It is mind-boggling — MIND-BOGGLING — that folks want to argue that the value of a technology company has little to do with its accrual of data. The argument for the past decade has been “data is the new oil” — its extraction and analysis necessary for predictions and profit. Now data is the new nothing-burger, I guess.
In the case of plagiarism detection and automated essay grading software, it’s not a future that values students’ thinking and students’ voices. It’s not one that, even as Google tries to rebrand its new product, encourages “original thinking.” Rather it’s a future where students will be compelled to conform to the rules of the machine — rules we know are deeply biased, based on extraction and profiteering and information imbalances that have put democracy at risk.
I’m not sure what ISTE gains by buying Edsurge, to be honest. Edsurge, for its part, gains a lifeline. Despite years and years of losing millions and millions, the publication won’t go away. Not yet at least. There’s more, some seem to believe, to squeeze out of the brand. Apparently the ed-tech industry — and ISTE is certainly part of that industry, despite being a non-profit — has determined that its storytelling function is too valuable to go away. Or perhaps it’s just cheaper for the industry to fund one marketing vehicle rather than two. And that’s an interesting determination, considering all the pronouncements that finally! the ed-tech “revolution” has arrived.
Ed-tech is “grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance.” But let’s be clear: this grooming is happening at school, and it’s also happening at home.
- “Gaggle Knows Everything About Teens And Kids In School” by Caroline Haskins
- “Your Dumb Tweets Are Getting Flagged To People Trying To Stop School Shootings” by Lam Thuy Vo and Peter Aldhous
- “School apps track students from the classroom to bathroom, and parents are struggling to keep up” by Heather Kelly
- “Ring watched your kids trick or treat and then bragged about it” by Rachel Kraus
- “The Porch Pirate of Potrero Hill Can’t Believe It Came to This” by Lauren Smiley
It’s not simply that the Silicon Valley positivity machine only rewards positive ideas. (“We build things,” someone once told me. “You just tear things down.”) Without a grounding in theory or knowledge or ethics or care, the Silicon Valley machine rewards stupid and dangerous ideas, propping up and propped up by ridiculous, self-serving men. There won’t ever be a reckoning if we’re nice.
Anthony Burgess’s novel — a novel about a violent youth subculture, sure, but also one about behavioral modification — was published in 1962, a year after B. F. Skinner published his book The Analysis of Behavior, as well as his article “Teaching Machines.” The Stanley Kubrick film came out in 1971, the same year Skinner published Beyond Freedom and Dignity. (It’s odd, I find, when people today believe that behaviorism is wrong because it doesn’t work.)
I’ve seen Epstein described elsewhere as a “stool pigeon,” tasked with ratting out other billionaire pedophiles as part of a deal he struck (or hopes to strike) with the government. It seems to me there are several stool pigeons here among his science cronies too, especially those who set out some decoy version of “intelligence” — dare I say “artificial intelligence” — hoping we don’t sense the danger or notice that their eyes and minds and hearts are sewn shut.
Engineering is a social production not merely a scientific or technological one. And educational engineering is not just a profession; it is an explicitly commercial endeavor. For engineers, as historian David Noble has pointed out, are not only “the foremost agents of modern technology,” but also “the agents of corporate capital.”
“Learning engineers,” largely untethered from history and purposefully severed from the kind of commitment to democratic practices urged by Dewey, are now poised to be the agents of surveillance capital.
Technologists suck at predicting the future. They suck because they don’t understand the past; they’re blind to much of the present. They’re terrible at predicting the future because they fail to grasp the systems and practices surrounding their products, firm in their faith instead that their own genius (and their investors’ continued support) will be enough to muddle forward.
Ed-tech relies on amnesia.
Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs.
“Those who ignore the past are destined to be in Wired Magazine” — George Santayana probably
Remember: the lack of communication does not just mean a failure to speak; it is also a failure to listen, to not give our attention to (and to distract others’ attention from) the things that we really must.
I am so fed up with Twitter. I have been for years now, no doubt. But it’s hard, as a self-employed writer, to ditch the site altogether. I use it to promote my work. (I’ll post a link to this newsletter there as soon as I hit “publish.”) And I find news and other writers’ stories there too – things that I wouldn’t necessarily stumble upon, thanks in no small part to the demise of RSS. Nevertheless, due to changes this week to Twitter’s API – changes that mean my desktop Twitter client of choice, Tweetbot, no longer really works – it is unlikely I’ll be on the site much for the foreseeable future.
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.
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.