Bookmarked Opinion | The Tyranny of Convenience (nytimes.com)
All the personal tasks in our lives are being made easier. But at what cost?
Tim Wu plots a convienient history, with the first revolution being of the household (Oven, Vacuum etc) and then the personal revolution (Walkman, Facebook etc). He argues that the irony of this individualisation is the creation of ‘templated selfs’:

The paradoxical truth I’m driving at is that today’s technologies of individualization are technologies of mass individualization. Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing. Everyone, or nearly everyone, is on Facebook: It is the most convenient way to keep track of your friends and family, who in theory should represent what is unique about you and your life. Yet Facebook seems to make us all the same. Its format and conventions strip us of all but the most superficial expressions of individuality, such as which particular photo of a beach or mountain range we select as our background image.

I do not want to deny that making things easier can serve us in important ways, giving us many choices (of restaurants, taxi services, open-source encyclopedias) where we used to have only a few or none. But being a person is only partly about having and exercising choices. It is also about how we face up to situations that are thrust upon us, about overcoming worthy challenges and finishing difficult tasks — the struggles that help make us who we are. What happens to human experience when so many obstacles and impediments and requirements and preparations have been removed?

Wu argues that struggling and working things out is about identity:

We need to consciously embrace the inconvenient — not always, but more of the time. Nowadays individuality has come to reside in making at least some inconvenient choices. You need not churn your own butter or hunt your own meat, but if you want to be someone, you cannot allow convenience to be the value that transcends all others. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are.

I recently reflected on the impact of convienience on learning. I guess that is a part of my ‘identity’.

via Audrey Watters

📓 Educational Metaphors

In a post exploring a vision for education, Bernard Bull provides a metaphor of the ‘field’:

Education is neither art nor science. It is a field that encompasses both, not to mention ideas and practices that do not necessarily fit neatly into the category of art or science. The word “field” might be a useful metaphor. We talk about fields of study. What do we mean by this? The word “field” derives from the Old English “feld”, or cultivated land (in contrast to woodlands). There is a thoughtful, even systematic cultivation of select crops in a field, compared to the randomness of the woodlands. What you plant, how you grow it, and how you cultivate it depends upon the context. There are affordances and limitations to those decisions, informed by sometimes competing and conflicting values. This is why I’ve long argued for the value of a diverse education ecosystem. Or, if it helps, picture a massive community-based garden, with different people and individuals planting and cultivating alongside one another. Some opt for a beautiful selection of flowers. Others go for a wide array of vegetables. Some choose raised beds while others stick with old-school rows. There will we some shared rules for those who play and plant in this field, but there is room for variety.

Liked Embracing the chaos – by Matthew Esterman (Medium)
We are much more able to embrace the beautiful chaos of schools if we have a strategy, a team and an ongoing, intentional and publicly stated understanding about our role and responsibilities. Each of these elements might change over the course of time but for a given period (say a term or a year) we can build an effective environment that allows chaos to run its course, channelled into purposeful outcomes or released into the space of irrelevancy.
Liked “Just an Ass-Backward Tech Company”: How Twitter Lost the Internet War (The Hive)
At the same time, her defenders say, Harvey has been forced to clean up a mess that Twitter should have fixed years ago. Twitter’s backend was initially built on Ruby on Rails, a rudimentary web-application framework that made it nearly impossible to find a technical solution to the harassment problem. If Twitter’s co-founders had known what it would become, a third former executive told me, “you never would have built it on a Fisher-Price infrastructure.” Instead of building a product that could scale alongside the platform, former employees say, Twitter papered over its problems by hiring more moderators. “Because this is just an ass-backward tech company, let’s throw non-scalable, low-tech solutions on top of this low-tech, non-scalable problem.”
Bookmarked Small b blogging (tomcritchlow.com)
Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”. And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.
Tom Critchlow provides a case for network blogging where your focus is on a particular audience:

So I challenge you to think clearly about the many disparate networks you’re part of and think about the ideas you might want to offer those networks that you don’t want to get lost in the feed. Ideas you might want to return to. Think about how writing with and for the network might enable you to start blogging. Forget the big B blogging model. Forget Medium’s promise of page views and claps. Forget the guest post on Inc, Forbes and Entrepreneur. Forget Fast Company. Forget fast content.

This stands in contrast to the idea or argument that blogging is first and fore mostly personal.


via Doug Belshaw

Bookmarked China's Dystopian Tech Could Be Contagious (The Atlantic)
As private enterprise takes an increasingly prominent role in the creation and management of ostensibly public urban space, as neo-authoritarianism spreads unchecked, and as pervasive technology weaves itself ever more intimately into all the sites and relations of contemporary life, all of the material conditions are right for Chinese-style social credit to spread on other ground. Consider what Sidewalk Labs’ neighborhood-scale intervention in Toronto implies—or the start-up Citymapper’s experiments with privatized mass transit in London, or even Tinder’s control over access to the pool of potential romantic partners in cities around the world—and it’s easy to imagine a network of commercial partners commanding all the choke points of urban life. The freedoms that were once figured as a matter of “the right to the city” would become contingent on algorithmically determined certification of good conduct.
Adam Greenfield discusses China’s move to measure ‘social credit’. He explains that there is nothing within the context that would stop it spreading globally. This is a position supported by Bruce Sterling.

One of the consequences that Greenfield shares is the impact such changes would have on urban environments:

A dominant current of urbanist thought in the West sees order in cities as uncontrived—an emergent outcome of lower-level processes. Canny observers like Georg Simmel, Jane Jacobs, and Richard Sennett hold that virtually everything that makes big-city life what it is—and big-city people who they are—arises from the necessity of negotiating with the millions of others with whom city dwellers share their daily environments. In cities that are set up to afford this kind of interaction, people learn to practice what the sociologist Erving Goffman called “civil inattention.” They acknowledge the presence of others without making any particular claim on them. This creates the streetwise, broadly tolerant urban character of big, bustling cities from Istanbul to Berlin to Dakar, Senegal.

I am reminded of Steven Johnson and his discussion of where good ideas come from.


via Cory Doctorow

Bookmarked The Case Against Google by Charles Duhigg (nytimes.com)
Antitrust has never been just about costs and benefits or fairness. It’s never been about whether we love the monopolist. People loved Standard Oil a century ago, and Microsoft in the 1990s, just as they love Google today. Rather, antitrust has always been about progress. Antitrust prosecutions are part of how technology grows. Antitrust laws ultimately aren’t about justice, as if success were something to be condemned; instead, they are a tool that society uses to help start-ups build on a monopolist’s breakthroughs without, in the process, being crushed by the monopolist. And then, if those start-ups prosper and make discoveries of their own, they eventually become monopolies themselves, and the cycle starts anew. If Microsoft had crushed Google two decades ago, no one would have noticed. Today we would happily be using Bing, unaware that a better alternative once existed. Instead, we’re lucky a quixotic antitrust lawsuit helped to stop that from happening. We’re lucky that antitrust lawyers unintentionally guaranteed that Google would thrive.
Charles Duhigg takes a look at the history of Anti-Trust laws and the breaking up of monopolies. From oil to IBM, he explains why it is important for this large companies to be broken up. Not because of the consumer, but rather for the sack of developnent and innovation.

He uses the case of the vertical search site, Foundem.com, to demonstrate the way in which Google kills competition by removing them from searches.

In 2006, Google instituted a shift in its search algorithm, known as the Big Daddy update, which penalized websites with large numbers of subpages but few inbound links. A few years later, another shift, known as Panda, penalized sites that copied text from other websites. When adjustments like these occurred, Google explained to users, they were aimed at combating “individuals or systems seeking to ‘game’ our systems in order to appear higher in search results — using low-quality ‘content farms,’ hidden text and other deceptive practices.”

Left unsaid was that Google itself generates millions of new subpages without inbound links each day, a fresh page each time someone performs a search. And each of those subpages is filled with text copied from other sites. By programming its search engine to ignore other sites doing the same thing that Google was doing, critics say, the company had made it nearly impossible for competing vertical-search engines, like Foundem, to show up high in Google’s results.

Rather than living off their innovation, Adam and Shivaun Raff have spent the last twelve years campaigning against Google. Supported by Gary Reback, they took their case to European Commission in Brussels.

Reback had told Adam and Shivaun that it was important for them to keep up their fight, no matter the setbacks, and as evidence he pointed to the Microsoft trial. Anyone who said that the 1990s prosecution of Microsoft didn’t accomplish anything — that it was companies like Google, rather than government lawyers, that humbled Microsoft — didn’t know what they were talking about, Reback said. In fact, he argued, the opposite was true: The antitrust attacks on Microsoft made all the difference. Condemning Microsoft as a monopoly is why Google exists today, he said.

If such changes and challenges is dependent on individuals such as the Raff’s standing up, it makes you wondering how many just throw it all in. Cory Doctorow captures this scenario in his novel, The Makers.

Bookmarked Globalizing education standards with ISO 21001 by Ben Williamson (code acts in education)
Standards may seem invisible, but they matter—they are consequential to how the world is organized, how people and their behaviour are regulated, and how processes and objects are defined and measured. Those who control standards therefore hold great power to coordinate and organize social, economic, cultural, ethical and political life. Standards constitute societies.
Ben Williamson takes a deep dive into the new ISO 21001 standard designed to structure educational management. This is significant, because such global standards have the potential to define and shape the future. As Williamson explains:

In the tangible world, standards define almost everything. There are standards for the dimensions of kitchen goods and furniture, standard measures, standard fonts and paper sizes, standard economic models, standards for food products, standard business practices, standard forms to fill in, standard formats for cataloguing and indexing, governmental standards, standard classifications of illness and healthiness, standards for ensuring software can operate on computer hardware and that data are interoperable across systems, and much more.

People are standardized too. Standard measures of personality or citizenship, standards of dress and behaviour, standards for credit-scoring and social media profiling, and standards that define social class, socio-economic status, gender, nationality and ethnicity all affect people’s everyday lives. Standard linguistic definitions help us make sense of ourselves and the world we inhabit.

ISO identifies a number of benefits in their press release:

a) better alignment of educational mission, vision, objectives and action plans
b) inclusive and equitable quality education for all
c) promotion of self-learning and lifelong learning opportunities
d) more personalized learning and effective response to special educational needs
e) consistent processes and evaluation tools to demonstrate and increase effectiveness and efficiency
f) increased credibility of the educational organization
g) recognized means to enable organizations to demonstrate commitment to education management practices in the most effective manner
h) a model for improvement
i) harmonization of national standards within an international framework
j) widened participation of interested parties
k) stimulation of excellence and innovation

The problem with this list is that there are so many biases built in and that become a guide for the global operating system.