Is abundance a myth? The Original Affluent Society and Social Media

I stumbled upon the theme of “abundance” in the Toward a Literacy of Cooperation course (#cooplit) and the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #Change11 (see previous posts on this blog about both courses) – and I have some issues with the underlying idea that our advanced societies and technology fundamentally alter the situation of humankind from problems of scarcity into issues regarding abundance. In the MOOC there is a discussion of A Pedagogy of Abundance, a meditation by education technology professor Martin Weller on how researchers and teachers are confronted with the avalanche of available content (and of course, this is something happening in many other activities such as news media, music industry etc). In the Social Media Classroom of the #cooplit Kathy Gill posted about Cooperation, Competition and Power:

At its core, however, I believe that zero-sum thinking reflects a dance for power in a world where resources are limited. But today’s economy is moving towards unlimited, not limited, resources. That’s what digitization does to information — it breaks the scarcity barrier. Pre-digital, if I wanted to read “the newspaper” — then you, my partner, could not read it at the same time (unless you read over my shoulder). That’s gone. Ditto for movies and music. And then there is the co-creation that Howard talked about today — wikipedia, SETI at home. Lots of examples in Tapscott’s Wikinomics. Perhaps cooperation is something that humans can achieve only when they have moved to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the U.S., at least, systemic cooperation will require a major cultural shift inside and outside of institutions. And a new definition of “success” that does not rely on wielding “power” over others.

Of course, there is much truth in what Weller and Gill say. But still I’m not so sure we come from a situation defined by scarcity and move to an era of abundance, enabling us to freely cooperate and to stop fighting each other. Howard Rheingold in a comment on Gill’s post gives examples of zero-sum situations such as scarcity of water, but I think there is more. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins articulated the theory of the original affluent society, saying that hunter-gatherers often had far more leisure time than people in contemporary societies. It seems industrialized countries are very good in maintaining a feeling of scarcity, however rich they may be in absolute terms. The structure of desire and the never-ending game of shifting reputation signifiers cause scarcity and competition to stay very important aspects of these societies. This is true – I think – when we think about classical aspects of the consumption society, but maybe also when we think about social media production. What about the effects of shifting reputation signifiers on the competition on social networks? The emergence of new metrics such as the Klout influence index? The time people invest in polishing their online reputation and image, not to mention the work involved in dealing with the noise on the social networks? Which means that maybe, in order to change the nature of often destructive competitions, we’ll need to change the structure of the game. In very (too) general terms I suspect this is related with the production of meaning and with fundamental issues such as how we define what is means to have a good life. It means we should practice the capability of “letting go” of the stream of updates, blogposts and alerts. I guess this has to do what Douglas Rushkoff discusses in Program or be Programmed. He advocates programming, not just blogging in the boxes provided by the big corporations.

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How real-time collaborative mindmapping ended up being mind-amplifying

Should we give up things in courses because we need time to teach new media? It was a question on Twitter, in the #nmfs_f11 stream of the Digital Awakening course.

I think we don’t need to give up anything at all. It just boils down to doing what you already did, but on public platforms. Taking notes on a blog, bookmarking on a social platform, collaborative mindmapping, reaching out for ideas and help on social networks. As Howard Rheingold would say, new media are mind-amplifiers.

The three online courses I participate in as a student (see previous posts) all use some combination of blogs, social networks, social bookmarks, wiki and chat sessions. I’m getting the feeling (the hope?) this will become “the new normal”.

This picture of the latest session in Second Life of participants in the Digital Awakening course (#nmfs_f11) shows our virtual discussion space, a mindmap and other media, while the participants of course also blog and tweet.

course participants in second life

In Toward a Literacy of Communication, (#cooplit) the course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, we use collaborative mindmaps, working on them in real-time using the webconferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate (previously Elluminate). One clever aspect is that one sees in real-time how the map changes, but we cannot see which participant changes what – I have the feeling this helps people to experiment because they don’t have to fear ‘losing face’. It’s a very intense experience: working on a very rapidly changing map, structuring parts of the course as it unfolds and adding additional insights by the participants.

webconferencing session in progress

While in Second Life I more felt like sharing a space with the other participants – allowing for more informal meetings before and after the discussion – we did not (yet?) have a very intense group-mindmapping experience in that virtual world.

One of the texts we’re studying in the Digital Awakening course is The Computers as a Communication Device (1968) by J.C.R. Licklider.

His arguments for online communities, computer-assisted meetings and his thoughts about working collaboratively on the same screen are still very relevant today. It’s disappointing that these habits are not yet commonplace in many smaller and medium-sized organizations and companies.

In Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, we talked about game theory (prisoner’s dilemma, assurance game, chicken game…) and the notion of zero-sum game. People have this idea that life is a primarily a competition where one person’s gain is another’s loss. In reality there are plenty of examples of non-zero sum games, where collaboration makes all participants better off.

But non-zero sum does not necessarily mean “we all win”. As author Robert Wright explains, it can also mean we all lose. The same technology and learning practices which promise to better mankind, can also be used for destructive planning, especially in conjunction with nuclear, biochemical, biotech or nanotech technology:

Which means that our efforts are also moral issues. The visionary work of people such as Vannevar Bush and J.C.F. Licklider seems to be inspired by the fact that they realized we would have to make sense of a very complex, dangerous and rapidly changing world. Making sense of it, finding solutions and implementing them, needs a kind of augmented or amplified humanity.

Often the disruptive changes we study develop so rapidly that the usual scholarly research publication systems are getting behind. In yet another course, the Massive Open Online Course #Change11, Professor Martin Weller explained how the digital, open and networked world is changing scholarly research (while also provoking tensions in the academic communities).

Historically, we humans had to recognize the humanity of others in the context of a certain class in city-states, then broaden this to bigger entities such as what we call today nations, expanding to whole continental regions and finally arriving at a planetary scale. This recognition of the humanity of humans everywhere will hopefully be expressed and realized through the need for cooperation.

In this context experiencing the real-time collaborative making of a mind map by a bunch of course participants dispersed over the planet (Europe, North America, Australia) was a mind-amplifying experience in itself.

Roland Legrand

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The quest for openness (and financing) by academics and media

At the Journalism Masterclass IHECS in Eghezée (Belgium) I talked about a social media production flow for the newsroom. It boils down to publishing, as it happens, the “making of” an article, a video, an audio document or an infographic . So journalists do what they usually do: asking for ideas, planning interviews, hunting and gathering stuff on the web, but instead of keeping all that raw material private, they would rather publish it via blog posts. When the article or whatever is “finally” published, it’s not the end, but it can be the beginning of a new round of comments and chat sessions, maybe new and augmented versions. What it means is that the mindset of the journalist shifts toward the open newsroom.

In the meantime, at the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 we’re in week 3 and Martin Weller is facilitating this week’s topic, Digital Scholarship. It’s about ‘changes in academic practice as a result of new technology’:

His book The Digital Scholar was published by Bloomsbury, but is available as a free open access book, under a Creative Commons license.

Academics, as journalists, want to have impact. New media often give more impact than scholarly publications alone. Weller then talks about openness:

(…) ‘digital scholarship’ is really a shorthand for digital, networked and open. Arguably it is the last component that is most significant. Openness in practice – whether it is sharing ideas via blogs, open courses, open educational resources, open access publishing or open data – is becoming a default approach for many academics (and this course is an example). This has profound implications on practice, business models, identity and the role of sectors, which we are only beginning to appreciate.

Impact and openness, the big themes not only for scientific publications, but also for the media in general. Of course there are tensions:

Tension – there exists a tension currently between the undoubted potential of many digital scholarship approaches and the context which it resides within. So we simultaneously have pockets of marvellous innovation, and at the same time, a markedly conservative, resistant attitude from many institutions, which is often manifest in the how digital scholarship is recognised or encouraged.

Journalists and bloggers can only rejoice about openness by scholars. However, there is a challenge here for traditional media: the journalist with her privileged access to scientists is no longer the inevitable go-between. For instance in economics academics are very active on blogs and even – gasp! – on Twitter. Journalists (and bloggers) of course can provide context and curation.

But while journalists and scientists want more impact and are increasingly in favor of openness, what does this mean for the business models? Opening the newsrooms, labs and universities for free? How will we finance those activities? It’s a question for media and institutions of learning and research alike.

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Comparing online courses: Change11, NMFS_F11 and Toward A Literacy of Cooperation

Tomorrow I’ll give a presentation at a journalism masterclass in Belgium, MasterClass IHECS 2011 – with Open Newsroom – at Eghezée (or just #MC11). The class is facilitated by Damien Van Achter. These last few months I’ve been thinking about a social media production flow for bloggers and journalists, updating regularly my presentation Conversation tools for information professionals on Prezi.

Presentation

I use Prezi because it’s not a production flow which follows some fixed sequence of steps. It’s more like a rhizome-like processus (like the horizontal stem of a plant) which inspired the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Also, Prezi allows me to have a conversation with the participants, rather than giving a classical presentation. It’s also more in line with the Connectivism idea which is the theoretical underpinning of the Massive Online Open Course Change11 I participate in.

Three courses

I will not limit the conversation to the “conversation tools”. These days I’m participating in various online courses: the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 and Awakening the Digital Imagination (#nmfs_f11). I also registered for a third course, facilitated by Howard Rheingold, Toward a literacy of cooperation:

A six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.

The three courses are content-wise rather different. MOOC is about learning styles and tools, the Digital Imagination studies foundational&inspiring texts about new media. At the same time these courses are “new media in action” and they use different formats and philosophies. The MOOC is very much participant-directed, open and flexible, the Digital Awakening is more syllabus-based, Rheingold’s course is highly directed by the organizer even though Howard made it clear that he wants us to form a learning community.

Why talk about these courses at a journalism class? Because for me journalism and blogging is a kind of learning. A lot of what educators do, and especially the massive open online formats, can be compared with media practice. So the tools and formats they use, as also the issues about business models, are very similar. If learning involves writing blog posts (in the three courses), making video, designing a game maybe, then we should no longer limit the relevance of education theories and practices to schools and universities.

This is a very preliminary wiki mindmap (yes, you can modify and add things) comparing the three courses. Use the icons to enlarge, zoom and edit the map:

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media: virtual seminar, MOOC and OpenCourseware

Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff

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Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff

Interesting experience at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) #change11 during this week’s live session. One of the main lessons: do not underestimate simple tools.

First, the presentation by professor Zoraini’s project of implementing mobile technology in Open University Malaysia. It demonstrated how using good old sms helped motivating and guiding the students.

On Not Worth Printing I read a skeptical reaction, asking for objective measures, other than student satisfaction, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the sms technology.

In my humble opinion, it would be great to have those additional insights, but I think that the participants’ satisfaction is a very important issue.

Web conferencing

My reflection has not only to do with the content of the presentation, but also with the tools we used. We started out using the open-source web conferencing software bigbluebutton for distance education. Unfortunately, the more than 60 participants made the poor thing crash and burn.

Good old Twitter was being used as a backchannel, and so we learned that there was another venue we could use in the amazing cyberspace: fuzemeeting.com, yet another web conferencing thingie. Thanks to diligent retweeting, quite some participants made it to that ‘place’.

However, some experienced audio problems and asked for help, using the chat-module of the web conferencing tool. They were saved by a simulcast on livestream.com/ett (EdTechTalk).

Looking at the MOOC-course, a maze of venues, platforms and tools, I think that one of the most popular pieces of it is the Daily Newsletter, aggregating coming events, blog posts, discussion threads and comments.

Second Life

I also started my other course, Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar. This live session took place in Second Life. One might say that this is a higher level of complexity: using an avatar in a 3D virtual world. However, we kept the technicalities very simple: avatars sitting around a campfire, using voice and text chat. It worked perfectly well – we discussed the text As We May Think (Vannevar Bush). Call be a Second Life fanboy, but I still prefer the immersiveness of the virtual world experience above the ordinary web conferencing tools.

meeting in second life

One has the very real feeling of sharing a same space, of being embodied. People socialize before, after and during the conversation. I have the feeling the whole experience leads to much deeper connections. We have a group blog for the Second Life participants and there is an infohub for the project at large.

My conclusion: even at the frontiers of new media simple text-based tools help a lot to keep things organized and people motivated. Do not neglect newsletters, Twitter-messages, chat modules or even sms!

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media
The group blog virtualworldnmfsfall11

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Deconstructing learning through social media: virtual seminar, MOOC and OpenCourseware

I’m about to start a wild experiment in learning, by participating in various online courses, using various social media platforms. I have various objectives:
– to experience what learning could mean in this century and what it tells us about the changes in society and in the economy.
– to gain a deeper understanding in the philosophical underpinnings of new media.
– to become more creative, by better understanding what’s “new” about new media.
– to experiment with ways to combine various social media for online learning processes in the broadest sense of the word “learning”.

I’m not an educator working in a school or university, but a financial blogger/journalist/newspaper community manager. I’m already using Twitter, blogs, curating tools and chat systems to interact with our community. This, in my opinion, is a form of online learning and I hope to develop new practices inspired by the courses I’ll participate in during this Fall.

New Media Studies

The course which seems more “philosophical” is Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty-Staff Development Seminar coordinated by Professor Gardner Campbell, Virginia Tech.

The course runs almost every week from September 12 through December 2. There is a syllabus, The New Media Reader (MIT Press, 2003) and we’ll work on various platforms such as Twitter, Flickr and… Second Life. The project in Second Life is being facilitated by Liz Dorland, Washington University (Chimera Cosmos in Second Life) and by Robin Heyden, Heyden Ty (Spiral Theas in Second Life) and the infohub and group blog are up and running.

This week we’ll discuss Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think“. The first week the participants discussed Inventing the Medium by Janet H. Murray, the Introduction of The New Media Reader and watched this video:

The video says “the Machine is Us/ing Us”. While using the web we’re teaching the Machine, which learns from our billions of daily online actions. The Machine is not just connecting data, it’s connecting people. In that sense one could dream of an exponentially increasing worldwide intelligence, which eventually becomes self-learning (the Technological Singularity discussion). It reminds us of the optimism of engineers, who realize that our world and our survival become ever more complicated. However, engineers are optimistic: complexity is a problem which can be tackled. Computers and networks change Thought itself, and enable it to tackle the big challenges of our time.

But then again there are these other thinkers, more to be found in the humanities: they talk for tens of years now about the end of the big Ideologies, the end of the big metaphysical stories making sense of it all. Patient deconstruction and analysis show the fallacies, the inconsistencies, the circular reasonings in those stories. Should we confront the supposed cynical smile of the humanities-expert with the optimism of the engineer, or rather deconstruct this opposition? I’ll find out in the weeks to come.

MOOC

I also registered at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) Change, an international, distributed and rhizome-like learning network/experience. I also attended previous, similar editions (the Connectivism courses), often as a lurker, sometimes active. It’s bewildering and mind-blowing, no, mind-amplifying!

The course is facilitated by  Dave CormierGeorge Siemens and Stephen Downes.

Dave Cormier offers this video to explain what we’re up to.

 

In a post about how to participate it is explained that: “…there is no one central curriculum that every person follows. The learning takes place through the interaction with resources and course participants, not through memorizing content. By selecting your own materials, you create your own unique perspective on the subject matter.”

The interactions take place on various social media platforms, using many tools.

OpenCourseWare

The last part of my program for this fall is studying MIT OpenCourseWare Introduction to Computer Science and Programming (instructors are Prof. Eric Grimson and Prof. John Guttag). The idea is to learn how computer scientists actually think and in that sense the course is about much more than just “learning how to program in Python”.

Interesting to see is how the video, transcripts, reading material can be consulted for free, while direct interaction with the teaching staff is reserved for those who pay the hefty fee for studying at the MIT. This does not mean that using these course materials is devoid from any interaction: OpenStudy provides a platform for collaboration with fellow-users (the platform could also be used for the Change MOOC).

The issue of how to facilitate learning collaboration while also protecting the business model of universities is solved in another way by Stanford University: they’re organizing an Open Class on Artificial Intelligence. Participants will not be able to ask questions directly, but a voting system will select a number of questions which will be answered by the instructors.

That’s one of the fascinating aspects of these courses: we learn how to practice and think in new ways, and while trying to do so it becomes obvious to the participants that the activity of learning itself and the institutions of learning are being confronted with disruptive change.

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Social media: the real issue is not ‘time’, but working by sharing ‘the making of’

This Summer I tried to have a mental break and to refrain from blogging here on MixedRealities. I think it helped me to reflect a bit on social media, and one of the things I understand better now is dat social media is primarily about deciding what you want to be public, what you want to share with others. This may seem extremely obvious, but it contrasts with the traditional objection against social media: ‘I don’t have time for that.’ Because the real issue is not the time which one needs, but whether one wants to do in public what remained behind closed doors until now.

Today I had the opportunity to talk about social media at the Brussels office of Linklaters. It was a networking event for lawyers and specialists in marketing for the legal profession, and I realized that many of those people already have impressive workloads. Is it not almost inconceivable that they would also engage in blogging?

The same question can be asked in my newsroom of course. Journalists do not exactly have a 9 to 5 job, so is it fair to ask them to tweet, blog, engage in online conversations?

I looked at the tools of the social media trade, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, social bookmarks, Posterous and Tumblr, chat platforms… and I suddenly realized that many of these tools are just ways to do stuff we do already in a different way.

We already read and watch stuff online, take notes. Social media tools enable us to do all this, but sharing this activity with some others, many others, or everybody who cares to take notice. Instead of taking private notes during a conference, one tweets or posts stuff. Instead of reflecting on things privately, one decides to externalize these thoughts.

This externalization is not postponed until we have some quasi-perfect article, book or video – we publish the bits and pieces of on ongoing process. The ‘making of’ in real-time. It takes courage to do this. Journalists, lawyers and many others hate showing stuff which has not been checked over and over again. But in the real world, people don’t mind reading tweets about a conference, consulting a Tumblr post linking to some interesting article with a first comment, browsing social bookmarks or gazing at a tentative mindmap.

The combination of social media tools and mobile, ubiquitous internet is gradually removing the friction of this externalization. One tweets, includes links, reads other tweets from people one follows, and on the iPad it is magically transformed by an app called Flipboard into a glossy magazine.

Anyhow, here is a possible ‘social media production flow‘ I presented. One could start at the mindmap and then go clockwise, but in fact the real process involves jumping backwards and forwards, skipping phases or inventing new ones. People get easily bewildered by the many different tools, but the tools are not the most important aspect. What’s crucial is the question: could others be interested in my ‘making of’, and if so, which tools allow me to share this ‘making of’ easily.

During that same meeting at Linklaters Kristien Vermoesen gave a presentation social media for lawyers , but her very structured approach to social media practice is relevant for everybody.

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The future of money

Facebook Credits becoming more important than the dollar? Not any time soon – but there are some thought-provoking elements in this discussion about the future of money (by Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard). Recently Ben Bernanke got the question whether gold is money. The answer was ‘no’. But maybe we’ll have to ask him whether Facebook Credits, Bitcoins or Linden dollars are money.

Gerd Leonhard reacted on Google+ that what he said about the dollar vs. Facebook Credits was meant more as a provocation than as serious prediction.

Previously we posted about similar ideas being presented by Sean Park: ‘The Sixth Paradigm

In the comments on my Google+ entry there’s also a discussion about what Linden Lab says regarding the Linden dollar (the famous ‘You acknowledge that Linden dollars are not real currency or any type of financial instrument and are not redeemable for any sum of money from Linden Lab at any time.’).

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3D printing, Second Life and unemployment: how the blending of realities rips society apart

Sometimes the seemingly random combination of blog posts makes me think. For instance, watch this introductory video about 3D-printing, which I found on the financial blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis:

In the blog post you’ll find other great links about 3D printing.

Now switch to some very important question here in this TechCrunch post by Jon Bischke: the growing divide between Silicon Valley and unemployed America. Globalization and technology are exhilarating, but many people are being left behind. Another aspect not mentioned in the article (maybe more relevant for Europe): also national politics is very often being left behind in this revolution. While political leaders still want to control things on a national or regional level, often ignoring the technological changes, they contribute to ever bigger crisis situations rather than solving them.

Yes, we can marvel about the wonderful opportunities the technological revolution is bringing us. Just imagine the possibility of collaboratively working on 3D-objects, discussing them in virtual environments (Second Life now working hard on enabling mesh-import), turning those 3D digital objects into physical prototypes via 3D printing, wherever you want on the planet, and eventually convincing partners to start production – wherever on the planet.

All of which no longer requires huge amounts of capital. It’s about imagination, creativity, isn’t it? Of course, many people lack the knowledge and skills to actually explore those opportunities, but then again, the internetz make it easier and cheaper than ever to acquire those skills…

Or maybe not so. Using the internet to learn constantly, to find out about opportunities, requires a media literacy which is not self-evident. Not only the unemployed construction worker may lack this basic skill, also the graduate who supposedly is a digital native but never really made it beyond the Facebook-is-only-for-friends level of social media practice.

So we’re living in dangerous times. Technology and globalization are ripping the old structures apart. People get angry and upset about their leaders, even about society in general. We need schools and universities to teach people how to use the possibilities of this globalized internet age – because we’re getting into the phase where we not only manipulate bits and bytes as we like, but also atoms. And we do this by collaborating on a truly global scale, far beyond the reach of local governments.

In this new phase the virtual and the physical blend. 3D printing allows us to make that transition. Virtual money such as Bitcoins and CS are another interesting development. Philip Rosedale is a very visionary guy. After founding Second Life he’s now exploring the possibilities of location-based exchange en virtual currencies in the Bay area – using his virtual world knowledge and experience in the physical neighborhoods of his city. Mixed realities indeed, as location-based social networks, augmented reality, alternate reality games are steadily developing in new dimensions of our daily environments.

We have to do more than just hoping the education system will take care of it. We’ll have to teach and learn on a grassroots-level. Virtual environments can be extremely useful in this regard, but we should not neglect stuff such as Google+, or Facebook-groups not to mention meet-ups in what was once considered ‘meatspace’ but which is now a blended reality.

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