More Motorcycle Media

I picked up a magazine called Rider the other day.  It’s American, and written by an older crowd, but offers a less adrenaline driven and more wise look at the sport.  There were a couple of articles that pointed me toward some interesting motorbiking.

RIDER magazine

The first was about Hubert Kriegel’s 10 year epic ride around the world.  Hubert has been doing long distance adventure riding since the 1970s, and his Timeless Ride shows you just how active retirement could be.  That he doesn’t over plan his trips and encourages the use of something other than a massive BMW is also refreshing.  Like the best adventures, Hubert stresses that wanting to do it is all that really matters, the rest is just noise.

The follow up editorial by Clement Salvadori was a detailed list of the adventure riding books that might lead you to your first RTW trip.  Now he has me looking for old, hard to find books such as Around The World With Motorcycle & Camera by Eitel & Rolf Lange, a father son duo who did it back in the 1950s on a old German bike with sidecar.  He also mentioned Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels, which I first heard of while watching Long Way Round.

I also recently came across Mondo Enduro, an epic, low budget ’round the worlder by a group led by a teacher!  It’s much less a star struck thing than Long Way Round, but very genuine and a joy to watch.  I can see why it has cult status amongst RTWers.

Clements also mentioned a number of pre-war attempts to circle the globe. Greg Frazier’s Motorcycle Adventurer tells the story of Carl Clancy who made an attempt in 1925.  He also mentions Bernd Tesch who is trying to create a listing of RTW trips on motorbike.  It appears that ’round the world motorbike trips are a vibrant, world wide subculture.  Other pre-WWII books of interest are Nansen Passport: Round The World on a Motorcycle, by a white Russian fleeing the revolution, One Man Caravan, a mid-thirties American’s Long Way Round from London to New York City, and the eight year epic journey by a pair of Hungarians in Around The World On A Motorcycle: 1928-1936.

Curse you designers!

Rider Magazine also pitched some interesting theory on design trends.  I hate it when I’m pigeon holed into a market segment (I’m Gen-X, we’re like that), but they were bang on in describing how designers are aiming for post-boomers with less chromey, blinged out touring bikes.  I hate to admit it but Honda’s getting it right with the new Goldwing – I never thought I’d say that.

I think I’ll give Rider another go before I commit.  Many of the rides were American based, which is a bit tedious, especially when I think about the Adventure Bike Rider UK magazine I stumbled across a month or so ago.  Only one of their road trips were based in the British Isles, the rest took me everywhere from Beirut to Greece to South America, but then they don’t think they are the world.   If it weren’t so expensive to buy a UK magazine in Canada, I’d go for Adventure Bike Rider immediately.  They do offer a digital edition.  I might give that a go, but for a digital guy, I’m pretty paper bound when it comes to magazines (reading tablets in the bath gives me the willies).

No matter what, it’s nice to know that there are thoughtful, quirky publications about motorcycling out there, it’s not all about how much leather you can wear on your Harley or how long a wheelie you can pull.

Watching The Sun Rise: Reflections on life and teaching in 2012/13

Stephen Hurley at VoicEd asked for a reflection as the year ends, so I’ll give it a whirl.  This is going to be tricky to do without spiraling into Nietzsche’s abyss.

This past school year started with the worst summer of my adult life.  I’m still recovering from my mother’s suicide and I probably shouldn’t have resumed teaching in the fall, but I did out of shear stubbornness.  Rather than trying to deal with this nightmare in a quiet year I got to do it during one of the most turbulent political periods in Ontario education.  You need only look over Dusty World in the fall to see the white water political ride education in general and my board in particular went through.

In a few short weeks, as OSSTF swung from a confrontational stance with the Liberal government that I supported by volunteering on our district executive and attending many rallies, I found myself suddenly muzzled by an organization that I realized I have very little in common with.  Rather than standing up for what is right, they would rather do what is expedient.  I’ve never been good at bending a knee to bullying, even if it does serve a political end.  It’s half a year later and our OLRB complaint against OSSTF for misrepresentation is still awaiting an outcome.  Being an idealist I find this very upsetting.  It seems any organization is politically self interested before it can stand for anything else.

It’s easy to forget that teachers are people, and the job is a deeply personal one.  This past year has had a number of strange confluences both personal and professional for me.  As my school and board tried to leverage the suicide of Amanda Todd to address bullying I couldn’t help but feel that this was manipulating misery for some kind of administrative end.  The contrite, ‘suicide is bad, don’t bully someone into it’ struck me as simplistic.  That cyber-bullying got selected by the media as the cause of her suicide (which a number of anti-technology teachers immediately trumpeted as proof that we should back off on it) was doubly frustrating.  That Amanda, like my mother, suffered from years of mental illness tends to be ignored because dealing with something as complicated as mental illness is more than most organizations, no matter how well intentioned, are willing or able to do.  That provincial and federal governments have basically bowed out of caring for the mentally ill has put a great deal of stress on already over stressed families.  If we’re going to address mental illness it better not be on a poster stuck up in a high school.  This trivializes a very complex issue.  Suicide is never a simple result of bullying, it’s the most profound, existential decision you’re ever going to make.  It deserves more than a soundbite.

Between the fractured politics in education and my own personal baggage 2012/13 has been a difficult year to manage.  As the storm subsided and we began our two years of government mandated contract, the school trundled on and extracurriculars resumed, kind of.  In a subdued second semester I began to get some closure with my Mum and tried to find ways to get back on my feet again.  The first semester was like watching a horse with a broken leg that didn’t have the sense to lay down.  At the end of second semester I’m able to stand without it hurting so much.

With some perspective on a year that felt like nastiness was crowding in all around me, I’m able to see the good that happened too.  My wonderful wife has done backflips to help me through this, all while battling the same political nonsense and working on her Masters.  My spectacular son continues to astonish me with how deep he is getting, even as the education system continues to wring its hands over how not-normal he is.  I got a new principal who knows what she’s doing and who appreciates the work I do.  I’ve been able to develop my professional interests both as a department head, teacher and online PLN presence.  My board has been developing a real 21st Century presence in educational technology and I feel like I’ve played an important part in arguing for that.  The year has been very professionally satisfying, if you ignore the Ministry, the union and the media… which is probably good advice.

Even with a nasty political infection, education in Ontario has been able to produce outstanding results, and I’ve been able to develop my professional self in satisfying and challenging ways.  No year is ever going to be without challenges, and the challenges of this year have been mighty, but that I’m able to find intense intellectual satisfaction in my profession is a great help when dealing with all the slings and arrows life can throw your way.

Fear & Arrogance

Quote from Bull Durham

The industrial mindset around education tends to look away from this approach to learning, but there is something to be said for bravery in the face of overwhelming odds; it’s a true commitment to what you’re learning.  Of course, if you’re going to learn something like it matters then failure should be an expectation if anything other than competence is demonstrated.  In a school system that prides itself on stats it generates about itself, this kind of without-a-net learning doesn’t happen.

When I say true commitment I mean a willingness to put your learning to the test (and I don’t mean a standardized test).  There is a reflective aspect to learning that we tend to ignore in education.    We like to say we’re looking at meta-cognition and self-aware learning, but only without questioning the context we frame it with.  Unless a student is considering the school system in which they find themselves complete with all its financially forced lunacy, the metacognition they are asked to endure in class is little more than another attempt to pretend rows of desks and student numbers are the ideal.  In that environment the student who shrugs and walks out of class in order to truly test themselves in a trade or other real pursuit is the only one answering the metacognitive question correctly.

Learning without concrete, relevant feedback is empty, pointless.  The type of feedback students get in school tends to be abstract to the point of emptiness.  We then wonder why their poor grades don’t motivate them to try harder to get better abstract numbers, and then teachers agonize over how to ‘engage’ them.

When I first started to teach in Japan I tried to understand why my classes were so different even though the lessons were the same.  In looking at my learners I realized that some were intrinsically motivated and some extrinsically motivated.  The doctor who came in to work on their presentation to have their work shared in an international conference?  Those classes were stellar.  The employees who were required by management to upgrade their English?  Tedious.  Intrinsically motivated learners are a joy to teach though also a great challenge because of how voracious they are.  When we create an education system we iron out intrinsic motivation in favour of standardized, extrinsic motivations (grades, standardized test scores, report cards).  Any fear or arrogance in daring to explore and expand beyond our comfort zone is stamped out in favour of standardized assessment.

I’ve been learning the art and science of motorbike riding over the last couple of months.  I can’t think of an activity that requires a greater commitment (except perhaps tight rope walking).  The learning process for this activity is ruthless and demanding.  I don’t get days off or time to relax when I’m working on my craft.  I don’t have someone constantly correcting my behavior to keep me on task.  And it hurts doing it, let alone if I do it poorly.  What got me on a bike in the first place?  Fear and arrogance; the chance to do something difficult well.  Thinking that I could learn this thing with grace and skill was a dare I’ve always wanted to take.  That I want to be successful in something I’ve seen kill other people is perverse and satisfying.

We don’t like students to learn things that are challenging to them, we like them to all do the same thing on a bell curve.  We process them as statistics that we can then manage.  If you’ve ever tried to submit a class of all failures or all perfects you know this to be true; they want a bell curve of grades with a median in the Bs.  Student centred learning tries to put an individualized face on this, but the assessment rubric will quickly bring it back in line again.  It’s unreasonable to expect a teacher to individualize learning for thirty people, but if we’re going to run this like an assembly line we can’t bemoan the loss of individual learning.

The real trick with learning is to want to do it.  Once you’re there and you have a deeply seated need to figure out what it is you want master, you can begin to develop those skills.  In addition to fear and arrogance (two methods of not being daunted by learning a challenging skill), you should also embrace patience and a willingness to laugh at your failures without ignoring them.  With a flexible, resilient approach to learning in place you are sure to succeed at your craft, though not always in ways you may have imagined.

Mastery takes longer, but this’ll get you over the steep bit
at the beginning of the learning curve

I stumbled across the chart on the right a few weeks ago on Google+.  Whenever I hear someone say, “I wish I could draw”, or, “I wish I could code”, or any other longed for learning you care to name, I think back to this chart and wonder why they never spent the time if they wanted it that badly; they obviously never wanted it that badly.  Learning isn’t magic and teaching isn’t a dark art.  The learner has to recognize the value of the learning and have an emotional need to achieve it.  The teacher has already walked that path to expertise and cultivates that love of the material by challenging the student to achieve that which is barely within their reach.  Their expertise allows them to dare the student to appropriate challenges.  Learning is a visceral, thrilling self-driven, emotional experience, not a pedantic, systemic process to be forced on rows of victims.

These moments of learning greatness where students reach for more than they should and see success (and failure) happen in schools all the time, but they are usually the result of a good teacher trying to protect students from systemic processing.  They also tend to happen in stochastic learning or extracurriculars more than the ordered learning of the class room.  In the kinetic action of arts, technology or physical education students still have the freedom of unregimented, hands on learning toward less specific ends. That stochastic space allows them room to attempt greatness, to bypass the routine learning and realize a eureka moment.  Formal classroom education irons that out with curriculum, formalized assessment and systemic teaching practice.  The freedom still evident in stochastic learning tends to unnerve the professional student and educational administrator, both of whom have learned to play the game of Education rather than simply encourage people do what they are naturally predisposed to do.  For the true apprentice hands on learning is the last bastion of real learning in our education system.  It may be the unspoken reason that killing extracurriculars in Ontario this year cut so deeply.  Only in sport and other physical activity can we appreciate the immediacy of failure and the joy of real success.  You can’t bell-curve reality.

All is not lost.  We could begin revising education towards learning rather than self serving statistics gathering.

Imagine an education system that didn’t work to generate its own self-serving statistics.  A school system that was focused on developing an environment in which students were able to develop a deep, intrinsic love of learning, where no extrinsic motivation existed to force them into a mold of grades and average expectations.  Failure in this system could be brutal and obvious, but students would be encouraged to attack their learning with fear and arrogance (and patience and humor) knowing that they would never be demeaned for failing but only for ignoring their failures.

Weather

I’ve been careful to ride with the weather so far.  When I could have taken a big risk and crossed Toronto in thunder showers, I didn’t.  I guess this is what comes of being in your forties and starting to ride; twenty year old me would have been off into the lightning with no experience in the rain or four hundred series highways, through Toronto.  There is something to be said about risk taking, but it’s something that happens more in your youth.

I’ve only got a 15 minute ride to work, so I tend to grab the bike whenever the weather is nice.  Last week on my way home I rode into some dark clouds which turned out to be hail.  At sixty kilometers per hour hail feels kind of like paintball strikes.  I got in behind the fairing and windshield and rode through a torrential downpour that left slush on the side of the road and the pavement drenched.  I also discovered that wind proof jackets aren’t waterproof  (I guess to help with breathing).  I got back to my driveway soaked and steaming as the sun came out complete with rainbow.

Taking it easy around a corner, the backend stepped out when I went into second.  It was easily tamed by easing off the gas, but boy do bike backends break free easily in the wet!

Whenever something like this happens I try to grok it as completely as I can.  I was amazed at how efficient my helmet was at keeping my visor clear, even in heavy precipitation.  Vision is much less of a problem than I thought it would be.

As I went back out to pick up my son about ten minutes later, the road had a layer of mist a foot deep as the sun burned the rain off.  I could smell the ozone as the storm hit, the vegetation as it got wet, the steam as it burned off the road.  Smell is one of the great things about riding.

Back home again, I spent ten minutes wiping off the bike and put it away as another storm rolled in.  A good first experience in the wet.

Damned Statistics & Digital Meta-cognitive Opportunities

Tweeting my mouth off
Education would rather  focus on arbitrary and fabricated data, like graduation rates.  It’s easy to increase graduation rates, just lower standards.  It has been working for Ontario Education for years now.  You barely have to even attend a class now to get a credit, and if you fail? A teacher not even qualified in the subject area will pass you along; we call that student success.  The grade eleven university level English paper with no less than three grammar and punctuation errors IN THE TITLE was an example I saw of this.  It was given a 78% by the credit recovery teacher grading it.  That failing student will now go on to university thinking that they are an ‘A’ student (they went from failing badly to 80%!).
There is another way.  Rather than chasing our own tails by trying to improve statistics that we create ourselves, why not start harnessing data that is actually useful and relevant to students beyond the context of education?  Digital technology offers us a fantastic and under utilized avenue for collecting meaningful data on student learning; data that might actually help them beyond the walled garden of education.

Rather than addressing the distraction caused by digital devices, we ignore them, or try to ban them.  Even at our best we only tentatively use digital tools, and when we do we ignore the data they could be providing on student activity.  Digital devices could shine a powerful light on student learning, instead we call them a distraction and let students abuse them into uselessness.  Effectively harnessing educational technology could give us granular, specific data about student activity in the classroom, yet we choose to wallow in darkness.  Really useful data-driven learning is only a decision away from implementation.

Education, like so many other sectors, has become increasingly interested in data driven management.  I don’t have anything against that on principal, in fact, I’d rather be managed according to logic and fact than the usual management ethos (egomania and paranoia).  Where we go wrong with data driven educational reform is where human beings are involved.  Education, more than most fields, prefers not to reveal its inner workings.  The choices made on what data to collect and how to present it usually revolve around a sense of self preservation rather than a focus on student success.  The only data we collect is data we can control for our own ends.
The intent of the education factory is to reduce something as complex as human learning down to a percentage.  That in itself is about the biggest abstraction you could devise, what Twain would call a statistic in the truest sense.  Those numbers are ultimately useless in anything other than education.  The only time in your life your grade will ever matter is if you’re transferring from one educational institution to another.  No will ever ask what your marks were once you’re out of school.  They don’t even ask teachers what their marks were before hiring them; even educators realize how meaningless grades are.
Instead of spending all our energy fabricating meaningless statistics in the form of grades, imagine harnessing all the data that flows through education technology and presenting it in a radically transparent reporting system that connects students to their lives after they graduate. That system would provide students with a powerful tool for metacognitive review around their own learning, and their use of digital tools.  Instead of reductive grades and empty comment banks, why not offer an insightful statistical analysis of how a student uses digital tools as they learn?  The tools themselves are eager to share this data, it is only educators who are stopping it.

A student who is shown, in specific detail, why they failed a course (but watched oh so many fascinating youtube videos), is being shown their own poor choices in stark detail.  One of the great joys I have in elearning is showing students their analytics.   When I get the, “I don’t understand this!” line, I ask for specifics, which usually gets me a, “I don’t get any of it!”  I can then pull up an analysis of what lessons the student has attempted.  The student who didn’t bother to actually even try any of the lessons gets wonderfully sheepish at this point.

With meaningful data on hand about their poor choices, education’s arbitrariness instead becomes a metacognitive opportunity to adjust learning habits; something we seem loath to do on digital tools, even as we criticize how students use them.

Collecting meaningful student data would allow us to connect the abstract world of education with what students will face on the other side of graduation, especially if we continue to collect data after they move on.  Ever wondered what high school courses are actually useful (and I don’t mean in graduating, I mean in finding work, being useful, living a good life)?  How about a live stat attached to each showing employablity based on course choice?  Think you’ll move over to applied level English because your friends are in there and you don’t like doing homework? Welcome to a 14% higher unemployment rate, and a 6% higher criminality rate!  Imagine what parents and students could do if this kind of data were available.  Realizing that there are real world consequences to your educational choices would do much to remove apathy and a lack of engagement on the part of students.  Education has very real consequences beyond school but we seem intent on trying to remove any obvious connection between education and the rest of a student’s life.  With open learning data we’d have way fewer students who have missed the starting gun.
Last year my school talked about creating a cosmetology program.  This would be a hugely expensive undertaking requiring changing the face of the school.  That was OK though because the board was willing to throw tens of thousands of dollars at an increase in graduation rates for at risk girls.  What would they do with it once they were out?  It made me want to start up a video game program, not because it would do anything helpful, but because it would fill sections.  We subvert usefulness in a desperate attempt to game graduation statistics.
I couldn’t help but think of the college computer engineering program I’d been to see a few months before.  They had a 100% placement rate for grads with starting pay well above the Canadian average, but they couldn’t find enough people interested in the field to run a full course each year.  They didn’t have any females in the course at all, and were desperately trying to get more women interested.  I can’t find enough kids in my high school to run more than one combined senior computer engineering course… in a field that all but guarantees a good job when you graduate and is about as future proof as you could wish.  I don’t imagine cosmeticians are walking into that kind of employment certainty at high rates of pay, but a future out of school isn’t what we’re aiming students at, we’re just concerned with graduating them.
It sounds harsh, but one of the reasons students are so disengaged from school is because they recognize the cognitive dissonance between the world beyond school and the fabricated reality we keep them in until they turn eighteen.  If you want students to engage in their educations provide them with metacognitive data that actually helps them.  Education has gone to greater and greater lengths to try and protect students from themselves and the ‘real’ world, all to chase fictional statistics.

Digitization in the classroom offers us access to meaningful data on student learning behaviour that was impossible even ten years ago.  Instead of being ignored and treated as a distraction, we should be harnessing digital technology and communicating that data.  A student who spends less than 10% of class time working on their project before failing it?  If that data were included in assessment, a student would have a metacognitive opportunity to understand the mechanics of their own failure.  They might then also begin to harness digital tools rather than being distracted by them.  Digitization shouldn’t be an escape from accountability, it should amplify it.

In such an environment, assessment might become something more than a damned statistic.

***

I didn’t even get into how this data could serve employment after school.  Detailed data on how students tackle work would be of great interest to employers.  Even the basics like attendance and ability to focus on work would be of more interest to employers than any grade.

Imagine an Ontario Student Record that offered employers an automated resume that included attendance and other useful details like ability to complete work in a timely fashion, group/team skills, communications and approach to new challenges.  Instead of hiding education behind a curtain of graduation, we could begin to make it immediately and obviously connected to future success.

GoProing

Nothing like a bit of media making on your ride.  This video is courtesy of a GoPro Hero electrical taped to the rear right passenger foot peg looking out over the back wheel.

The route is 60 kms through Elora, Arthur and Fergus.  It ended up being 51 minutes of footage, but I clipped it down to 12 minutes so it would fit on the youtubes.


The vehicle of choice is a 2007 Kawasaki 650R Ninja.

Here’s the video!  That GoPro takes mighty nice footage, even at higher speeds…


Running electrical tape over the camera 4 or 5 times kept it securely in place for the whole ride and came off afterward without leaving any tape marks.  Putting it on the right side passenger foot rest means it was just above the muffler, so you can hear the engine clearly and wind noise wasn’t too bad because it was behind the fairing and my leg.  Having it on the frame rather than the suspension means that it doesn’t bounce around as much as it otherwise would.

If I ever get some time on a race track, I’m totally taping a GoPro on for a few laps.

Influence Without Affluence

After a Social Media gathering a couple of weeks ago and a rewatch of We Are Legion I’ve been pondering what social expectations we’re developing in our new digital society.  Why would I do this?  Since our students are immersed in this radical, unprecedented counter culture it might behoove us as educators to have some idea of what cultural norms are coming out of it.  Recognizing what is normative online behavior goes some distance toward explaining the seemingly bizarre responses teachers are seeing in class.

If you think the buttoned down 1950s era teacher had trouble understanding the hippy counter culture student of the sixties, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  What technology is offering students today is nothing short of an entirely new social medium to inhabit, and what that is doing to early adopters (like teens) is nothing short of a paradigm shift in social behavior.

A number of years ago (2006!) WIRED did a quick piece on GENERATION XBOX, in which they talked about the expectations of gamer culture and how different they are from preceding (non digital) generations.  This short list hit the gaming ethos precisely: arrogant, hacking (competitive, results focused regardless of rules), insubordinate… sound like anyone in your classroom?  That gaming ethos has done a great deal to influence online presence.  The egalitarian nature of the gamer is clearly seen in internet cultures like Anonymous where there is a strong emphasis on your contribution rather than your social standing in the ‘real’ world.  What matters is what you say and how well you say it, not how much money your parents had or who you’re the boss of.

You might think this is socialist, but it really isn’t, it can be crushingly cruel and direct and has no patience for bullshit or spin.  Everyone isn’t equal, though everyone does have equal access and ability to contribute.  This ties organizations, especially politically powerful ones, in knots, especially when they expect the same kind of submission they can force in traditional media in an open digitized space.  I suspect it’s hitting a lot of people who are used to the benefits of their social circumstances hard.

If suddenly all of the benefits you had (race, socio-economic status, education, family) are ignored, how do you establish yourself as an alpha?  Especially when you’re used to having it handed to you.  In the last post I tried to push privacy and ownership of information as far as I logically could considering the near friction-less information we find online.

If you can’t own information because trying to hold it is impossible when it can be copied and spread with no real effort, and privacy is irrelevant because anyone can copy and paste your information, and almost everyone has a media recording device unimaginable 20 years ago and can capture you at any time regardless of whether you want to be seen or not, regardless of whether you yourself are online or not; how do we understand what is ours?  Ownership is at the foundation of how we relate to other people in society.  With no ability to own material and with information being so slippery we can’t regulate who sees it online, how do we establish social dominance?  If we can’t flash the car, the house, our jobs, or even our educations at people and expect benefits, what value do these things have?

The tendency would be to fall back on existing power structures, to try and exercise the same protections that advantage us in society in an online milieu, but this has been shown to fail again and again.  Digital information does not work in a personal context the way that social status does.  The only thing that makes you special is what you’re doing right now.  Your interaction is your credibility online.  If you try to game the system and people can find that data, they can make you look the fool.  If you are able to maintain an honest and insightful digital footprint, you come as close as you’re ever going to get to being untouchable in the Wild West of the internet.

Someone who puts Ph.D. after their name online is as likely to be made fun of as they are to be respected.  If that same person does not advertise their traditional social standing, but produces excellent ideas clearly   and accessibly through an understanding of the tools available, then they will gain online currency.  If the approach is one of indirect, politically motivated self interest, then the proliferation of digital information makes it very difficult to game the truth, or play people.  That email or DM where you instruct other people to do something that you wouldn’t want everyone to know?  It’ll end up buried in your back.  You can’t stop the signal.  If you’ve done it online, it’s obtainable.

I still maintain that radical transparency is what will evolve out of this startling social evolution.  Say what you mean and do what you say, be consistent and don’t be afraid.  If you make a mistake own it, and if you can’t handle what’s happening don’t advertise it by leaving a permanent record.  Lurking is a perfectly reasonable place to back away to online.

I suspect that many of our students lurk online because they are trying to parse the wild west that they see out there.  They don’t want to make fools of themselves, but they are also wrestling with what they know happens in the real world (you can get away with lying, deceit and social/political games quite easily in a world where information is ownable – especially if you’re the beneficiary of racial, social or cultural advantage).  Online the powers aren’t powers and the socially weak can suddenly become something else if they have the voice and the will to do it.

Being hacked may not be a bad thing if it keeps everyone honest.  The threat of hacking is what prevents many of the ‘real’ world powers from abusing the internet (that and it has insinuated itself into business and society to such a degree that pulling the plug would be a disaster).  Marx may not have taken down capitalism, but online society offers the kind of radical egalitarianism that wraps monopolistic capitalists in knots.

The other thing about this radically flat mediascape is that hierarchies that force group think tend to fail.  Rather than being threatened into following the crowd, you are free to disappear online.  You aren’t beholden to social context in the same way you are in the real world.  This means you can do things online you’d never do in ‘real’ life.  Like the guy who screams obscenities and gives the finger to others while driving who would never do the same thing while walking down the sidewalk; the person online is removed and empowered in an interesting way by the machines that isolate them from their social context.

I’ve enjoyed watching the dismantling of these assumptions in a number of large organizations.  I’ve been frustrated by others that claim democracy while really wanting to enforce an existing hierarchy.  Online society is the most radically democratic ideal we’ve ever created.  Access is cheaper and more available than citizenship in the first world (arguably the previous means of access to political control).  As we miniaturize and mobilize computing and billions more people come online and realize that they are not powerless in their societies (and that they belong to a larger, more pervasive and more powerful online society), the world will change, and the ones who will suffer are those that have benefited from history the most.

Privacy Never Existed & Ownership of Information Is Dead

What you do when you try to privatize,
own or control digital content in the C21st

When #ontsm considered how to introduce social media to students there was a lot of talk about walled gardens and safe places.  By creating private digital spaces students could become used to the nuances of online life in a tidal pool before they wandered out into the ocean.  It’s a nice idea.  It’s predicated on a myth.

The flaw in this thinking is that privacy exists, that it ever existed.  Anonymity is very difficult to maintain, it always has been.  This isn’t a digital issue.  A hundred years ago, people weren’t able to move about as easily as they do now.  You tended to exist in a much more colloquial and static social group.  Your town or village knew who you were because you were contextualized in it by your family, job, religion, culture and friends.  Modern cities barely existed at that point.  Industrialization and the machinery it produced gave us the  ability to migrate individually in the 20th Century, but even that came with a lot of social baggage.  If you were out alone on a motorcycle, you were socially classified, even if people didn’t know you personally. We do this all the time with race, socio-economic status, even accent; every time we stereotype we do it.  Privacy has always been a myth.  If anyone lays eyes on you who doesn’t know you, their impression of you is what you are socially.  Digital information makes a greater mockery of that myth by spreading us across the web, ignoring our geography.

Digital information is so fluid, so easy to create and share, that it is frictionless.  You don’t have to physically share a book to share text any more, you don’t have to physically share a DVD to share a video any more.  When information is a stream of data constantly flowing, ownership and privacy become impossible to manage in any traditional sense.

If you put student data into a digital format, your ‘privacy settings’ (an ode to the myth to make you feel better) are set to whomever is the viewer of your content with the least goodwill toward you and the least respect for your privacy.  This goes beyond the people you shared it with to anyone at all who can view your information.  Any attempts to ‘lock down’ (another backward looking term designed to make you feel better) digital information is easily bypassed by a screen capture or a cut and paste.

The digital is leaking into the physical world too.  If anyone sees or hears you doing anything, anywhere, at any time, and they have a smart phone on them, you are the push of a button away from being published.  Stupidity has never been so readily documented; see youtube for a billion examples.  If you think you’re ‘safe’  because you’re not doing something digitally, the ability to record and publish digitally makes your point moot.  Want to go back to report cards on paper?  It’s one photo away from being on Facebook.  Think you’re in private because you’ve closed the door to your classroom?  The kid videoing you without your knowing will have you on youtube in thirty seconds, and then copies of copies of copies spread across the web.

The idea of privacy might be a byproduct of industrialization – that machines can insulate us from our social context and offer us a kind of freedom people have never really had before.  We leapt into digital machines thinking they would further isolate us from each other and preserve the myth of privacy, but the slippery nature of digital information makes a mockery of the myths of privacy and ownership of information.

Revolutions and Dataspheres

When you can propagate information this easily and quickly, and exponentially like a virus, who owns it?  When we stumbleupon material intentionally author intent quickly becomes a secondary influence in media.  The viral nature of social media sharing pushes information in a way that used to be the job of publication.  It’s hard to even introduce traditional publishing into this environment.  This is such a chaotic, crowdsourced, place, the idea of a professional publisher (itself based on an industrialized limitation around the costs of printing to paper) becomes almost impossible to justify.  Editors give way to crowd wisdom and the results are often indistinguishable.  An argument might be made for professional publishing, but if crowd sourced material finds ways to approach the quality of traditional media, and ends up forcing it out of the market, what is left for the professional publisher?

Does the author’s intended audience matter?  That information takes on a life of its own.  Its audience is dictated by its accessibility and how effectively it hooks a viewer’s attention.  In a medium where people are buried in information, caprice replaces intent, information that captures curiosity is gold.

The shear volume of data in this wild-west is so overwhelming that it couldn’t possibly be managed by traditional (industrially designed, limited paper media driven) editorial systems.  Machines can try to self organize the data they present, and they are getting better and better at it, but crowd sourcing offers a way to keep a human touch in information flow.  It lacks the clarity of purpose of professional editorial work, but given enough time it often produces surprisingly similar results.  In fact, it often bypasses the political spin and self interest that traditional hierarchies have always put on the limited industrially defined information they claimed ownership over.  Democratization of information means it becomes free from manipulation by the former gatekeepers of it.

If you’re making content in this brave new world, don’t expect to own or even direct it, once it’s out, it may end up in unexpected places.  If you’re not making content, don’t worry, everyone one around you is, and it will end up where you don’t want it as well.  How do companies and individuals survive in this madness?  No one is really sure (I have a guess), but one thing is sure, it won’t be boring.

FOLLOW UP:
I was listening to CBC’s The Current today as they had Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas on talking about what is about to happen to the world.  Two billion people are online, another five billion are about to join them.  We’ve already seen the internet bypass governments and ferment revolution in the Middle East, and we’ve seen Western governments struggling with trying to keep control of information with wikileaks and other hactivism.  If you have a few minutes, listen to Cohen on The Current.  His ideas about where the world is going are radically transformative.  The only part I’d question is his assertion that Google is a force of nature in this process, rather than just the most successful parasite.

Corporate Shills

I keep saying that

This is one hot potato on a Sunday morning.  #ontsm trended nationally yesterday and attracted a lot of attention, which I suspect was the point.  The fact that the attention has a life of its own is probably a concern to people who are used to controlling the message.  Ironically, it’s trending again today, driven in large part by people who objected to it for various reasons.

I heard the term shill a couple of times this weekend.  It’s not a commonly used piece of language.  My favorite moment was when another one of the attendees (and one of the smartest guys I know) said, “yeah Tim, you gotta be careful we don’t turn into corporate shills.” He said it with a glint in his eye, knowing that we were all at a paid for event the week after I’d been criticizing another corporate event; nothing like some tasty irony.

If you want an idea of the conversation around what some are calling a controversy, me writing at you won’t present it well.  Go over to the twitter feed and enjoy the diversity of opinion.  Some are worried that this is dividing the PLN.  The PLN isn’t a single group with a single approach.  What you’ll see on the twitter feed (and in other blog posts) are what complex discussion and disagreement could look like online.  It doesn’t have to be modeled on a fifteen year old’s idea of flaming.  I’ve disagreed with a number of colleagues on there, and that is fine.  I still respect them as professionals, and even if we end up agreeing to disagree, I’m still OK with that.  Online communication can be deep, nuanced and even contrary without becoming personally inflammatory   It’s all good, and I’d much rather the disagreements get aired in public than kept in, or hidden.

This will be resolved, as it was started, transparently and publicly online; the best kind of modelling for a new communication medium I can think of.

Gitchigoomie Go-Around

another tour, this one a bit more plausible…

Circumnavigating Lake Superior (and Huron)

Google Map

Stage 1: Southern Ontario to Michigan: 135 Miles / 217kms

Stage 2: Southern Michigan: 288 Miles / 463 kms
Stage 3: Northern Michigan: 603 Miles / 907 kms
Stage 4: Ontario North: 502 Miles / 808 kms
Stage 5: Bruce Peninsula: 140 Miles / 225 kms
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Total Mileage: 1668 Miles / 2685 kms

At 400 kms/day, about a week (just under 7 days) of riding.  If we pushed one day, we could have a light day the next.  The green pins indicate population areas at around 400 kilometre intervals where a stop would be possible.

Ideal travel time would be late summer, as the nights are getting cooler and the bugs are dying down.  One of the last two weeks of August would be good.  September would be spectacular, though cooler, especially if the colours were starting to turn.

Superior Foliage Report
Lake Superior Motorbike Touring