keeping calm

keep-calm-and-finish-your-dissertation-133This blog has been a ghost-town for a while, but it’s not for my lack of textual output. All of my writing energy has been been devoted to the single minded purpose of my trying to complete my dissertation. I’m currently trying to complete a full draft by Labor day, in preparation for a Fall defense and and a 4pm, Oct 16th deposit. Revisions are brutal and it’s a race to the finish.

If anyone wants to check it out, or help me refine this before I submit it just drop me a line. Here is my working abstract:

Dangerous Gifts: Towards a new wave of mad resistance

This dissertation examines significant shifts in the politics of psychiatric resistance and mental health activism that have appeared in the past decade. This new wave of resistance has emerged against the backdrop of an increasingly expansive diagnostic/treatment paradigm, and within the context of activist ideologies that can be traced through the veins of broader trends in social movements. In contrast to earlier generations of consumer/survivor/ex-patient activists, many of whom dogmatically challenged the existence of mental illness, the emerging wave of mad activists are demanding a voice in the production of psychiatric knowledge and greater control over the narration of their own identities. After years as a participant-observer at a leading radical mental health advocacy organization, The Icarus Project, I present an ethnography of conflicts at sites including Occupy Wall Street and the DSM-5 protests at the 2012 American Psychiatric Association conference. These studies bring this shift into focus, demonstrate how non-credentialed stakeholders continue to be silenced and marginalized, and help us understand the complex ideas these activists are expressing. This new wave of resistance emerged amidst a revolution in communication technologies, and throughout the dissertation I consider how activists are utilizing communications tools, and the ways in which their politics of resistance resonate deeply with the communicative modalities and cultural practices across the web. Finally, this project concludes with an analysis of the psychiatry’s current state and probable trajectories, and provides recommendations for applying the lessons from the movement towards greater emancipation and empowerment.

Towards the (educational) liberation of Palestine

“Education is the unfinished business of the revolution.”
Malak Zaalouk, Director of the Middle East Institute of Higher Education

On my recent trip to Cairo I spent a week at the American University of Cairo participating in a week-long professional development conference for Palestinian educators. The conference included educators from five different Palestinian universities—many of whom were meeting for the first time in Cairo, despite working and living in the same city.

The experience brought me back to last summer’s visit to Palestine, which I wrote about here. Interacting with my Palestinian colleagues in a (relatively) free country was stimulating and engaging, but I was haunted by thoughts of the oppressive conditions back home they would soon return to.

The conference was organized around establishing centers for academic excellence with a focus on the role of new media in supporting teaching and learning. My Columbia cohorts and I presented a keynote on Media Analysis and Social Pedagogy (Frank’s intro, Part 1, Part 2), and throughout the week we discussed the interplay between technical and pedagogical innovation.

The elephant in the room was the desperate condition of basic telecommunications infrastructure in Palestineit’s difficult building a curriculum around blogs or wikis when Palestinian connectivity in the West Bank is notoriously unreliableeven when it works, it’s slower than dial-up. The real tragedy is this digital divide is artificially manufactured and brutally enforced. Last summer I had a better connection over complementary wifi on an Israeli Egged bus than at the Palestinian University PTUK.

When I visited Palestine I experienced the reality of the occupation first hand. I have written about how so many aspects of lifefuel, electricity, food, water, mobility, connectivityare regulated and controlled. As I learned last summer, the Israeli government forbids Palestinian telecom from developing 3G networks, prevents the Palestinian Authority from laying fiber between cities or connecting directly to the Mediterranean backbone, and businesses have a very difficult time importing routers. At the same time, the Palestinian activists who are trying to develop free municipal wifi in Ramallah are being thwarted, but not by the Israeli government. They are facing staunch opposition from Palestinian Telecom corporations.

I have come to realize that the forces of the Occupation are on a collision course with Capitalism. There is simply too much damn money to be made on data plans and broadband. I also believe the Israeli government has read The Net Delusion, and are arrogant enough to think that they can control the situation by surveilling it. The IDF is agressively targeting media networks. Ultimately, I think they will allow this infrastructure to be built, making it all-but-inevitable that better ICT infrastructure is coming to Palestine. The questions are: What will the Palestinians do with it when it arrives? Can government surviellance contain the power redistribution that networked organizing tantalizingly promises?

One of the key themes of our keynote at AUC was the importance of developing meaningful superstructures on top of technical infrastructure. At the conference we explored ways in which educational technology could be combined with teaching strategies to support peer-to-peer learning,  the flattening of traditional classroom hierarchies, the displacement of conventional teacher-student power relations, and authentic learning activities. Of course, educational technology alone won’t bring these outcomes. In many situations educational technology serves to perpetuate and reinforce the status quo.

These cultures of practice could spread further and faster if the Palestinians learn from our blunders, and create Freedom in their Cloud.  As this infrastructure is imagined and built , there is an opportunity to leap-frog over our mistakes and develop an distributed network architecture, instead of the centralized architecture we have fallen for. Imagine a Palestinian mesh-based cloud, running peer-to-peer social networking services. Such a vision is not a pipe dream, in the age of the Freedom Box, Mondonet, and Diaspora.

Short of fulfilling this dream entirely, it would be tremendous for Palestinian educators to develop their own, local, free/libre, educational software services instead of relying exclusively on free-of-charge centralized corporate solutions—like Google, Facebook, and Twitter—that render their students into products.

Over the week of the conference, as I learned more about the situation at my colleague’s universities, I realized that few of the eleven universities in the West Bank would have the necessary resources to adequately support a new-media teaching and learning center. A well functioning center needs to staff systems administrators, programmers, designers, and video specialists to support the needs of the educational technologists, and in turn, the faculty and students. However, while no single university could support a center like this, I began to wonder how the Palestinian universities might coordinate and pool their resources. Establishing an single independent institution (likely a technical NGO) that services all of the Universities in Palestine, and perhaps even all of the schools in Palestine, might be the next obvious step in the educational capacity-building project that I have been involved with.

I have encountered a similar model elsewhere. Groundwire (formerly One NorthWest) is a US non-profit that  was launched with the intention of exclusively servicing environmental organizations in the Pacific North-West. A similar kind of organization could be established in Palestine to service the educational sector with educational technology solutions. An institution like this could function of a hub, mediating interactions between different Palestinian Universities, sharing successes and failures, while continually building local institutional knowledge.

Unlike the One Laptop Per Child project, this effort would be conceived from the start with training, support, and local engagement. It’s all about developing cultures of practice, and sustainable models for the deployment of infrastructure and superstructure.

Will the immanent Palestinian networks lead to greater freedom?  Maybe. Perhaps with enough will, determination, and work. The iron is hot.

Jonah and the Cetacea

I recently returned from an amazing trip to Cairo, with a 36-hour stopover in Istanbul on the way home. While there, I learned something wonderful about the meaning of my name that continues to make me smile.

While I am not a strict Nominative Determinist, I do take Plato’s Cratylus dialogue more seriously than most. I love learning new names, and often ask people what their names mean. Perhaps this fascination stems from the fact that my ambivalent parents gave me 5 (!) names, not including my surname, and my godfather gave me one more after I injured my back.  I have spent a great deal of time contemplating names and attempting to integrate mine into a coherent identity.

Growing up I was always the only ‘Jonah’ I knew. In the 90’s the name gained popularity, but I still reflexively turn everytime I hear it (I can only imagine that Johns and Michaels learn to tune these out).

The Old Testament’s Book of Jonah is a fabulous story. I’ve studied it closely and continue to find gems of wisdom and mystical insights. I have always appreciated that Jonah was: 1) One of the few (only?) prophets in the Old Testament sent to help the gentiles. 2) One of the only prophets in the Old Testament that anyone ever listened to!  In the closing coda, a mysterious “gourd” casts a shadow over Jonah’s mind (what kind of plant was this magical qiyqayown?), leading him to a transcendental experience in the desert where he learned to appreciate the universal nature of humanity. Great stuff – succinct, but it packs a punch.

For a while I have known that Jonah the prophet was called Yunus (يونس) in the Qur’an. Jonah’s story in the Qur’an is quite similar to the Old Testament, though much shorter  (in the Qur’an Jonah is close friends with Jinns ;-)).  In Hebrew Jonah (יוֹנָה) means ‘dove’.  Noah sent out 3 Jonahs to see if the flood waters had receded. But, to the best of my knowledge, Yunus does not mean anything special in Arabic. In Istanbul I learned that in Turkish, Yunus means dolphin.

What a trip. In the past, in order to read the story of Jonah literally, I used to have to postulate UFOs or Yellow Submarines. I wasn’t quite as skeptical as this critic, but the story never added up on the plane of mundane reality.

What if Jonah was saved by a dolphin(s)? Instead of being swallowed by a ‘Big Fish’, he could have been engulfed by a pod of dolphins. Sailors being saved by dolphins was a common motif in the ancient world. For example, Telemachus, son of Ulysses, was saved by dolphins, and to this day, we continue to confirm reports of humans saved by dolphins.

Doves and Dolphins. What a name.

Saints in the Church of Writely?

Two months back I saw Richard Stallman talk at a NYC Gnubies event and I asked him a question that I have been thinking alot about lately — Would a Saint in the Church of Emacs use gmail?

To me the question revolves around the growing threat that 3rd party webservices poses to the freedoms that free software is designed to protect. In O’Reilly’s What is Web 2.0 he argues that software is transitioning from an artifact to a service, and that data is becoming the new “intel inside”. In an age when applications have become commodities, could the freedom of my data (in an open format) be interchangeable with the freedom of software?

I recently listened to the Chief Open Source Officer at Sun Mircosystems pose a similar question in his talk, The Zen of Free. He talks about the importance of Open Software implementing Open Standards, which is close to the idea I have been advocating, but doesn’t quite go far enough.

Using free (as in beer) third party web services is very tempting, but I am worrying more and more about the traditional freedoms that free software protects against – vendor lock-in, proprietary data formats, and freedom to modify policy according to application specific requirements.

I would be less antsy about using web 2.0 apps if I had some assurance that I could get my data back out without screenscraping a bunch of html pages. Even services with APIs like flickr and delicious create vulnerabilities, as I was loathe to discover last week. Delicious provides a programmers api, but its api only exposes methods which operate on a single user. Thus, if you want to export a collection of links that have all been tagged with a particular tag, (reasonable if you are engaged with a community in distributed research) you are back to screenscraping!

These considerations and more advocate for the need for free (as in speech) versions of many of these services. There are certainly some side-effects of running a centralized service that are inherent in it being centralized, but many communities are making use of these “public” services because of their convenience, and the ease with which they can be “mashed up.”

Which brings me back to the design that we have been thinking alot about at work lately. Anders and I presented a talk at pycon demonstrating some of these ideas. Anders did a great job writing our talk up here:

Tasty Lightning

Crucially, it is imperative not to conflate our advocacy for building components that expose themselves as webservices with building apps against third-party web services. The design we describe resembles a traditional
mash-up, except the components involved are locally controlled as opposed to relying upon external, corporate services. For all the usual f/oss reasons it can be important to “own” and run your own services.

But this argument also has everything in the world to do with Ulises In Defense of the Digital Divide as Paralogy essay. In this essay Ulises grapples with Lyotard’s critique of new media under the logic of capitalism which has “established commodification and efficiency as the ultimate measures of the value of knowledge.”

he continues:

…Lyotard states, in the final passage of The Postmodern Condition, that new media technologies can be more than simply tools of market capitalism, for they can be used to supply groups with the information needed to question and undermine dominant metaprescriptives (or what might be called ‘grand narratives’). The preferred choice of development, for him at least, is thus clear: ‘The line to follow for computerization to take . . . is, in principle, quite simple: give the public free access to the memory and data banks’ (Lyotard 1984: 67). (Gane, 2003, p.9)

Considering Google’s stated ambitions to “house all user files, including: emails, web history, pitcures, bookmakres, etc” the freedom movement better wake up to the fact that there is more to freedom than free software, and we are being outflanked.

Free software is only one corner peice of this puzzle – to complete the jigsaw we need the corners of free data, in a free format. Anything else?

(yes, I know I am posting this question using blogger – a situation I hope to remedy after the semester finishes).

Out of Context

Today I saw Ted Selker present a talk on “Context-Aware Computing: Understanding and Responding to Human Intention” His perspective on inventions resonated strongly with my recent thinking on social interfaces and software as architecture, and in turn, ideology.

Ted is helping to create a world where intelligence is everywhere, transparently. People joke about toaster oven’s with IP addresses, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

A few of the examples really stuck out though – intelligent doors that give different people different messages about the availability of the inhabitant, tools that help people manage their relationships better (e.g. themail, clustering and color coding emails, rather than putting them in buckets), and a great little anecdote about doctors who don’t wash their hands before examinations.

In this last case, a hospital approached the lab asking for some high tech solution to insure that doctors washed before procedures. They used to have human supervisors (union, I’m sure) standing by the sink, and were envisioning some sort of rfid-cybercop-surveillance solution. Instead, Ted and his team designed an electronic doorstop. The examination room door would not close until the doctors washed their hands for at least 20 seconds.

Ted has a background in cog-sci and is acutely aware (the whole media lab seems to be) of the ways in which technology is becoming a leading art, and ways in which behavior can influence worldview. I wish this understanding was more widespread.

A few other thoughts –

Ted’s characterization of inventing as adventure movie, moving “at the speed of physics” reminded me alot of extreme programming – release early, release often, embrace change, favor improvisation over the paralysis that comes with the heft of over-engineering and over-designing.

Many of his UI strategies seemed to draw heavily from techniques I first learned about reading The Art of Memory (also echoed in research suggesting larger screens improve efficiency).

Also notable is how this approach of transparent, cognitive prosthesis contrasts with the UI the informedia group presented. Their Visual Query Interface presents the user with sliders allowing them to interact with the system to fine tune the strictness of the computer’s judgment. This mixed mode of interaction seems to differ fundamentally from the approach the contextual computing team is taking.

all work, all play

Last Friday CCNMTL hosted a mini-conference on New Media and Education (pics). Me and my colleague Dan Beeby co-presented a marathon series of workshops on Sakai and Web Services. We repeated each of our two 35 minute talks 3 times over the day (2×3 talks == a very long day), and I can’t wait for the video’s to be published so I can see the rest of the conference 😉

The first talk unfolded into a conversation about Course/Content Mgmt systems, open/community source ecologies, and the purposeful use of tools w/in those environments. The second talk covered rss, blogging, delicious, flickr, odeo, and the balance between push and pull. The participants were attentive and engaged, and I although the pace was brutal, I really enjoyed working on these presentations.

The funny thing about giving 6 talks in one day, is that by the third talk in, I couldn’t remember if I had used a particular phrase two slides back, or two hours back… Luckily, Dan and I knew the material cold, had a good rapport, and were very comfortable swapping lines and improvising. The only glitch was due to flickr not refreshing their feed for over 24 hours… can’t expect much more from an external service (more on that in a future post).

The slides got a little mangled on the html export, but here they are: An Instructors Guide to Sakai & Courseworks Remodeled.

Dan has a great touch in photoshop, so careful what sorts of pictures you leave laying around his desk.

A red guitar, 3 chords, and the truth

This weekend I participated in the NYC free culture summit and learned a few refreshing radical activism tricks from the class of ’06.

In stark contrast to the scholarly focus group I attended last week, this group explicitly understands that they need to create social spaces for like-minded activists to congregate, learn, and plot. The tools of the revolution were revealed in the speed geeking session – Once someone in the 21st century finds the truth, all they need is a mailing list, a blog, a wiki, irc, and rss (with a dash of delicious and flickr, to taste). Remarkable how quickly and easily people with real communication needs figure out how to use this suite of tools, understand which is good for what and when.

Highlights included a Riot Folk performance, a talk by Siva (“Space. Hope. Imagination. Potential.”), a talk by the Creative Commons gang, and suprise appearance by Cory Doctorow .

The most fun had to be not-protesting (you need a license to protest) outside of Time Sqaure’s Virgin Megastore, and reverse shoplifting DRM info into the stacks of damaged cds.

The revolution might not be televised, but it could very well end up on flickr.

His Master’s Voice

I recently read that Guglielmo Marconi envisioned the radio being used primarily for 2-way communications, and Alexandar Graham Bell imagined the telephone being used to broadcast concerts to large audiences. Whether or not this is true, it’s interesting to wonder if the inventors of technology are really the best at predicting its eventual usage.

Today I attended a focus group organized by the Marconi Society and EPIC which focused on the next generation of scholarly tools, and the future of research and the journal. Most people in the room were completely overwhelmed by the amount of information they were supposed to track, and many thought that better filtering tools would help. People also talked about the real problem of knowledge quality and credibility, and some sort of map for navigating the various layers of information in the world.

What I kept hearing in people’s remarks was that people really need spaces, not maps. Researchers need virtual watering holes to gather around. The quest for knowledge is not a search for data, it is arrived at through dialectic. Communities of like minded researches will naturally perform the task of filtering, highlighting, and vetting important information. It will take AI a long long time to accomplish the comparable task with advanced search and filtering portals….

Seems to me like the Marconi Society should consider funding the development of a specialized distribution of a well established CMS, perhaps modeled on drupal’s CivicSpace, or Shuttleworth’s SchoolTool. CivicSpace is basically a drupal bundled and configured with some modules that are geared towards operating an NGO. SchoolTool a Zope3 app designed for operating a small-mid size k12 school. The work might also benefit from considering the social software design patterns we worked on in Ulises’ course this past fall.

I also met some really cool people, doing really interesting and socially important work with technology.

Closing Thoughts on MSTU 5510

Ulises recently asked us to summarize our thoughts for the semester in our blogs. Considering that this blog was started for this class, I was surprised by my own initial resentment at being asked to post something so specific here. During the course of the semester, this forum has become a place for me to speak, not to answer. Even when I was posting assignments for class, they were items and issues which I selected and chose. This initial emotional reaction indicates how engaging these tools can become, and helped me answer some of the questions on Uilses’ list.

Its been great fun! Best of luck to everyone, and see you on Tuesday.

>> What is ‘social’ about social software?
to paraphrase: Social Software is made of people

>> How is the notion of community being redefined by social software?
>> What aspects of our humanity stand to gain or suffer as a result of our use of and reliance on social software?

Radical redefinitions of memory, identity, personal space, intimacy, and physical interaction.

>> How is social agency shared between humans and (computer) code in social software?


>> What are the social repercussions of unequal access to social software? >> What are the pedagogical implications of social software for education?

stay tuned.

>> Can social software be an effective tool for individual and social change?

See above. I think the pedagogical value of a tool follows from its potential for individual and social change.

Happy Holidays!

Collecting KnowledgeThe semester is almost over, and that means its time for me to compose some thoughts. As usual, this opens more questions than it answers, but I’m pretty happy about how it turned out.

Collecting Knowledge: Narrative Tapestries and Database Substrates

“An examination of Web 2.0 using Manovich’s Language of New Media, and an interpretation of folksonomies within the context of the narrative-database dichotomy. This inquiry looks at tagging as a mechanism for constructing narratives from databases, and relates narratives to knowledge construction and representation. Educational curricular activities involving tagging will also be considered.”

Special thanks to Prof. John Broughton, John Frankfurt, Michael Preston, and Alexander Sherman for helping me develop these ideas.

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