Makers, Burners and Pedagogy Transformers

Last Thursday, I managed to further integrate my personal/professional/hobbiest identitites, and me and two of my esteemed colleagues (Therese and Jon) presented Burning Man and Hacker/Maker Spaces at the weekly CCNMTL staff meeting.

The rosetta stone for our talk was Fred Turner’s seminal paper Burning Man at Google: a cultural infrastructure for new media production (published by New Media and Society, the same journal that published my and Aram’s paper on The End of Forgetting (preprint)), which Turner also presented at Google, where his talk was recorded.

We tried to connect Burning Man to a central question in education — the question of transference.  Do skills learned under simulated conditions transfer over to real world settings? We started out with the grand question, “What Educates?”, and tried to narrow that down to the question of how we can view commons-based peer-production in an educational context?  What can Burning Man, and crucially, the Maker Spaces that make Burning Man possible, teach educators about teaching and learning?

 

Our talk:

And our slides:

Now that we have presented this to CCNMTL, some of the librarians have gotten wind of our talk, and have invited us to re-present it at a tech brownbag lunch later this Fall 😀

To the evolution!

 

Dear Frank,

I remember the first time we met. It was my third and final interview for my current job at CCNMTL back in Spring ’04. I was initially anxious, but you immediately made be feel welcome and comfortable. [Over the years I came to appreciate your gift for authentically connecting with just about anyone, often within 30 seconds of meeting them. You dispatched with superficial niceties and blazed trails directly to people’s souls. You bridged intellect and emotion, without a hint of pomp or circumstance, projecting sensitivity and respect to everyone you encountered. Age, class, race, gender – not so much that these dimensions were irrelevant, but you always managed to connect with the individual. You actually listened. And learned.] During that interview I remember walking into your office, encircled floor to ceiling with books. You asked me about my undergraduate senior thesis, a topic I hadn’t revisited in almost a decade, and then proceeded to pull Julian Jaynes off the shelf. You showed me your photo with Allen Ginsberg, and then asked me if I recognized the person in another grainy b/w photo. When I correctly identified Wittgenstein I was pretty confident I had landed the job. But, more importantly, I had found a new mentor.

We didn’t interact very often my first summer at CCNMTL. I worked in Butler library, under Maurice’s supervision, and you were keeping summer hours, at your office in Lewisohn. When Fall rolled around I was eager to enroll in classes, and begin my graduate journeys, but I was nervous about signing up for a course with my boss. You never made me feel like a subordinate, but I was scarred from my relationship with management at previous jobs, and wasn’t sure what it would be like for us to enter into a student-teacher relationship. I hadn’t quite figured out that that was the only kind of relationship that you knew how to cultivate, although our roles were constantly revolving and inverting, as you shared your wisdom, and facilitated growth in every exchange. You brought out the best in everyone around you, rarely content to talk about people or events – always rushing or passing your way into the realm of the Forms. As I reflected when Robbie retired, I chose to enroll in your legendary Readings seminar after one of your students (I think it was Joost van Dreunen) made the case that your syllabus was your text on social/cultural/critical/communications/media theory.

That year was invigorating. I remember rediscovering the joys of school, as I learned to reclaim spaces of intellectual exploration and play, and translate them into action. On the surface, our seminars resembled office meetings, but the luxury of non-directed (not to be confused with non-purposeful) conversation, which was a privilege I needed to readjust to.

Together we figured out ways to weave together disparate threads of my life – work, hobbies, play, passions – somehow, I learned to integrate these (often inconsistent) vectors into a unified construct. A self, I suppose. But, it was my self, not one you imposed on me. It never felt like you pushed your agendas or ideologies on me – rather, you always wanted to help me discover what I really want to think about and work on. And I know that I’m not the only one that believes this – this was your way.

I often wish you had written more, although your autobiographical text is a multi-volume, multi-dimentional, multimedia masterpiece. Sometimes I wonder how seriously you took Socrates’ critique of writing, along with his commitment to be a midwife for ideas. Did you lose count of the number of dissertations you helped deliver?

One under-studied paper that you published, “Who controls the canon? A classicist in conversation with cultural conservatives,” (Moretti (1993), Teachers College Record, 95, pp. 113-126) captures many of the paradoxes you embodied and worked through. A radical classicist, a skeptical optimist, a scientific artist, a philosophical craftsman, an institutional revolutionary. Somehow, you integrated these roles with a career trajectory that not even the most advanced detectors in the Large Hadron Collider could trace. I watched you start countless conversations with a Greek or Latin etymology, charming the academics, administrators, and funders alike in a display of the continuing power of the Western cannon. You constantly reminded us of the classical education that many of our favorite thinkers received, and insisted we read them against that backdrop. But, more importantly, a reminder of how radical these thinkers all were in their own time, and how likely they themselves would be protesting the ossification of the cannon, if they were around today. These lessons will live on through one of the last projects you initiated, Decolonizing the Cannon, which a number of us are committed to follow through with. After 25+ years of reading Homer every fall, it will take us a lifetime to reconstruct the lesson plans you left behind.

In the 9 years that I’ve known you we’ve been to hell and back. We’ve studied together, traveled together, worked together, gotten sick and healed together, but all the while kept our senses of humor. I’ve read many beautiful eulogies about you, but in this letter I want to emphasize your enduring sense of humor. You were a funny man. LMAO funny. Slapstick funny. Dada surrealist funny. Hashish funny. Plenty of the humor was dark, and perhaps, as your student Ruthie suggested to me recently, your humor helped shield you from the brutal injustices that you perceived and experienced all around us. But you were also sometimes a klutz, in an absentminded-professor sense, and a disorganized mess. A creative mess, but a mess. But, I have to say, that even when you were operating on scripted autopilot, you were way better than most people at their best. There wasn’t much you enjoyed more than being called out for your lapses in attention, and my glimpses of your inner monologue were often hysterical. I think that your analysis of power led you to conclude the the world was simply absurd. We all witnessed you acting on this with gravitas and determination, but in the minutia of our micro-interactions, there was always a wide smile and a belly laugh. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the sound of your laugh. (Or, your bark. Man, did you love to throw down and argue. But, that’s another post.)

After I started taking classes with you, it didn’t take me long to realize that that the secret to understanding what you were talking about was knowing what you were reading that week. You would basically have one conversation all week long, no matter who you were talking to. I imagine it was bewildering to many of my coworkers when you brought up false-needs, or commodification at our weekly staff meetings, but if people paid close attention, they could almost observe the wheels spinning all week long, as you lived the theorists you were teaching through the practice of our projects. I often explained to people the incestuous nature of my work/school commitments by comparing my situation to a graduate student in the natural sciences. They might spend 40-60 hours a week in a lab, and working for you was about as close as I could imagine to working in a communications lab. I often wondered how many of my cohorts managed to keep up on developments in new media (and many of them certainly did) without the ambient immersion in a practice that exercised and embodied the theories we were reading.

When summer vacation rolled around, you never quit.  I remember how you used to talk about the stretch of time between Sept-May as one long sprint (as long as I’ve known you, you’ve taught at least 2-2 + advising phd students + multiple committees at TC and the J-School, on top of your administrative responsibilities as executive director at CCNMTL and a senior officer in the libraries) , but you didn’t exactly slow down in the summer either. Or, perhaps I should say that you did slow down, but you never stopped teaching and learning.  For at least 3 or 4 summers I participated in “slow reading groups” with you and a few of your dedicated students. We didn’t get any credit for these sessions, and you didn’t get paid. We would sit in your office, and go around the table reading a book out loud, pausing whenever we needed clarification.  And, we often needed clarification. You were convinced that no one was reading anything closely anymore, and that the hundreds of pages that were assigned in courses each week were flying by without students or teachers taking the time to slow down and absorb them.  The second summer we tried this we read Latour’s Politics of Nature, a text we all internalized and will never forget.

You had such a funny relationship with technology. You loved gadgets, but were constantly thwarted and befuddled by them. I wonder how many laptops and phones you lost or broke in the years we have known each other. You never stopped learning, but were suspicious of every new tool that showed up, and the more hype around the tool, the more you growled defensively at it. But often, after months of critiquing and berating something, you would come around and start appreciating it. While some of my coworkers/cohorts seem to have chips on their shoulders about the ineffectual futility of technological interventions, you had an optimistic will that allowed you to wield technology like you wielded the classics. Opportunistically, and instrumentally, in the service of social justice. That was your gig. Relentlessly. Sometimes I wonder if you felt like you had painted yourself into a corner with all of your critiques — like when you whispered quietly to me that you wanted to learn how to use Second Life, without blowing your critical cover.

Last week I ran into an ex-girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. It was nice to reconnect, and in the course of our conversation I realized that we hadn’t spoken since I had started working and studying at Columbia. I was an entirely different person back then, one I barely recognized. Perhaps people return to graduate school in order to change, but true transformations require a relinquishing of your old identity and ego, without a clear idea of what might emerge on the other end. The Judaic tradition has a teaching that anyone who teaches you the alphabet is considered a parent. You literally taught me the alphabet, as we revisited the alphabet as a revolutionary communications technology (via Eric Havelock), and you taught me many other alphabets and languages that gave me access to entire new worlds.  You also invited me into your home, and made me feel like I was part of your family. Most of all, you modeled and embodied an honesty, integrity, and sheer force of will that I am blessed to have intersected.

Safe travels, Frank, and enjoy your vacation.

Love,
/J

“So what?!?” – Wikimedia ’06 Plenary session at Wikimedia ’06 in Cambridge, multimillionaire philanthropist Brewster Kahle presents his vision for the Internet Archive, and Frank steps up for the Q&A.  Classic brilliance.

RIP Aaron. You are not alone

The corner of the internet that I hang around in has been mourning all weekend with tributes, eulogies, and heartfelt sharing about the untimely death of Aaron Swartz.

I don’t remember meeting Aaron personally, but I have heard him speak, am friends with many of his friends, and was very aware of his work and activism.

I am furious and sad to hear that he took his own life. I have lost a few friends and relatives to suicide, and years ago wrestled with some of these demons myself. Honestly, I am not sure how I feel about politicizing this moment. There are strong arguments on both sides. Being persecuted by the state is horribly stressful and isolating, and I also feel strongly about many of issues that Aaron advocated for. But, I am concerned about responses that reduce and simplify Aaron’s complex decision. This post about suicide reporting on the internet raises the concern that sensational reporting causes an increase in suicides in the wake of the coverage.

What I want to contribute to this conversation is an important message to any geeks, hackers, or activists that are struggling with isolation, alienation, depression, or even suicidal thoughts. You are not alone. And, sometimes it takes alot of courage to decide to stay alive.

For the past 10 years, radical mental health groups like The Icarus Project have been developing support materials for activists that provide alternative ways of thinking and talking about mental health. Take a peek at their forums, publications, podcasts, documentaries, and more. They have really helped so many people rewrite their own narratives, and connect with others struggling with similar emotions.

In the past year or two especially, I have seen more and more geeks/hackers who are attempting to organize around these issues, eliminate stigma, and provide peer-support outside of the mainstream psychiatric paradigm. Geeks, hackers, and activists are especially suspicious of authority, and habitually question systems of power.  They are justifiably mistrustful of psychiatry, but need a place to turn to for support.

I don’t know the state of all of these projects, but they seem like a good place to pick up the conversation for how can we take better care of each other and provide kind of compassionate support we all need so horrible tragedies like Aaron’s, Ilya’s and countless others can be averted in the future.

  • Blue Hackers is a fledgling community of hackers dealing with depression
  • At HOPE#9 this past summer, there was a 3 hour (!) panel on Geeks and Depression. The notes and slides were posted here.
  • Just last month, at the Chaos Communications Conference (29c3), Violet Blue gave a talk on Hackers as a High-Risk population, and suggested a harm-reduction approach for thinking and talking about these issues.

It feels like there is an important conversation starting to happen here, and not just around free culture and prosecutorial abuse. How can we steer this conversation without reinforcing the stereotypes and stigmas around suicide?

Rainbows have nothing to hide

On my recent journey to the West Bank I learned about a wonderful Muslim holiday called Eid al-Adha.  Eid is a 4 day, family-focused holiday, celebrated with gift-giving and great feasting. The holiday commemorates the binding and non-sacrafice of Ishmael (since, in the Koran, it was Ishmael not Issac who was bound), and the Covenant between Abraham and the Lord.

When I learned about Eid, two questions came to mind:

  1. Why don’t Jews celebrate any holidays commemorating events that occurred in the book of Genesis?  [It is not really surprising that the religion of Moses takes its cue from the book of Exodus, but I found the omission surprising. However, I am not particularly interested in exploring  answers to this question].
  2. Does anyone on this seemingly God forsaken planet remember, never mind commemorate or renew, the covenant between Noah and the Lord?

Remember the story of Noah in the Bible? Though it is taught widely to children everywhere, I’ve been surprised at how the rarely it’s recalled. (Ed. note: In 2014 Darren Aronofsky (!) will be reminding us all how this went down, with Russel Crowe as Noah).

To recap: God commands Noah to build an ark and collect animal couples, 40 days/nights of rain, a raven, three doves, and an olive branch. Remember how it ends? Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, 10 and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. 11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. 13 I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth. 17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” *

Hmm… Sound relevant?

I just finished reading Imperiled Life: Revolution Against a Climate Catastrophe, and I am feeling the urgency of this calling.

I am thinking about starting a campaign that activates the mass communication networks known as organized religions, by short-circuiting the cognitive dissonance between fundamentalism and climate change denial. I want to invoke the Noahide covenant as an on-ramp to help educate religious folks about climate change, in the hopes of transforming their awareness into intention and action. Let’s help God keep his word, and hold up our end of the Rainbow!

An ambitious goal, to be sure, but we live in dire times. I realize that it might sound like there are logical gaps in this chain of reasoning, but I also believe convincing true believers using scientific reasoning is a dead end. I want to craft a hermeneutic argument, clothed in scripture, to convince the religions of the world to care. I want to turn Earth Day into a religious holiday.

And, I think we might be able to realize (and fund) the first stage of this awareness raising effort through merchandising.  I’m imagining rainbow flags, t-shirts, cups, hats, etc, covered with unifying symbol representing the solidarity of world religions. Something along the lines of Coexist, but more encompassing than just the Abrahamic faiths.  Something closer to the opening image on the World Festival app. Maybe something like this:

So, what url do you like best?  sacredrainbows.org, sacredrainbows.net, or sacredrainbows.us?

scaling inefficiencies

By Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale OndernemingenLast week I attended an amazing reading and film series group that felt more like a graduate seminar than a meetup. Cáfe de Cleyre has been gathering for 3+ hours weekly, for the past 3 months, and exploring the theme of Direct Action in theory and practice. I attended their ninth gathering where the the group explored mental health as direct action. They screened Crooked Beauty and read excerpts of Mindful Occupation and other Icarus Project publications. The topic was organized independently of anyone directly involved with the Mindful Occupation project, and this was a refreshing reminder of the power of media. I learned that the CdC is run by two primary facilitators, who keep the operation running, and each week’s topic is facilitated by two more people who volunteer to run that week’s conversation. The night I joined, over 25 people attended, and I was very impressed with participant’s commitment and the level of discourse.

The evening’s discussion was inspirational, but in this post I want to focus on the group’s format. On the surface, Cafe de Cleyre looks alot like a traditional reading group.  However, as I was reflecting on the organizing involved to bring this many people together—on an ad-hoc basis—I realized that digital communications play a large role in making assemblies like these possible. As I understand, group attendance varies significantly, week to week, as participants join for the discussions they are interested in. In years past, it was possible to organize a reading group around a particular theme, but the ad-hoc, on-demand spontaneity of this series would be much harder to maintain prior to social networking. For sure, it happened, but the internet has greatly facilitated this.

I bring up this point in direct relation to the conversations swirling in educational technology around MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).  Columbia University is actively experimenting in this area now,  and there are great debates of what MOOCs are, and what, if any, value do they offer.  While access is not an end if of itself, I agree with Anya Kamenetz that, access to knowledge is generally a good thing. To be sure, granting more dominance to already powerful voices threatens diversity, but that is one of the reasons that the evaluation of MOOCs needs to be tempered by genre.

Many of the conversations about MOOCs also stress the efficiencies of scaling.   As a programmer, ‘efficiency’ is often my euphemism for ‘lazy’ (in the best sense), but it is important to point out that scaling isn’t the only way we could decide to leverage technology for learning.

I am reminded of another extreme example of this — May First/People link has recently launched a mentored training program called the People of Color Techie Training Program “for activists of color to become professional-level, politically progressive and movement involved technologists”.  May First is using communications technology to connect remotely with geographically dispersed learners, but in just about every sense, they are using technology to scale down – supporting 1-on-1 direct encounters, instead of the mass broadcast of lectures to 180k students.

Not all progress is driven by maximizing efficiency, and some of the most interesting educational moments happen at the smallest scales.

when networks eat themselves

Jaron Lanier’s latest provocation, the Local-Global flip, deserves a close watch/read.  His contention that the Internet is destroying the middle-class  sounds hyperbolic, but demands a response from devout free-culture evangelists.

On the surface, the Lanier piece sounds like the familiar alarmist “Robot Nation” tune about robots taking human jobs. But, Lanier raises the stakes by looking at how we have distributed the excess wealth generated by the efficiencies the information age. The global war on the middle class is largely incontestable. Will the future resemble the past, or can we honestly respond to the realities he identifies and design a socio-economy that supports and sustains a middle class?

Jaron’s interview is a bit diffuse, and he often talks as if he is the first to question Internet hype. He is certainly not alone in raising concerns about the darker side of the internet-as-salvation coin. Building on the social/cultural theory of the 19th and 20th centuries, these concerns are absolutely central to critical perspectives on information society. Critical scholarship on these issues abound, and bestselling books such as Code, The Wealth of Networks, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop ItCommunication Revolution, The Master Switch, Life, Inc, The Googlization of Everything, The Shallows, and The Net Delusion all take up these issues in one form or another. The 2009 conference on Internet as Playground and Factory conference is still one of the best compilations I am aware of that succinctly captures the exploitive dangers of new networked efficiencies.

Lanier’s focuses intently on the ways in which entrenched power is becoming even more entrenched and powerful using the very same tools that have inspired so much hope.

How Algorithms Literally Shape the World

If you want a vivid illustration of the ways in which the financial sector has begun to leverage networks, check out this jaw-dropping account of how networks and algorithms are literally shaping Wall Street and terraforming the planet. Did you know that brokers are building server farms in the mid-atlantic, equdistant from NY and London to leverage microsecond trading advantages?

No Place to Hide

This summer I also collected more stories of the dark sides of centralized social networking.  This is happening now as we become the products and tolerate corporations spying on us all the time. Even if we (think) we have nothing to hide:

  • Medication adherence FICO score — A company is collecting pharmacy data, calculating your likelyhood of compliance, and packaging this value into a number that could be used to compute insurance rates, APRs, and mortgage eligibility.
  • Social media background checks — Your public exploits are being dug up, analyzed and sold to whoever is curious (future employers, mates, enemies).
  • Flyzilla thwarted — With Facebook’s help, the Israeli’s blacklisted over 300 activists and prevented them from entering Israel to protest the occupation. It is not clear if FB cooperated directly, or if they even needed to.
  • Harvard’s privacy meltdown -Harvard Researchers Accused of Breaching Students’ Privacy. After breaching the anonymity of their research subjects, the researchers have learned that “the archive is more like plutonium than gold”.
  • Crowdsourcing the secret police The flashmob turned into an angry mob during the London riots, as vigilantes tracked down rioters with face recognition software.

The Selfless Flip?

I thought that one of the most interesting parts of Lanier’s interview was his analysis of the local-global flip. When a network becomes so large that it can no longer eject waste outside of itself, it can devour its own tail.  Like Walmart impoverishing their own customer base, or the global financial meltdown of ’08, partially caused by banks selling each other toxic assets.

This phase transition reminded me of a series recently published in New Scientist summarizing the latest thinking on the evolution of selfless behavior. Part of their “Instant Expert” series, the articles discuss the progression of evolutionary theory in explaining the pressures underlying the evolution of selfless behavior.

Today’s individuals are yesterday’s groups… For a major evolutionary transition to occur, there has to be a shift in the balance between within-group and between-group selection. A group can only turn into an individual when between-group selection is the primary evolutionary force, and this in turn can happen only when mechanisms evolve that suppress selection within groups. The rules of meiosis, for example, ensure that all genes on the chromosomes have an equal chance of being represented in the gametes. If genes can’t succeed at the expense of each other, then the only way to succeed is collectively as a group. *

Darwin’s problem is encountered at every scale of human society: from the smallest group to the global village, the behaviours that maximise relative advantage within a social unit tend to undermine the welfare of the unit as a whole. Establishing prosociality at a large scale requires a process of selection at that scale – whether a raw process of variation and selection or a more deliberative process of selecting practices by intentional planning. *

Contrary to colloquial shorthand, evolution doesn’t actively select anything. Evolution only guarantees that a particular trait hasn’t killed you yet. Are we witnessing the growing pains of this evolutionary transition?

If I forget you, O Palestine…

I just returned from the eduventure of a lifetime in Palestine and Israel.  I travelled to the Palestine Technical University of Kadoorie  to consult on a World Bank funded project to help enhance technology education. The details of this project are inspiring and provocative, but before discussing educational technology, media literacy, and capacity building I need to talk about my direct experience of The Occupation.

As I anticipated before the trip, my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was transformed by my first-person experience of the occupation. Within an hour crossing the Kalandia checkpoint into Ramallah, I began to experience a harshness that is almost impossible to capture in a snapshot. Superficially, life in Palestine seems almost normal. Everyone we met was warm and friendly, and I did not encounter extreme third-world poverty. However, during my visit I learned how virtually every aspect of ordinary Palestinian life is occupied.  Electricity, fuel, mobility, connectivity, information, and water are all tightly rationed and controlled by Israel.

Before the trip I had heard about the checkpoints, but it is difficult to capture the feelings of intimidation and harassment until you are stuck in checkpoint-traffic watching a Palestinian adolescent being handcuffed and manhandled on the side of the road. I began to feel the harsh gaze of the guard towers, and the spit-in-the-face of the  Israeli flags, waving  arrogantly.

The most shocking reality I learned about is the Palestinian water situation. Many Palestinians only have running water a few days a week. One quick way to tell the Arab homes apart from the settler’s homes is that the Arab homes have big black water tanks on their roofs to capture water while it is running.  In contrast, the settlers homes have water 24×7, and many have swimming pools and lush lawns.

I kept thinking of this iconic image:

and its visually gripping corollaries:

Comparisons between the occupation and South African apartheid are common, but on this trip I began to relate the struggle to Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and racial profiling and injustice that continue to oppress  US minorities.

I also learned about the regulation of information flows. On an Egged bus in Israel, I had a better connection over free wifi than anywhere in Palestine, including the universities. Palestinian telcom companies are currently forbidden from rolling out 3G networks, building new communication lines between cities is notoriously difficult, someone I met was not allowed to import routers, and Palestine cannot connect directly to the Mediterranean backbone.  [Incidentally, a local group of activists is trying to set up free wifi in Ramallah, but they are being thwarted by Palestinian telcoms!] Like their physical borders, all Internet traffic into and out of Palestine must cross through Israel first.

Serendipitously, Richard Stallman was visiting Palestine while I was there!  Unfortunately, I missed his lectures, but I met up with a few people who saw him speak, and they reported that his  message of freedom and liberation resonated strongly with his audience. I also connected with ma3bar.org – a society for Arab free and open source software, and ArabEyes — an Arabic-FLOSS translation project . I developed fresh insights into the role of free software in resistance and activism — especially as I appreciated the strength of the human networks that power free software, and the relative safety of engaging in this kind of organising (as opposed to being tagged by the authorities as an peace activist). More about this in future posts.

Scholarship such as Eyal Wiezman’s Hollow Land and Helga Souri’s work attempt to describe the Palestinian experience of the occupation, but the situation is so complex and hyper-mediated I recommend that anyone who wants to learn more should visit the West Bank themselves (special thanks to Dalia Otham for the conversations and introducing me to this work). Anyone with the smallest compassionate bone in their body will undoubtedly sympathize with with the Palestinian cause.

There is so much more to write. The specifics of our educational technology workshops, travelling and working with my advisor and a fabulous team from TC , the hospitality of our hosts at PTUK, the amazing sweet deserts, my tour of the graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall,  the culture shock of leaving the West Bank and visiting my sister (and my four amazing nephews and brother-in-law) on a zionist kibbutz, the Israeli friends and family I connected with across the ideological spectrum, my visit to Sheva Chaya’s mystical glass blowing studio/gallery, diving an underwater museum in Caesarea, whitewater rafting down the Jordan with my nephews,  and Mushon’s personal guided tour (complete with analysis!) of the incredible housing protests erupting across Israel.

To be continued…

Mobility Shifts: teaching & learning w/ video

Michael Preston and I have co-authored a chapter— Teaching and Learning with Video Annotations —for the recently released anthology, Learning Through Digital Media: Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy. This chapter recapitulates the history of multimedia annotation projects at CCNMTL, focusing especially on the pedagogies and learning outcomes that have motivated much of my work at CCNMTL work over the years. We discuss curricular activities which have stimulated the development of our VITAL and MediaThread multimedia analysis environments.

Learning Through Digital Media was edited by New School Professor Trebor Scholz in preparation for the upcoming Mobility Shifts: An International Future of Learning Summit (Call for Workshops: submissions due by July 1). The peer-reviewed book contains a series of practical applications of digital media to formal and informal learning situations, with a focus on teaching techniques across a range of services and tools. The “ambition of this collection is to discover how to use digital media for learning on campus and off. It offers a rich selection of methodologies, social practices, and hands-on assignments by leading educators who acknowledge the opportunities created by the confluence of mobile technologies, the World Wide Web, film, video games, TV, comics, and software while also acknowledging recurring challenges.”

Trebor throws a great conference. Mobility Shifts is part of a bi-annual conference series on Digital Politics.  The conference topic ’09 was digital labor, and in ’13 it will be about digital activism. Trebor is truly a performance artist when it comes to organizing conferences. He works really hard to get people talking to each other before the conference starts, so that when people arrive they are already in the middle of a conversation.  For the Internet as Playground and Factory he produced a series of short videos introducing participants to each other (mine is here).  This year he published a peer-reviewed anthology, available in a variety of formats, including hardcopy, PDF, ebook, and web-based.

Learning Through Digital Media was published in March 2011 by the Institute of Distributed Creativity under a creative-commons license (CC-BY).

Water pressure

WaterImage_1Happy blog action day!  Last year I highlighted some of my previous posts on climate change, and its frightening how far we’ve regressed since last October.

The best segue I can make between climate change and water is the  amazing film Sun Come Up . Its (one of) the first to document climate refugees, giving pacific islanders a platform and a voice to share the story of their sinking homes, soon to be swallowed by the oceans. I think that powerful human narratives like these are the most likely to influence our deeply ingrained habits of mind.

Riding these waves, I meant to catch On Coal River this week at IFC’s Stranger Than Fiction series this past Tuesday, but I missed it and will have to wait for it to circle back again.

In the meantime I’m wondering about seismic cultural shifts – I don’t really believe in sharp historical discontinuities, but some changes look quick in retrospect, even if they don’t feel quick as they are happening.

This summer I attended an Evolver spore on the Spirit of Water. Although it covers almost three-quarters of the planet and fills nearly 70% of our own bodies, this precious and seemingly boundless substance is becoming increasingly scarce? Food and Water Watch was tabling, and the movie Flow seems to have made some impact, but the prospect of water shortages and wars is dismal and depressing.

Irrespective of the clinical repeatability Dr. Emoto’s experiments (as featured in What the Bleep), his work on water, consciousness, and intent is quite beautiful and inspiring.  Its the note, and the drop, I choose to complete these free associations:

Imagine the structures we could construct by focusing and harnessing our collective intension.

Selling shovels to News diggers

Mad Scientist's UnionI had a fun idea tonight (patent pending) that occurred to me after reading about the Newspaper’s accelerating collapse, the Talking Point Memo’s membership experiment, and the recent report on reconstructing journalism.

I can’t recall ever reading about or debating my new journalistic business model, and I’m not sure if its crazy, brilliant, or evil.

Has anyone ever thought about charging newsreaders to express themselves?

Micropayments for comments, not content?

Seriously, how wild would that be.  Pay to comment. Maybe pay to vote, rate, like/dislike. You could even sell different priced foods for people to throw at the journalists (and at other users), provoking foodfights in the newsroom. People would pay to mad men themselves, if you allow them to customize their avatars so they could rant in style.

Now, I recognize it might sound like a step backwards, or slightly anti-democratic, but not long ago there was no commenting at all.  And folks can pick themselves up and have a conversation anywhere on the Internet if they want to. But, you are offering the readers the spotlight of attention… kinda like, advertising!  The dating sites have finely tuned the market dynamics of charging users to communicate. Would these comment stamps reduce or increase the spam?

Maybe the scales are all wrong – it’s probably something like 1% of readers that ever participate, but if fashion (and flickr and  Second Life) is any indication, people dispose plenty of their income expressing themselves in public.

So, Mr. Murdoch, tear down this firewall.  Everyone knows the real money comes from the souvenir and concession stands. It’s better than free.

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