The coverage of Elon Musk’s companies is almost always coverage of Elon Musk. That’s how he wants it, of course. Journalists, as mythmakers, seem happy to oblige.
Amazon’s the sleeper to watch. It’s the one I think is increasingly shaping how we think about learning and how we think about work – and central to both in the American ideology, of course – how we think about consumption. The company has made a few gestures at “the education space.” It’s acquired math worksheet company. It’s launched Amazon Inspire – what it calls “an open collaboration service” (or more accurately, a site where educators can find and download and probably some day buy digital lessons and resources). Amazon also remains the go-to site for purchasing textbooks online. And ed-tech evangelists, as they’re wont to do, continue to write silly things about Alexa and the future of the “voice-activated classroom”
The problems of technology – and the problems of the storytelling about the computing industry today, which seems to regularly turn to the worst science fiction for inspiration – is bound up in all this. There’s a strong desire to create, crown, and laud the Hero – a tendency that’s going to end pretty badly if we don’t start thinking about care and community (and carrier bags) and dial back this wretched fascination with weapons, destruction, and disruption.
Instead of experts, Zuckerberg says, it’s going to be up to “the community.” This disdain for experts is part of the problem we face now – culturally, politically, intellectually. There are researchers whose field of study is precisely this: how do people assess the credibility of information sources? How do technologies shape our notion of trust? How is trust gained, and how is trust violated? How is trust gamed? But why listen to experts when Facebook’s CEO can just get the engineers down the hall to cobble together some poll, and then tell the users this is what they wanted all along. Personalization.
Audrey Watters highlights yet another poor decision from Facebook to ignore experts in order to garners more ‘likes’ and supposed trust.
The Friendly Orange Glow is a history of PLATO – one that has long deserved to be told and that Dear does with meticulous care and detail. (The book was some three decades in the making.) But it’s also a history of why, following Sputnik, the US government came to fund educational computing. Its also – in between the lines, if you will – a history of why the locus of computing and educational computing specifically shifted to places like MIT, Xerox PARC, Stanford. The answer is not “because the technology was better” – not entirely. The answer has to do in part with funding – what changed when these educational computing efforts were no longer backed by federal money and part of Cold War era research but by venture capital. (Spoiler alert: it changes the timeline. It changes the culture. It changes the mission. It changes the technology.) And the answer has everything to do with power and ideology – with dogma.
I was supposed to speak to a reporter today about iPhones and addiction, but the interview fell through. I jotted down some of my thoughts in preparation for the call, and I thought I’d post them here in case it’s a topic I decide to return to and flesh out more in the future…