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Pot Luck

Hi Folks,

Just want to let ya’ll know that I have cups, paper plates, and silverware for our pot luck later today.  If you are bringing cheese, you should probably also bring a knife – the plastics I have may not do the trick very well.

Looking forward to the presentations,


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Class Themes

Since Naomi and Hadassah have already brought up the key points in Zittrain, I’d like to take another tack. As the classes I teach have begun to wrap up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the themes of the semester; for this class too, I automatically began to try listing a number of common things we’ve talked about and around in an attempt to get some form of closure. Zittrain’s reading for this week seems, in many ways, to be a summative text in the way that it draws together some of these ideas, for me:

1. The question of mastery
Something that Naomi already alluded to, and which Zittrain demonstrates tacitly, is the need to master new technologies. In more ways than one, this semester has been about pulling my (one’s?) head out of the sand in order to learn at least the basics of Web 2.0 technologies, if only for the purposes of rejecting/thwarting them or changing their intended uses.

2. The question of tools
This is something that came up earlier when we were deciding what software to use for our various projects, and even a little bit in terms of presentation styles from Michael’s examples last week–what tools you choose depends on what kind of project you have decided to make, not just in terms of nuts-and-bolts, but in terms of a fundamental argument. Something Michael said in class last term has stuck with me re: Zotero. I had never even thought of Zotero as anything but a sometimes-inaccurate tool for compiling those annoying bibliographies; Steve and Michael’s assertion that tools have a philosophy (e.g., sharing research sources easily) was something I had not thought about before. This leads to my next point…

3. The question of ethos
…which is that it is fundamentally wrong to use a tool contrary to its intended ethos. Zittrain says, “new participants [to the generative model] misunderstand or flout the ethos that makes the systems function well, and those not involved with the system find their legally protected interests challenged by it” (64-5). With apologies to our resident Philosopher, Laura, I am really challenged by the fact that ours is a class on computing technologies which could easily be turned into a class on ethics. It seems too simplistic to say money=bad, free=good; this is too often my answer, and I’m getting tired of shouting about how iPads are really the devil, etc. etc. How can we resist such broad generalisations and still be part of the functioning economic mechanism as it stands today?

4. The question of generativeness
It seems to me that based on Zittrain’s definition, generativity–“a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated changes through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences” (70)–is at the heart of the capitalistic enterprise. Isn’t this principle exactly how high capitalism developed, through the “crazy” ideas of maverick businessmen and economists who were almost necessarily coming from “broad and varied” places with the determination to put their ideas into effect, and who thus ended up changing the extant system? In that light, it seems crucial to note that late capitalism in its current avatar is scared of the kind of “stretchability” that a truly generative system needs. A light at the end of the tunnel?

5. The question of bother
This is not exactly from Zittrain… but, I see the basic attraction that a lot of new generative technologies are being put to as that of low-effort. What I mean is, it is very easy to let your machine do this, that, and the other thing for you. I’ve read studies in which brain scans show that people actually *love* their iPhones in the way that they love other real people, because it is hard not to love something that reliably makes your life simpler by allowing you to do more complicated things. I feel terribly medieval to say that I feel (as opposed to realising, logically) that things which are not hard are fundamentally not worth it. So, if it’s not hard to keep a puppy at home, if it doesn’t cause you to change your life around it in significant ways to accommodate it, it’s not worth it. Same with work (take that, graduate school!), same with other things. So, I wonder when and how the value attached to effort was eroded away? I wonder what has led to our easy reliance on god-like devices controlled by faceless “people” like Amazon or the cable companies and ISPs? If we can say that we live in economies based on certainties (you are certain to be able to call someone; certain to be able to find someone online; and so on), then what might an economy based on doubt look like?



Posted in After Class Discussion, Motivations, Reading.

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Zittrain’s Procrastination principle & the conclusion

After some mental wrestling I think I’m coming to understand the procrastination principle as the middle ground of agile development and — especially as it applies to the XO computer project described in the conclusion of the text — as a form of pedagogy that reminds me of Ranciere’s description of the “Ignorant Schoolmaster.”

It’s using this theoretical framework developed by Joseph Jacotot in the 19th C. that’s helping me see this project as visionary and not lacking in content forethought by tech-focused producers. Using this pedagogical framework, the students don’t need a Master computer trainer, they need computers to learn computing & creative tasks on, and as tools to stretch out with — the generative system as Zittrain describes it will encourage the scholarly [or content] growth.

I do wonder if the OLPC system [not the XO ststem] is generative enough to grow the kind of response that Zittrain is hoping for. The program is still going. 1 in 20 schoolchildren in Latin America are using a computer as part of it, as reported last month.

Did other folks find it hard, uncomfortable, or challenging to read the conclusion’s description because of the lack of planning around content?

Posted in Reading.

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What is Your Reaction to Tethered Technologies?

After reading part II of Zittrain’s “The Future of the Internet and how to stop it”, I am very curious to know how others in our class have reacted to the whole idea of tethered appliances and the kinds of remote access and control over content and privacy technology companies have – and how we view the role of the law in regards to possibilities presented by the tethered appliance use on a mass scale. Because for me, I see that with the whole advent of “cloud computing”, and the rise of “internet services” and devices that rely entirely on services that have access to devices at all times (such as smart phones, for example), we are moving more and more towards a tethered reality, where non-tethered options seem to be receding into the distant horizon, because the consumer market demanding non-tethered options is shrinking rapidly.

And why is it shrinking rapidly? Largely, I think, because tethered technologies are packaged in such a desirable way and provide such desirable surface capabilities (like the ipad, for example) that consumers become hooked on products because of the desirability of the product and its surface capabilities, without being informed (either through their own research or by the company) of what deeper level tethering they are committing to – and what rights they are giving up.  Added to this, in our own lifetimes, we can see a trend in technological development toward making technological devices “easy” for the masses to use, that it is not necessary anymore for an average user to understand how a device works at a deeper level (i.e. you don’t have to learn command line scripts in dos in order to get a computer to do anything anymore).

Zittrain outlines several ways in which tethered  technologies can became mechanisms by which laws can be easily enforced through preemption, specific injunction, and surveillance. And he goes on to talk about how these kinds of enforcement can became executable “Without Rule of Law” – basically, without several individuals within the justice system dedicated to preserving citizen’s rights and freedoms getting involved and deciding if a certain kind of enforcement is lawful, and then giving explicit permission for a kind of enforcement to be carried out. Zittrain uses TiVo technology as an example of a company accessing its devices remotely and changing things inside the device once it is already within the hands of the consumer. As I was reading this, I was reminded of a issue that occurred in 2009 with the Amazon Kindle, where after getting in a copyright dispute with a publisher of George Orwell’s books, the Amazon went into user’s kindles and remotely deleted any electronic versions of Orwell’s books without asking permission of the consumers, only notifying them afterwards when they reimbursed users of the purchase price. So users woke up one morning, and their Orwell e-books had vanished. In an article on Boing Boing  by Cory Doctorow about this whole issue, the Electronic Frontier Foundation was quoted, and very aptly described my own response to this whole scenario:

“if Amazon didn’t have the rights to sell the e-books in the first place, the infringement happened when the books were sold. Remote deletion doesn’t change that, and it’s not an infringement for the Kindle owner simply to read the book. Can you imagine a brick-and-mortar bookstore chasing you home, entering your house, and pulling a book from your shelf after you paid good money for it? (Nor, for that matter, does Amazon reserve any “remote deletion” right the Kindle “terms of service”.)”

And how ironic that it was a debate over books by Orwell as well – and that Orwell e-books were essentially erased by “Big Brother”. (Check out the Limerick commentary in the Boing Boing article – it is quite genius and awesome). Granted, Amazon did acknowledge later that this deletion was a bad idea (as this NY Times article points out), but they would not reverse the deletion once acknowledging it was a bad idea, and the fact that it happened in the first place is just outrageous!

Ideas of remote access and remote enforcement really scare me. As Doctorow later stated, “The most secure device spec for a device is one in which it is not designed to enforce policy against its owner, period. Devices might still be subverted into attacking their owners, but this will always be more likely to take place if the designers created a ‘feature’ that is supposed to do this.” Why are we allowing and supporting the creation of technology that has built in back doors? And as Zittrain pointed out later in the chapter through discussing the views of James Boyle, “if a society wants technological progress and the associated economic benefits, one must be prepared to accept some measure of social liberalization made possible with that technology.”

But it doesn’t seem like society is really demanding this social liberalization that should come with technological progress. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but it seems to me that we are moving into a era where governments and lawmakers are not making laws to protect against invasion of privacy and unlawful censorship through tethered appliances and the internet – instead, they are allowing overly restrictive, invasive, abusive measures of enforcement to be carried out over tethered networks  in the name of certain laws (such as copyright law in the case of the kindle) that threaten much more fundamental ideas of freedom in society. Why are there no laws or acts being created that protect consumers against abusive invasion of privacy, surveillance, and remote control of content through tethered networks? It seems like all the laws being created and proposed lately are designed to create more control over users, instead of protecting their freedom.

So I am curious – am I the only one for whom Zittrain’s warnings against and discussions of tethered technologies resonate so strongly?

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1,000,000 Edits?!?!

Thought you’d all be interested in reading about the Wikipedia editor Justin Knapp, who edited his 1 millionth article yesterday. Wow.

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Lessig and Lambert

Here are the links to the two videos. For some reason, I can’t get them to embed….??!?!!!?

Steve Lambert on Utopia

Lessig on laws strangling creativity


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Protected: A Reason for PPT

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Tufte on Powerpoint

Edward Tufte’s intelligent diatribe against the liabilities of Powerpoint is a welcome counterpoint to the kneejerk use of an all too familiar presentation format. Most of all, Tufte’s essay reminds us that software is never neutral–it always either subtly or overtly asserts particular practices and even, as this case demonstrates, enforces ways of thinking and processing knowledge. As Tufte points out, however, Powerpoint neutralizes the real knowledge-transmission process to a spoon-fed series of baby-step readings. I particularly appreciate his critique because Powerpoint slide-speak has become an insidious part of our culture. Somehow instantly graphically designing and cutting ideas into tiny pieces to project large to an audience has migrated from corporate to everyday life. I even recently saw an academic talk that overly relied on the PP clip-art and pithy quote lingo Tufte describes! Some of his best jabs: Powerpoint use creates a “…foreshortening of evidence and thought,” “deeply hierarchical single-point structure,” “poverty of content.” He is also quite apt at describing Powerpoint as a reflection of the bureaucracy that encourages its use, as well as the pseudo-scientification of content. Obviously, Tufte has convinced me. I would add that another tragedy of Powerpoint is that the opportunity for rich visualizations is lost in its step-by-step, static frame.

Which of course leads us to the joys of Prezi! (I am glad we read this before the workshop next week. ) I am curious, however, if everyone was convinced by Tufte or whether there are some Powerpoint defenders among us? Has anyone else suffered or celebrated Powerpoint or do you find it indispensible and not as problematic as Tufte claims? Perhaps some creative types have broken through its apparent barriers…

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Wicked Problems in Design Thinking

In “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” Buchanan suggests that design may be an important means for traversing a diffusion of knowledge that has been brought about through the advancement of traditional liberal arts/sciences. According to Buchanan, while traditional liberal arts/sciences continue to contribute to knowledge, they also contribute to its fragmentation. In fact, suggests Buchanan, as they advanced into the nineteenth century, traditional liberal arts diminished the “circle of learning” through fine-tuning, scope-narrowing, and specialization.

Referring to Dewey’s description of the tension and need for balance between specialization as reflected in the old, and integration in the new liberal arts, Buchanan introduces design as an integrative discipline with the potential to extend knowledge and enrich human life; designers seek to integrate knowledge, and so provide much needed understanding of the technological culture that demarks our times. For Buchanan, design is no longer a trade activity, but an emerged “liberal art of technological culture”, the transformation of which parallels and is in sync with the revolution, expansion, and enrichment of the liberal arts proper.

Buchanan allows that there is no one definition for design (as its specifics change from trade to trade), though it enjoys a universal function to integrate and extend knowledge, and enrich human life. As such, design problems are “wicked”: They are indeterminate with no discrete subject matter. Design exists in relation to given projects, and so can connect discipline of communication, expression, interaction, and reasoning.  

Reading this made me wonder, and I share my angst with you: Is there a crisis in liberal education, specifically a lack of integration? How can studying design be of general interest? How can the study of design inform other areas of study?

Posted in Motivations, Reading.

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Wiki Collaboration


I know a bunch of you are working with wikis for your final project–does anyone want to collaborate with me?  I’m looking into booki.  Collaboration would be nice.


Posted in Assignment.

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