authorship” is important for accountability and quality discourse. Traditional authorship should be questioned, but not dismissed.
  • There are people out there who are academically, intellectually, and morally opposed to the idea of “locking up” their research behind paid-access walls. There is a certain moral imperative for academics to serve people beyond themselves and their immediate circles–particularly if they’re receiving public funding for their work. In my mind, there is a huge question as to whether “academic articles” are a useful format for information exchange. But even if they are, there are moral implications embedded in how we provide or restrict access to these articles. Academic publishers probably have a role to play and a service to provide in this process, but we need to more fundamentally question what that role is. The status quo of academic journal publishing is just plain bizarre and needs to be changed.
  • Technologies exist in so many varying states of development–and not all development stages are appropriate for wide-scale pedagogical use. There is a balance to be struck between being “cutting edge” and being stable enough to adopt into classroom use. Classroom technologies, in my mind, should largely be slower than the absolute cutting edge.
  • Technologies do not need to be everything to all people at all times.
  • Wikipedia is a conundrum to a lot of people. Some of the confusion seems to come from people expecting it to be more than it is. Wikipedia is actually pretty “retro” in its outlook, harkening back to the encyclopedic model of organizing “flat”, baseline information. I’m not sure exactly what Diderot had in mind during his first encyclopedia project, but Wikipedia helps shed light on the possibilities and limitations of such an undertaking. It is not a platform for activism, for publishing original works, for communicating ultimate authority, or for substantive fact checking. It is for general-purpose, household use. Wikipedia can start or contribute to a conversation, but it cannot end it.
  • People love printed books. The advent of e-readers, though, seems to conjure up a vague sense of guilt or defensiveness in lot of people when they start grappling with this reality. Print books and paper books are not enemies. They are just different, but related mediums. They have different affordances for convenience, speed, exchange, accessibility, etc. The same information can exist in print and paper and be experienced in different ways (or could we even call it the same information?). These are exciting possibilities, and we should not interpolate antagonism or dualities where none exist.

There’s so much more, and there are so many different interpretations and themes I could pull out, but this is at least a start.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam, I am permalink
    November 5, 2011 2:07 pm

    They’re really calling interpretations “reads” nowadays, not readings? Does the meaning you can make of things in the Internet age have a character limit, too?

    Whew, stodgy rant over.

    Fun fact: Lanier’s going to be at Oberlin next Wednesday. I was only vaguely considering going, but you’ve convinced me to move him up the priority list.

  2. November 5, 2011 2:23 pm

    I stand corrected. I should have known that if I feel the compunction to put something in “quotes”, it’s either 1) cliché, or 2) some kind of bastardization of a real word. Either way, not pretty. My apologies.

    But definitely go see Lanier. Top of the priority list! Who’s bringing him to campus? What’s the story there? Could you see if they film the session, and try to get me a link to watch it? Or just go all “citizen journalist” and stealth film it with your iPod or something.

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