Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

No, not the album by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I’m a tad too old for that.

Instead, it’s about this. A 1949 album, “an audible anthology of modern poetry read by its creators”, edited by someone called Lloyd Frankenberg. And the album is a Long Playing Microgroove Record, the first I’ve bought in twenty years.

Amazing stuff. Readings by TS Eliot, Marianne Moore, ee cummings, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, WH Auden, Dylan Thomas, Eliazabeth Bishop.

  • Never knew such an album existed.
  • Never thought I’d ever hear the voices of some of these giants of my youth.
  • Never dreamt I would be able to acquire such a collection.
  • Particularly an album with ink autographs of some of the poets.
  • And none of this would have been remotely possible except for the web and for trust and for humanity.
  • Without collaborative filtering on some other purchase I would not have known of the album’s existence. Period.
  • The seller preferred to deal locally, having been burnt by international would-be buyers before. Without my PayPal and eBay credentials, and without my Google visibility (this he only told me about later) he would not have sold it to me.
  • Without my innate belief in humanity, and without my trust experience with eBay and PayPal, I would not have paid the pretty penny it took.

But. It’s in my hands. And Barry’s happy; Paypal’s happy; eBay’s happy. And I am happy.

And I am even happier that all 8 poets had Wikipedia entries.


Judy Breck and Open Content

Some of you may have read my earlier post on Michael Schrage’s recent article in the Financial Times, pointing out some of the pitfalls associated with computers in classrooms. Some of you may even have seen Clarence Fisher’s almost-angry but later calmer response, a reaction similar to mine.

Why did we respond initially that way? Because of the number of people who keep damning the use of technology in education with faint praise, I guess. Because of the wasted opportunities.

So it was a good day to come home and find Judy Breck’s “109 Ideas for Virtual Learning” waiting for me. Delightful book, one that any and every one interested in 21st century education should read.

Here’s an excerpt from JSB’s foreword:

Let me dwell a moment on this powerful metaphor, an ecology of learning, founded not just on the vast information now readily accessible on the Internet but also the tools that amplify the social aspects of learning — learning in communities, learning with amateurs interacting with professionals, learning as a constantly expanding exploration of ideas.

Emphasis mine. JSB also makes the point about learning-to-be rather than learning-about, as a result of the feedback loops and social networks and participatory process. Brings to mind an old Maths professor of mine, who used to chide us regularly saying “All you do is commit to memory and vomit to paper“. Sounds better with his accent, where he made commit and vomit rhyme just fine.

I quote from Judy:

That transforming idea for education is this: The network, patterning structure of what a mind can know is mirrored in the network, patterning structure of the open Internet.

Powerful stuff. But my first-time around favourites are in ideas 8, 80 and 42. Why only open content will endure. Why open content is a bargain. And The Grand Idea.

I particularly like how Judy approaches the walled-garden problem from an educationist’s perspective. Here’s what she says on page 30:

“It will not work out to have open and closed content in parallel because knowledge itself is connected and that connectivity is dynamic. Only open content will endure because closed pieces of content are excluded from the dynamics.”

And then she goes on to say:

“A knowledge asset closed and isolated in a single website may be an expensive animation of a scientific principle, an erudite essay by a field-leading professor, or a rights-protected journal article. Many of these kinds of assets exist in the closed sections of the Internet. The knowledge quality of what these assets contain may be absolutely first-rate.”

“Even the highest quality isolated assets are a cut below open content because they are isolated from the larger context of their subject.”

Wow. Just go buy the book. Now.

Open content is not about tree-hugging tax-avoiding music-pirating downright UnAmerican activities. Open content is about learning and discovery and magic and our children and Judy’s Golden Age.



Couched in our indifference

….Like shells upon the shore

You can hear the ocean roar

In the Dangling Conversation

And the superficial lives

The borders of our lives……Simon and Garfunkel, The Dangling Conversation


Doesn’t that describe everything a blog shouldn’t be?

The words “You can hear the ocean roar” came zooming into my head when I read Malc’s Steve Wozniak telephone story. An absolute hoot.

Four Pillars: Identity: Please flame this post

There continues to be movement in the microformats meets identity space. Doc Searls’s IT Garage recently had a piece on MicroID; comments and conversations took me to Claimid as well; so the space which I always associate with Subterranean Homesick Hardt is beginning to get busier.

As with search and with syndication, we can get as technical about it as we want, and there are many places you can go to for the technical bits. Not here, I’m afraid. I still want to get through some first-principle thoughts, get some things clear in my head. Part of why I blog is to articulate nascent thoughts and opensource them in order to improve them.
Apologies if all this sounds like going over someone else’s well-trodden ground; it is exactly that; but I have found that many of these debates founder on semantics and terminology and definitions, and as a result I prefer a first-things-first approach. Please feel free to criticise or trash it. [In fact I would expect this post to attract more flames than any other I’ve done -) ]
The identity debate seems to encompass many disparate things, either directly or indirectly, so I’m going to just list them to begin with:

  • Ecce Homo: A means of identifying who I am, with some other relatively static data, eminently suitable for “microformat” treatment, and probably needing to be combined with some other way of confirming who I am, “two-factor authentication”. Like having a card and a PIN or signature. This is as permanent as can be, a metaphorical passport or fingerprint or iris pattern or whatever. This probably includes all the numerical tags I collect like frequent flyer and affinity memberships. It can include my credit cards and accounts. It is the same regardless of the specific relational or transactional conversation I happen to be in. My gut feel is that each person should have only one of these, and that it should be “small but perfectly formed”. And that it has to exist and be verifiable in a dotorg state.
  • Letters of Intent: A means of letting people know about my intentions, what I’m interested in or looking for. I make known my preferences and interests. Some of them are temporary, some of them are permanent. I choose who I want to tell. As in Doc looking for rental cars. As in my signalling to individuals in my social network that I will be within n miles of where they are at a given time. My information. Signalled to whom I want to. When and where I want to. Giving the listener an opportunity to converse with me and relate to me. Even things like last.fm are variants of this.
  • Tell them Phil sent ya: A way of associating other people’s perceptions of me with me, both qualitative as well as quantitative. This is trust that I can acquire but not control. Ratings I have, whether credit or eBay or college scores or whatever. Variable over time. Not suppressible by me. But challengeable by me, so that dispute or contention can be flagged. I may have many such ratings, used for different purposes, but inspectable at the behest of the requestor. And changed as a result of the conversation.
  • Trust me, I’m a doctor: A way of telling other people my own perception of me. Kitemarking my sites and blogs and articles and photos and quotes and whatever. Here what I am doing is endorsing stuff in the public domain about me, indicating (a) this came from me or (b) even though it does not come from me, I nevertheless approve it, I endorse it. This is like a great seal, a way of stamping that something is Orl Korrect. Or that Kilroy was Here.
  • My name is Bond, James Bond: A licence to do something. Granted by someone else. Usually not transferable. Usually not permanent either.
  • Come up and see my etchings: My choosing to expose things I have done, expired and executed letters of intent. Pictures of my activity with others. Kiss-and-tell. My information. My choice as to whom I share it with. And I can make this choice single-use or temporary or permanent. Probably even includes financial transactions and medical history.

These things by themselves are not complicated. They become complicated when people try to lock you in, to their walled gardens, their products, their platforms, their parlours. Everything here is a key to something.

And the tendency of the walled-gardeners is to force these keys to behave as if they were physical. And we need to move into the 21st century and push back. Hard. Like we had to push back on being able to choose our PINs and change them. Like we had to push back on being able to keep our phone numbers regardless of carrier or provider. Can you imagine a mail provider telling you that you couldn’t redirect mail either from or to the mail account they provide to you?

And intuitively (I may be completely wrong here) I think that the trick is to keep each of these pieces small and loosely joined a la Weinberger meets Hardt meets Sifry while Searls referees. As soon as we try to architect a humongous reference model we lose, because it’s a bit like industry standards bodies. Before you know it they get packed with people who have different agendas and the time and energy to deflect you ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

I’m also hunching that we need to prevent anyone owning this. That this whole space has to be opensource. Otherwise it will become a corrupt core.

Everything we believe is possible in terms of collaboration and co-creation and innovation at the edge, everything in my four pillars,  needs this problem to be solved.

Keep computers out of the classroom?

I look for situations where someone I like and trust has a radically different view from me on any particular subject. Because I think I can learn from it.

Here’s a recent example. Michael Schrage, someone I’ve never met, but whose works I have enjoyed reading, wrote recently in the Financial Times: The “edutainers” merit a failing grade. Now this is a guy who wrote Serious Play, a researcher in innovation at MIT, someone who has been active at all levels of education for a quarter of a century.

So I take notice. He says “What better way to breed cognitively spoilt children than sparkly tools that cater to their impatience and short attention spans?” He goes on to say “Classroom computing offers less of a bold vision than a cowardly cheat by technocrats counting on technical innovation to shield themselves from hard questions about what schools should be.”

I believe he makes three important points.

  • One, misguided early adoption could have resulted in painful write-offs: a timing issue
  • Two,  most educational software has nothing to do with cultivating character: a process issue
  • Three, technology could be used as a medium to redefine relationships between schools and communities creatively

I agree with all three points. I also agree with him that we shouldn’t make the hyperactive short-attention-span problem worse.

I infer from his article that he does not believe in Taylorist assembly-line cookie cutter approaches to  education, and that we should celebrate the rich diversity present in student humanity. My words, not his. And I agree wholeheartedly.
But despite all these agreements, I believe there is room for computers in the classroom and in the school. For the social aspect of education, for cooking-pot approaches to learning. Blogs and wikis. Networks of networks. Letting our children do things we wouldn’t have dreamt of. Let them have their magic and wonder, and let us do everything we can to protect them from hypnos and mesmer.
I guess what I’m trying to say, Michael, is I agree with pretty much everything you say about this subject bar the use of social software. In fact I think it is imperative that social software is used to reconnect the child to the teacher and the school and the community. It’s not about gadgets and glitz. It’s about connectedness and belonging and sharing and bonding. That’s what we need in schools so that learning can take place.