Bookmarked that doesn’t mean dumbing it down (TinyLetter)

My advice to the group of academics, then, was two-fold. First: recognize that both sides need to be more flexible. Understand that journalists have to have somewhat reductive headlines, and that they operate on deadlines. But also assert, at the beginning, that you are unwilling to provide a soundbite — and want, above all else, to insert nuance, instead of a flat argument, and if they can’t deal with that (even if it’s just three sentences of complication, instead of one declarative sentence) then you will not do the interview. It’s not that academics should request quote approval, it’s more that they should be able to reach an agreement with the journalist about the sort of argument to which they’re affixing their good name.

Anne Helen Petersen explains how to work with and in journalism to extend the reach of academic ideas.
Bookmarked Academic Outrage: When The Culture Wars Go Digital by Tressie McMillan Cottom (tressiemc)

This isn’t an issue for individual professors. This is an organized effort. Sociologists may know a little something about those. Learn how to organize, then organize.

Tressie McMillan Cottom discusses the challenges of being critical in online spaces. She says to learn how to organise and then organise. Some take-aways include:

  • Beware the hand-wavers and the hand-wringers
  • On the flip side, don’t be a hand-waver and hand-wringer
  • If you or a colleague is under attack, help your institution to help you
  • Take care of your family
  • Master platforms
  • Get long-term

I wonder what this means for K-12 educators and the call for connected educators?

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

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.

Bookmarked Building Staff Culture: The Importance of Gratitude by Chris Wejr (chriswejr.com)

I am retraining my brain to see the positives (which I used to be so good at).  Looking for the positives does not mean we ignore the challenges… but embracing the good things in life sure give us more energy to deal with the ‘not-so-good’ things when they happen! 

Chris Wejr reflects on his efforts to be more grateful, but also to embed opportunities for his staff. He provides a list of possible activities to use, such as:

  • Start every staff meeting with WWW (What Went Well) and encourage each other to share something we are thankful for and/or proud of.
  • Share a weekly newsletter, “10 Good Things to Talk About“, that includes 10 (often more) positive things that I have observed or staff have shared that we want our community to know about.
  • Write a note of gratitude to EVERY staff member that acknowledges something very personal that each person brings to your school.
  • Create a gratitude wall for staff to acknowledge the positives they see around the school.
  • Some staff have started their own gratitude journals/apps and even challenged their partners to do the same.
  • Have every student in the school write one thing they love about their school on a heart and use these hearts will line our hallways.
  • Write one thank you card/note or a gratitude email per week to a staff member/colleague.
  • Make one positive phone call a day/week to a family at your school.
  • Say thank you. Say it often and keep it authentic and personal.
  • Buy a coffee a week for someone and share your appreciation.

I have written about improving staff morale in the past. Wejr’s list provides some new ideas to explore.

Bookmarked Next Big Thing in Education: Small Data (pasisahlberg.com)

It is becoming evident that Big Data alone won’t be able to fix education systems. Decision-makers need to gain a better understanding of what good teaching is and how it leads to better learning in schools. This is where information about details, relationships and narratives in schools become important. These are what Martin Lindstrom calls Small Data: small clues that uncover huge trends. In education, these small clues are often hidden in the invisible fabric of schools. Understanding this fabric must become a priority for improving education.

The ‘compulsive collector of clues, Martin Lindstrom, defines Small data as:

Seemingly insignificant behavioral observations containing very specific attributes pointing towards an unmet customer need. Small data is the foundation for break through ideas or completely new ways to turnaround brands.

Sahlberg takes this concept and applies it to education. Some ‘small data’ practices he suggests include:

  • Focus on formative assessment over standardised testing
  • Develop collective autonomy and teamwork in schools
  • Involve students in assessing and reflecting their own learning and then incorporating that information into collective human judgment about teaching and learning

This move away from standardisation is something championed by people like Greg Whitby.

Bookmarked The Anatomy of a Data Story by Nicole Hitner (datafloq.com)

It’s not the graph that makes the data interesting. Rather, it’s the story you build around it—the way you make it something your audience cares about, something that resonates with them—that’s what makes data interesting.

According to Ben Wellington, there are four features of a great data story:

Connect with people

If you don’t have a question to answer or artificial intelligence to point you to an interesting trend, you’ll likely have to do some data discovery and exploration to find a story worth telling.

Try to convey one idea

When designing your visuals, take clarity and conciseness over sizzle—but also consider what it is you want to emphasize … Anytime you can give your audience a more familiar point of reference, it can help drive an idea home.

Keep it simple

Once you have all your facts and figures, the first step in telling their story is considering your audience. After all, if your goal is to make the story resonate with the audience, you’ll need to consider its members’:

Explore a topic you know well.

When there are multiple campaigns designed to resolve the conflict and multiple ways of looking at each campaign, there can be a lot of data to review. In these cases, focus only on the visualizations that are essential to the narrative, or the story will dissolve into a humdrum boardroom presentation.


BONUS – Delivery

Consider your tone. Humor can utterly transform a story, but so can poignancy and earnestness. Giving the story some kind of tonal emphasis can give it the edge it needs to stand out from the rest.

via Tom Woodward

Bookmarked Inside Facebook’s Two Years of Hell (WIRED)

When social media started becoming driven by images, he bought Instagram. When messaging took off, he bought WhatsApp. When Snapchat became a threat, he copied it. Now, with all his talk of “time well spent,” it seems as if he’s trying to co-opt Tristan Harris too.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein disentangle the last two years in Facebook’s rise, with a particular focus on the way that they have embraced news. As with Google+, the picture is painted as to how Facebook ‘copied, then crushed’ Twitter and their hold on distributing news:

Back in 2012, the most exciting social network for distributing news online wasn’t Facebook, it was Twitter. The latter’s 140-character posts accelerated the speed at which news could spread, allowing its influence in the news industry to grow much faster than Facebook’s. “Twitter was this massive, massive threat,” says a former Facebook executive heavily involved in the decision making at the time.

So Zuckerberg pursued a strategy he has often deployed against competitors he cannot buy: He copied, then crushed. He adjusted Facebook’s News Feed to fully incorporate news (despite its name, the feed was originally tilted toward personal news) and adjusted the product so that it showed author bylines and headlines. Then Facebook’s emissaries fanned out to talk with journalists and explain how to best reach readers through the platform.

The catch with this change is that it is merely a focus on being THE platform. This therefore meant overlooking the multitude of complexities associated with ‘news’:

Facebook hired few journalists and spent little time discussing the big questions that bedevil the media industry. What is fair? What is a fact? How do you signal the difference between news, analysis, satire, and opinion? Facebook has long seemed to think it has immunity from those debates because it is just a technology company—one that has built a “platform for all ideas.”

The problem with this stance, to “never favour one kind of news”, is that “neutrality is a choice in itself.” This choice is one that can then be cajoled and manipulated:

While Facebook grappled internally with what it was becoming—a company that dominated media but didn’t want to be a media company—Donald Trump’s presidential campaign staff faced no such confusion. To them Facebook’s use was obvious. Twitter was a tool for communicating directly with supporters and yelling at the media. Facebook was the way to run the most effective direct-­marketing political operation in history.

In response to Trump’s use, the purchasing of ads and criticism for people such as Tristan Harris, Zuckerberg set out this year to right the wrongs:

One of the many things Zuckerberg seemed not to grasp when he wrote his manifesto was that his platform had empowered an enemy far more sophisticated than Macedonian teenagers and assorted low-rent purveyors of bull.

Ironically, he has now turned to the community to work as curators.

Along with investigations into the links between Facebook funding and research, these posts help highlight the tangled mess that we have gotten ourselves into.

Bookmarked Education in the (Dis)Information Age – Hybrid Pedagogy by Kris Shaffer (Hybrid Pedagogy)

It’s time we brought back the hyperlink and learned how to really use it. It’s time we used information abundance to our advantage. And it’s time we disentangled our communications from platforms tuned for the spread of disinformation. The health of our democracies just might depend on it.

Kris Shaffer reflects on the abundance of information on the web. He suggests that the hyperlink maybe ‘our most potent weapon’ against disinformation:

The oldest and simplest of internet technologies, the hyperlink and the “new” kind of text it affords — hypertext — is the foundational language of the internet, HyperText Markup Language (HTML). Hypertext connects all the disparate pieces of the web together. And it’s Sci-Fi name isn’t an accident. It’s hyperdrive for the internet, bending information space so that any user can travel galaxy-scale information distances with a small movement of a finger. The hyperlink still remains one of the most powerful elements of the web. In fact, I’d argue that the hyperlink is our most potent weapon in the fight against disinformation.

This potential though is being challenged by platforms that keep users trapped within. This is something that Chris Aldrich touched upon in a recent post about Facebook:

The note post type has long since fallen by the wayside and I rarely, if ever, come across people using it anymore in the wild despite the fact that it’s a richer experience than traditional status updates. I suspect the Facebook black box algorithm doesn’t encourage its use. I might posit that it’s not encouraged as unlike most Facebook functionality, hyperlinks in notes on desktop browsers physically take one out of the Facebook experience and into new windows!

A part of the focus on hyperlinks is an emphasis on organising around canonical links. As Doug Belshaw explains:

Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others. This allows ideas to build upon one another in a ‘slow hunch’ fashion. Likewise, with documents and other digital artefacts, publish and then share rather than deal with version control issues by sending the document itself.

Another approach is a federated system, such as Mike Caulfield’s Wikity theme.

Bookmarked Communities or networks? – Matthew Esterman – Medium by Matthew Esterman (Medium)

The most useful network or community is the one you can build with your immediate team and colleagues in your school. They’re in the context and in the ‘know’. They’re accountable with you and they know the support structures — especially if it’s them — and can act on them. If you don’t feel you’re getting that support, find a mentor outside the context and learn to build relationships within. We need to be an active participant in those networks we choose to belong.

Matt Esterman reflects on the place of associations. Beyond reviewing our assumed attendances to such communities, Esterman recommends forming local networks. I have tried this in the past. The challenge I found with ‘local’ is catching up and being proactive.
Bookmarked Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read (The Atlantic)

To me, it doesn’t seem like narcissism to remember life’s seasons by the art that filled them—the spring of romance novels, the winter of true crime. But it’s true enough that if you consume culture in the hopes of building a mental library that can be referred to at any time, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Books, shows, movies, and songs aren’t files we upload to our brains—they’re part of the tapestry of life, woven in with everything else. From a distance, it may become harder to see a single thread clearly, but it’s still in there.

Julie Beck discusses reading and suggests that unless we do something with it within 24-hours then it often disappears. Associated with this, she recommends reading more slowly if we are to take them in. This builds on Ryan Halliday’s point to do something with what you read. I am also left wondering about the connections with digital literacies to support this.
Bookmarked PISA-shock: how we are sold the idea our PISA rankings are shocking and the damage it is doing to schooling in Australia by an author (EduResearch Matters)

The PISA-shock type media coverage has huge policy effects. Governments make decisions that have lasting fallout on our education systems as a result of this coverage. However the deep inequities of performance based on socio-economic background that show up in detailed PISA results and the differences between the jurisdictional schooling systems is where the media should be shining the spotlight. This is where the real story of what is happening in school education in Australia can be uncovered. This is where policy makers should be searching for policy changing data.

Aspa Baroutsis and Bob Lingard provide a summary of their analysis of the PISA reporting in the media and the subsequent ‘shock’ that it induced. This provides a good starting point in understanding some of the challenges assocaited with PISA. For extended response, read Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski’s book, The Global Education Race, Taking the Measure of PISA and International Testing.
Bookmarked The Dark Arts of Our Agents of Change (Modern Learners)

When we talk about school change, we usually refer to changeleaders, but by far the largest number of change influencers are the global tribe of curious, somewhat subversive teachers who are committed to school being a better place for their students. They are our agents of change.

Bruce Dixon reflects on the role of teachers as change agents. He identifies four tactics used:

  • Focus on learning, not on change.
  • Focus on the ‘why’ not the ‘how.’
  • See change as a journey, not a blueprint.
  • Share ideas by taking down walls not building fences.
  • Know the importance of  ‘winning the war,’ not fighting battles.

This reminds me in part of Will Richardson’s keynote for TL21C a few years ago. There Will argued for 10% at a time.

Bookmarked Fake news has a long history. Beware the state being keeper of ‘the truth’ | Kenan Malik by Kenan Malik (the Guardian)

Tempting as it is to legislate against manipulated ‘facts’, it both misguided and dangerous

It would seem that many states are trying to clamp down on the problem of ‘fake News’. Kenan Malik explains that not only is this not a new problem, but the solution does not involve the state, rather it involves trust:

There is another change, too. In the past, those with power manipulated facts so as to present lies as truth. Today, lies are often accepted as truth because the very notion of truth is fragmenting. “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I believe” or: “This is what I think should be true”. On issues from Brexit to same-sex marriage, all sides cling to their view as the truth, refusing to engage with “alternate” views. As Donald Trump has so ably demonstrated, the cry of “fake news” has become a way of dismissing inconvenient truths. And from China to the Philippines, repressive regimes use the charge of “fake news” to impose censorship and crush dissent.

This is why Mike Caulfield’s work is so important. Rather than pushing solutions onto citizens, we need to build the capacity of people to dig further.

Bookmarked Facebook has a Big Tobacco Problem (mondaynote.com)

Facebook’s problems are more than a temporary bad PR issue. Its behavior contributes to a growing negative view of the entire tech industry.

Frederic Filloux compares the current situation with Facebook to the collapse of the tobacco industry in the 90’s. The first comparison is the denial of intent:

Facebook never sought to be the vector of in-depth knowledge for its users, or a mind-opener to a holistic view of the world. Quite the opposite. It encouraged everyone (news publishers for instance) to produce and distribute the shallowest possible content, loaded with cheap emotion, to stimulate sharing. It fostered the development of cognitive Petri dishes in which people are guarded against any adverse opinion or viewpoint, locking users in an endless feedback loop that has become harmful to democracy. Facebook knew precisely what it was building: a novel social system based on raw impulse, designed to feed an advertising monster that even took advantage of racism and social selectiveness

The other comparison is with Facebooks intrusion into the third world:

As in the 1990’s, when Big Tobacco felt its home market dwindling, the companies decided to stimulate smoking in the Third World. Facebook’s tactics are reminiscence of that. Today, it subsidizes connectivity in the developing world, offering attractive deals to telecoms in Asia and Africa, in exchange for making FB the main gateway to the internet. In India, Facebook went a bit too far with Free Basic, an ill-fated attempt to corner the internet by providing a free or nearly free data plan. Having some experience with Western colonialism, the Indian government rejected the deal.

More information to add to the discussion regarding sharecropping and Facebook.

Bookmarked The cost of reporting while female (Columbia Journalism Review)

Over the course of nearly 200 years, female journalists have been under threat because of their gender, race, beat, views, and coverage.

Anne Helen Petersen documents a number of examples where women have been threatened while working as journalists. This includes a series of historical cases. This reminded me of Lindy West’s confrontation of troll and why he chose to do what he did. I am always left wondering what the answer is, sometimes fearing that such thinking creates more problems than solutions. Maybe there is something in Sherri Spelic’s suggestion to ‘think small’:

Sometimes it pays off to think small. Think next door, down the hall, at the next meeting. Act large in small spaces. Notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Practice not knowing and being curious. Be kind. Welcome warmly and mean it.

via Audrey Watters newsletter

Bookmarked The offloading ape: the human is the beast that automates – Antone Martinho-Truswell | Aeon Essays (Aeon)

It’s not tools, culture or communication that make humans unique but our knack for offloading dirty work onto machines

Antone Martinho-Truswell looks into the differences between humans and animals, suggesting that what stands us apart is cognitive and physical automation.

There are two ways to give tools independence from a human, I’d suggest. For anything we want to accomplish, we must produce both the physical forces necessary to effect the action, and also guide it with some level of mental control. Some actions (eg, needlepoint) require very fine-grained mental control, while others (eg, hauling a cart) require very little mental effort but enormous amounts of physical energy. Some of our goals are even entirely mental, such as remembering a birthday. It follows that there are two kinds of automation: those that are energetically independent, requiring human guidance but not much human muscle power (eg, driving a car), and those that are also independent of human mental input (eg, the self-driving car). Both are examples of offloading our labour, physical or mental, and both are far older than one might first suppose.

Although it can be misconstrued as making us stupid, the intent of automation is complexity:

The goal of automation and exportation is not shiftless inaction, but complexity. As a species, we have built cities and crafted stories, developed cultures and formulated laws, probed the recesses of science, and are attempting to explore the stars. This is not because our brain itself is uniquely superior – its evolutionary and functional similarity to other intelligent species is striking – but because our unique trait is to supplement our bodies and brains with layer upon layer of external assistance.

My question is whether some automation today is actually intended to be stupid or too convenient as a means of control. This touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s warning ‘program or be programmed. I therefore wonder what the balance is between automation and manually completing various tasks in order to create more complexity.