Learning about evolution, cooperation and our future

What is the role of cooperation in evolution and how does cooperation itself evolve? That’s the topic of our discussions during the course Literacies of Cooperation, facilitated by Howard Rheingold.

The report about the first session can be found here (exploring the biology of cooperation).

We had a second live session about The Evolution of Cooperation, which also is the title of a work by professor Robert Axelrod. Let me quote Howard:

Axelrod’s work is fundamental. Thinking about cooperation, evolution, game theory, and computer simulation led him to use what has since become the e. coli of cooperation studies, the computer-simulated interated prisoner’s dilemma game, a strategy game that probes the ways human react when given the choice between assured self interest and potential but not guaranteed benefits of cooperation. Axelrod’s “Three Conditions” brings the gist of his research to a practical level that can then be used as a lens for looking at collective action online: what are the most important conditions for ensuring cooperation among strangers in a competetive environment.

But first something about the way in which we organize the live sessions in Blackboard Collaborate. One of the neat aspects of these sessions is that Howard incites people to take up certain roles: a lexicon team, searchers, contextualizers, mindmappers, session notetakers en wikimasters. People can propose questions during the chat, and people can jolt short answers on the whiteboard (this involves yet another task: question wrangler).

On the wiki we gather session notes – making life easier for those who missed part of the activities during the week. We’ve a growing collection of mindmaps and resources about stuff such as Honeybee Colony Thermoregulation, the symbiotic relationship between golden jellyfish and algae and cleaner wrass eating parasites from larger fish. One might well ask what all this has to do with human societies in this century, but this will become more obvious – I hope.

Cooperation in a competitive world

Robert Axelrod and W.D. Hamilton found that cooperators can thrive in a competitive environment… if they can find each other and establish mutualistic relationships. We can see how sometimes environments which are dominated by competition can at a certain point harbor colonies of cooperation, and then grow to a situation in which cooperation becomes the dominant theme, only to break down to the previous phases and go into a cycle.

Computer simulations of ‘evolutionary games learned Axelrod and Hamilton these characteristics for success:
- Be nice: cooperate, never be the first to defect.
- Be provocable: return defection for defection, cooperation for cooperation.
- Don’t be envious: be fair with your partner.
- Don’t be ‘too clever’ or too tricky.

Also read The Evolution of Animal Communication by William A. Searcy & Stephen Nowicki (Princeton University Press, 2005) – about for instance ‘deception and evolutions’.

A group with cooperators – whether or not those cooperators pay a cost for that – can have an evolutionary advantage, they can survive and reproduce more effectively. Small differences in that regard can make big differences in the very long term.

Cooperation can involve direct reciprocity, but also and maybe even more importantly indirect reciprocity. This simply means that I can consider doing a favor to someone who never before did a favor to me – but others may signal that this person is cooperative and reliable. Hence the importance of gossip – some even think that language was developed so as to enable our ancestors to gossip and in that way establish reputation when the groups became too big for one individual to keep track.

Of course, these days we have alternative systems to establish reputation as demonstrated by eBay for instance – one of the questions of the course will be whether these online developments are radically changing our possibilities to adapt to a changing environment.

Read also Martin Nowak about all this or watch him.

A co-learner said in the chat:

I thought it was interesting that Nowak talked about language being the big way of fast-forwarding evolution and the introduction of reproduction of culture/ideas/

In that same text chat also Carver Mead‘s book Collective Electrodynamics was mentioned. He was quoted as saying:

In a time-symmetric universe, an isolated system does not exist. The electron wave function in an atom is particularly sensitive to coupling with other electrons; it is coupled either to far-away matter in the universe or to other electrons in a resonant cavity or other local structure.

Shadow of the future and other topics

We also discussed the notion “The shadow of the future”: individuals will cooperate more if they know they’ll meet again in the future. Question in the chat: what are the communication mechanisms of initiating reciprocity? Are there ways to predict success or failure of cooperation? or sustaining cooperation?

What about kin selection? Would you jump in the river for two siblings or eight cousins – what about one brother? Read also The New Yorker about Kin and Kind.

Talking about gossip and social grooming, there are quite some studies about the notion of fairness among pre-speech children and primates. Watch this video about capuchins rejecting unequal pay (primate fairness):



Are we born with a sense of fairness? Toddlers who look longer to unfair actions (it violates their expectations) tend to behave in a more fair way themselves. Here is a Wikipedia entry about Sesame Street research, an article about whether we are born with a sense of fairness and another one about the evolution of fairness.

We discussed the role of religions: stories inciting the group to act cooperatively and eventually to sacrifice their individual self-interest (because of the reward in the after-life or compelling examples) could enhance the chances of such a group in the competition with other groups. Read also: Wikipedia about Darwin’s Cathedral (read also this book review and here is the book itself).

Evolution and the future

Culture is what we learn from each other based on biological evolved attentional and social capacities. This evolved capacity for social learning was particularly adaptive during times of radical environmental change. Learning capacities also created processes that changed the selection environment in which genes develop. E.g. cooking meat selects for those with efficient digective chemistry.

One of the question asked by the co-learners was whether one can design for cooperation? If so, through what tools? But also, what are the outside factors that can disrupt cooperation? How do systems protect and resist these forces?

We continued talking about the channeling of tribal instincts via symbol systems. This involves cultural transmission and selection that continues the evolution of cooperative human capacities at cultural rather than genetic level and pace.

Have a look at this toolkit for collective action and the technologies of cooperation.

Cultural tools channel innate sociality into cooperative arrangements. Institutions may be punishment, language, technology, invidual intelligence and inventivenesss, ready establisment of reciprocal arrangements, prestige systems, solutions to games of coordination (which could involve our newish web-technologies)…

In this regard Howard mentioned the book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright. Wikipedia says: It argues that biological evolution and cultural evolution are shaped and directed first and foremost by “non-zero-sumness” i.e., the prospect of creating new interactions that are not zero-sum.

This is Robert Reich’s take on the Non-Zero Sum Society.

We came quite some way from the molecules and algae. In the course, we’ll continue the discussion of evolution issues for the next few days and then we’ll tackle social dilemmas.

What’s the difference between collaboration and cooperation?

forums screen In our course Toward a Literacy of Cooperation we are now somewhere between the first synchronous session about the biology of cooperation and the second about the Evolution of Cooperation.

The group of co-learners is extremely active in our forums (we use the socialmediaclassroom, the “place” in which our esteemed facilitator, Howard Rheingold, also organizes the course wiki, the blogs and social bookmarks. We use Blackboard Collaborate for synchronous sessions).

The forums are for registered students (and we do pay a fee). This makes this experience different from a Massive Online Open Course. However, our proceedings are not secret, so I’ll report on the course here, on this very open blog of mine.

Be warned: my selection is rather arbitrary, as my time and attention span are limited. I just mention two discussion threads. There are many more, but even though the course is still in the early phases, the discussions are very rich and challenging – just looking at the links and references, making a selection, doing some reading and watching for one single discussion thread takes quite some time. But yes, it’s very worthwhile.

Autoethnography

Did you ever learn about autoethnography? I did not. Yet, one of the co-learners started a thread about ‘narrative inquiry, autoethnography, personal narrative and collaboration.’ Wikipedia explains:

Autoethnography is a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It differs from ethnography —a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group’s culture— in that autoethnography focuses on the writer’s subjective experience rather than, or in interaction with, the beliefs and practices of others. As a form of self-reflective writing, autoethnography is widely used in performance studies and English.

Collaboration or cooperation

Another thread is a discussion about the big picture of cooperation while examining the details. But first of all, what’s the difference between cooperation and collaboration? A learner suggested:

coLABORation – labor, or work synchronously, toward a shared, identical goal. This seems better and more fun to me. I love collaborating (as I understand it).
coOPERATion – operate synchronously toward the same goal, toward similar but individual versions of shared overall goal. More attainable in terms of what’s possible in the world?

Howard’s take on this:

People who have shared interests can cooperate without agreeing on specific goals, but collaboration involves some kind of signalling or communication about what the shared goal is. People know what their interests are without needing to confer with others.

Yet another student:

I think somewhere along my journey through Howard’s work I read: coordination is what it takes to get on the dance floor and actual throw down some funky dance moves (dance solo), cooperation is two people navigating the dance floor together and collaboration is a flash mob of dancers.

This student referred to an interesting book by Peter Corning, Nature’s Magic: Synergy in Evolution and the Fate of Humankind (summary). A quote:

Synergy, “the combined or cooperative effects produced by the relationships among various forces, particles, elements, parts, or individuals in a given context – effects that are not otherwise possible,” is a key driver of biological and human cultural evolution by providing immediately useful packages of benefits.

The participants then started to think about design of communities and about mechanisms and environments which facilitate participation or make it harder. Another quote:

I think communities fall apart when there isn’t a process where people take quick steps to get over whatever fear keeps them out of the process. Making a post, asking a question in chat, writing on the map in the first class like last night… I believe there are a lot of people who are actually more fearful of participation-even those teeny acts.

At this point it became obvious that the discussion in the forum is already looking forward to sessions we’ll have in a few weeks – most notably about the question of how people work together to get things done. And this question is not only about idealistic people working together explicitly to make the world a better place. Students get also inspired by Daniel Pink for instance and his work To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others (it seems the answer is beyond being introvert or extrovert, but being ambivert – understanding your partner’s thinking and creating the best outcomes for both sides.)

But how do we experience our participation in a collaborative community – and maybe more to the point, how do we remember it? One student mentioned a TedTalk by Daniel Kahneman, how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness. Other references which were exchanged in the discussion were Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman again), and Why Plans Fail: Cognitive Bias, Decision Making, and Your Business by Jim Benson.

 

Exploring the biology of cooperation

image of the course environmentIs there something like a biological underpinning of cooperation? We’re used to the idea that there is competition for scarce resources, but what about cooperation? Biology was very much the topic of the first session of our course Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory, facilitated by Howard Rheingold.

The interesting fact about the course is that while the subject is cooperation, the meta-experience here is about co-learning. How do we cooperate as a community of learners? The process of learning to inquire together, so Howard explained, is more important than the product.

We started out with Lynn Margulis and endosymbiosis. Allow me to quote Wikipedia:

The underlying theme of endosymbiotic theory, as formulated in 1966, was interdependence and cooperative existence of multiple prokaryotic organisms; one organism engulfed another, yet both survived and eventually evolved over millions of years into eukaryotic cells. Her 1970 book, Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, discusses her early work pertaining to this organelle genesis theory in detail. Currently, her endosymbiotic theory is recognized as the key method by which some organelles have arisen (see endosymbiotic theory for a discussion) and is widely accepted by mainstream scientists. The endosymbiotic theory of organogenesis gained strong support in the 1980s, when the genetic material of mitochondria and chloroplasts was found to be different from that of the symbiont’s nuclear DNA.

Margulis had to struggle to challenge the very strong emphasis on competition in biology. Cooperative arrangements are as important and maybe even precede competitive arrangements, so she maintained.
Stuart Kauffman even says that molecules can co-evolve cooperatively, becoming self-sustaining chemical factories of higher levels of complexity in which the product of one reaction is the feedstock or catalyst for another (read also this article at technologyreview).

But then again, as Howard said, we have to be careful about how far we want to extend any metaphor. These studies are providing frameworks and lenses we can use to look at our societies, but I guess this is just the start of an inquiry about human cooperation. Anyway, we discussed plants (mustard seedlings) knowing, and liking, their relatives. In this study, it seemed that siblings did not compete among each other but shared resources.

Or what to think about a symbiotic relationship in which each organism derives a benefit such as the red-billed Oxpecker eating ticks on the impala’s coat. There even is speculation that the mechanism of sexual reproduction may have started as a defense against parasites… The Red Queen’s Hypothesis suggests that co-evolutionary interactions, between host and parasite for example, may select for a sexual reproduction in hosts in order to reduce the risk of infection. Of course, of you look for it, there is mutualism everywhere: not only the birds and the bees but also domestication is an important kind of mutualism.

Leafcutter ants don’t actually eat leaves, they cut up the leaves, bring them to their nests and use them to grow a fungus, like farmers – or one could think they use the fungus as an external gut. In this arrangement bacteria are a third partner.

((While Howard was presenting some of the course materials, we had a text chat running in which participants shared interesting links such as this one about the book When Species Meet by Donna Jeanne Haraway. Yet another one: “Dogs Decoded” reveals the science behind the remarkable bond between humans and their dogs and investigates new discoveries in genetics that are illuminating the origin of dogs—with surprising implications for the evolution of human culture.)).

In Commensalism one organism benefits without affecting the other (fish-eating particles falling out of the mouth of larger fish, organisms that grow from the excretions of other organisms).

Yet another example are superorganisms such as we, humans: we carry twenty times as many living bacteria as human cells. We have 40,000 species of bacteria in the human gut and probably a hundred trillion bacteria in a human – we would not be able to digest without them.

The examples in biology we discussed tended to illustrate the notion that instead of competing for a resource, there is a lot of cooperation going on to multiply the resource. Not only a Californian expert in virtual communities and cooperation such as Howard is using this lens to look at nature, the very business-like The Economist recently ran a story about Me, Myself, Us, “Looking at human beings as ecosystems that contain many collaborating and competing species could change the practice of medicine.”

Rhizobia are yet another classical example of mutualism and show how complex the relationships can become:

The legume–rhizobium symbiosis is a classic example of mutualism—rhizobia supply ammonia or amino acids to the plant and in return receive organic acids (principally as the dicarboxylic acids malate and succinate) as a carbon and energy source—but its evolutionary persistence is actually somewhat surprising. Because several unrelated strains infect each individual plant, any one strain could redirect resources from nitrogen fixation to its own reproduction without killing the host plant upon which they all depend. But this form of cheating should be equally tempting for all strains, a classic tragedy of the commons. There are two competing hypotheses for the mechanism that maintains legume-rhizobium symbiosis (though both may occur in nature). The sanctions hypothesis suggests the plants police cheating rhizobia. Sanctions could take the form of reduced nodule growth, early nodule death, decreased carbon supply to nodules, or reduced oxygen supply to nodules that fix less nitrogen. The partner choice hypothesis proposes that the plant uses prenodulation signals from the rhizobia to decide whether to allow nodulation, and chooses only noncheating rhizobia. There is evidence for sanctions in soybean plants, which reduce rhizobium reproduction (perhaps by limiting oxygen supply) in nodules that fix less nitrogen. Likewise, wild lupine plants allocate fewer resources to nodules containing less-beneficial rhizobia, limiting rhizobial reproduction inside. This is consistent with the definition of sanctions just given, although called “partner choice” by the authors. However, other studies have found no evidence of plant sanctions, and instead support the partner choice hypothesis.

Of course, further on in the course we’ll discuss the commons and the tragedy of the commons (and how societies deal with that) in a human context.

Trees and roots are other important examples/metaphors such as mycorrhizal networks connecting trees.

So ecosystems are complex cooperative arrangements demonstrating mutualism and commensalism at work – typically, if key species are removed, the whole structure collapses – once again, this can be used as a lens for looking at human societies.

This session with Howard and hyper-active co-learners was done in Blackboard Collaborate, using shared screens, text chats, audio and video. This week the discussion continues on the course forums and blogs.

Also have a look at the resources at cooperationcommons.com.

Book Event: Steven Johnson on the Rise of the “Peer Progressive” | Personal Democracy Forum

“Is there a new political philosophy emerging from things like open source software development; massive community sharing hubs like Wikipedia, Kickstarter, and Reddit; peer-to-peer social networking; experiments in “Liquid Democracy,” and the rapid spread of resource sharing tools like ZipCar, AirBnb and Car2go? Is it time to start talking about replacing the “welfare state” with the “partner state”?

On Monday September 24 at 7:30pm at the New York Law School, we’re looking forward to exploring all those questions and more with noted author Steven Johnson, whose new book Future, Perfect is must-reading for people who believe in the power of open, collaborative peer-to-peer networking to achieve real social progress.”
via Diigo http://personaldemocracy.com/event/special-book-event-steven-johnson-rise-peer-progressive

Help us write the Peeragogy Handbook!

Suppose you want to learn everything about medieval sword-fighting. Or about Python programming in some specific context. Or about alternative currencies – maybe there’s nobody to join or help you in your town or village, but somewhere on the web there’ll be others who want to collaborate in your learning-effort.

We call this peer2peer learning, and just as we have pedagogy (how to teach children) and androgogy (how to teach adults) we have peeragogy (how to teach each other). The word has been coined by Howard Rheingold, who also gave us the expression “virtual community”.

Howard also facilitates the project “The Peeragogy Handbook”. A few dozen people contribute in this project and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Most of us never met each other, and yet, from all over the world, people discuss in our forum, contribute on wikis and  social bookmark services, meet up during synchronous sessions and post on a WordPress-blog.

The link to the handbook is http://www.peeragogy.org. Be warned: this project is very much in beta. As it is explained in the introduction:

(…) you want to learn how to fix a pipe, solve a partial differential equation, write software, you are seconds away from know-how via YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines. Access to technology and access to knowledge, however, isn’t enough. Learning is a social, active, and ongoing process. What would a motivated group of self-learners need to know to agree on a subject or skill, find and qualify the best learning resources about that topic, select and use appropriate communication media to co-learn it? Beyond technology, what do they need to know about learning and putting learning programs together? What does a group of people need to know to use today’s digital resources to co-learn a subject? This handbook is intended to answer that last question and provide a toolbox for co-learners.

Do you want to contribute? You’re very welcome to do so! We need people to write and edit articles, to help out with the technicalities of WordPress or to give feedback. On the wiki you find a project description and also how to contribute. New
contributors can use this guide:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy/wiki/for-newcomers-peeragogy-project-how-get-started. You can comment on the draft by asking to join
http://groups.diigo.com/group/peering-into-peeragogy.

The WELL interviews Howard Rheingold, and maybe you should join us

There is a fascinating discussion going on at The WELL, where Howard Rheingold is being interviewed by community members about this book Net Smart.

The discussion is wide-ranging. Howard provides plenty of links to useful resources about crap detection, journalism, education, and all things helping people to thrive online. The interview goes beyond the “howto” stuff (as does the book), and interviewers also ask Howard about the vision of early internet pioneers, whether or not some of these not yet fulfilled visions are being realized now, and about the internet as an augmentation of our capabilities. There are even stories about Gorbachev at a time long before he came to power.

The WELL is one of the oldest web communities. Wikipedia:

The WELL was started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985, and the name is partially a reference to some of Brand’s earlier projects, including the Whole Earth Catalog.

One can read the discussion for free. I’m a member, and I find the conferences (discussion forums) most compelling – I can be found most often at the conference about virtual communities (in the broad sense of a discussion of the social consequences of online communities and networks) – and in that conference I try to contribute regularly to the topic about digital culture. The WELL is not free and members use their real names. There is an intimacy which is very special. Even though this is a text-based, asynchronous forum, I experience a certain co-presence which matters a lot to me. Anyhow, if you decide to give it a try, give me a shout!

Three observations about perseverance in online learning

The blog has been idle for about two weeks now – because of family emergencies, the launching of a liveblog and a column at my newspaper. Which allows me to reflect on the issue of loyalty toward online projects and communities.

- Gameification does not really work for me. I also participated at CodeYear (the course/campaign to learn coding in 2012) but I gave up on that. CodeYear uses gameification elements, and I got a number of badges, but to be honest: I don’t care about badges. And to give full disclosure: I’m notoriously bad in self-discipline, I cannot count the number of online courses I started without ever getting close to finishing them – like the famous MIT-open course stuff. I even managed to sign up for a Stanford open course thing without ever starting it. I also participated in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens – with some more success, even though I’m mostly a lurker there. This being said: CodeYear has developed an interesting social layer, such as a forum where participants help each other and also meet-ups in the physical world.

However, I do care about other participants in a course or a project. I had more success in continuing my efforts during a course about the Digital Awakening (reading a selection of texts from the MIT New Media Reader). We met in Second Life, about each week, for synchronous sessions – and doing so we created this feeling of being together in this project, and I experienced a group pressure to keep up with the course.

I had exactly the same experience participating in Howard Rheingold’s courses about Mind Amplifiers and Cooperation Theory. In addition to using synchronous sessions (using Blackboard Collaborate, the former Elluminate) there was also the opportunity to tell more about personal projects in the forums. All of which creates social bonds and a sense of being part of a project – or even a tribe.

- Paying for something helps. There is yet another aspect: the two Rheingold courses I mentioned were not free. I’ve the feeling that paying for a course adds some sense of “well, I paid for it, so I’d better get value for my money”.  So, when organizing some course or even a peer2peer-learning project, this is something to consider: maybe asking others to contribute financially can actually help them to pause and ask themselves “do I really want this?”.

- Identity. Of course, there is not only the issue of the format (synchronous, asynchronous… ), the group dynamics and whether or not to contribute financially.  It’s about content and practice as well. Again facilitated by Rheingold we’re working on a Peeragogy-handbook (about peer2peer learning). Also, there are other venues such as the WELL  or the Rheingold U Alumni. The project and venues are not really limited in time, and I do contribute from time to time, feeling some guilt when I don’t for a longer time. Why do I care? Because they are important for my “personal value system” – I think that peer2peer learning in the broadest sense of those words is in many ways crucial for our societies and even the planet.

It’s not just about narrowly defined education (like formal school stuff for young people), it’s about more even than lifelong learning because peer2peer learning can lead to peer2peer production and business. (Maybe that’s the reason I’m not really active in the MOOC-courses as they are heavily oriented toward educators in schools and universities while I’m more interested in much broader applications of the MOOC-principles.) In other words, peer2peer could very well become a pillar of our economies while at the same time I feel it resonates with my very personal anarchist sympathies – I really am deeply suspicious about  authority and hierarchical organization (while recognizing these are necessary in many contexts – but then again, in many other contexts classical authoritarian structures are not efficient at all). So a long rant to point out that loyalty to some online learning project also depends on this feeling that the practice and content is an important core of who you are or want to be. This includes the two other aspects: if it really matters, the personal relationships you develop along the way will make those projects even matter more, and eventually you’ll be ready to invest money and time.

 

The Daily State of Disruption: Controversy about viral #stopkony campaign

Today’s The State of Disruption is about the the campaign to stop Joseph Kony, a cruel warlord who is accused of abducting, murdering and raping children in Uganda and neighboring countries. A video produced by the Invisible Children went totally viral, and #stopkony was a worldwide trending topic. However, there are some fundamental discussions going on about this campaign. Why do we discuss something which is clearly a matter of human rights and foreign policy? Because this video has been viewed by millions of people all over the world, and leads to in-depth discussions about a situation which seems far away and hardly relevant to most Westerners. It seems that the web once again is bridging geographical distances and goes beyond the borders of states and the old institutions.

What I think about Net Smart

For the first time of my existence, I wrote a customer review for Amazon.com, about Howard Rheingold’s new book Net Smart. I’ll post it here also:

Some books are just… interesting, or beautiful. There are books however which not only discuss existing literature and research from a new angle and provide new insights, but also make you think about your practices and change them.

Net Smart is such a book. I follow the writings, posts, courses and videos of Howard Rheingold since quite some time, but I was amazed to discover the way in which he discusses the research and experiences he accumulated since the early days of the web. He discusses other books about the impact of the internet on society in a very thoughtful and nuanced way, but also adds precious new insights.

This is not a book which limits itself to discussing theories, opinions and research. It does all this in an admirable way, but it also gives some great advice to the reader – about how to deal with a ‘always on’ world of ubiquitous computing. It’s realistic in its judgment of this ‘always on’ era, but also liberating as it describes the internal and external literacies which we can use to make the world into a better place.

It’s the kind of book which changes your life – for some maybe small but meaningful changes, for others big changes.

Read also: Becoming Net Smart with Howard Rheingold.

Becoming Net Smart with Howard Rheingold

I just bought the Kindle edition of Net Smart, Howard Rheingold‘s new book, published by the MIT Press. I participated in various of Howard’s courses: one about literacies of cooperation, another one about mind-amplifying tools, and now I’m involved in a collaborative project facilitated by Howard aimed at creating a peeragogy handbook.  Peeragogy is like peer to peer pedagogy, self-learners collaborating via a variety of social media to create, deliver, and learn an agreed curriculum (which they compose themselves).

More about peeragogy by Howard during his UC Berkeley Regents’ lecture:

UC Berkeley Regents’ Lecture: Howard Rheingold (Presented by Berkeley Center for New Media) from Berkeley Center for New Media on Vimeo.

In Net Smart Howard explains that we’re in a period where the cutting edge of change has moved from the technology to the literacies made possible by the technology. This is not just a book about how to become a more efficient user of digital technologies, there is a bigger social issue at work here: “if we combine our individual efforts wisely, enough of the right know-how could add up to a more thoughtful society as well as enhance those individuals who master digital network skills.”

The author does not hesitate comparing the web’s architecture of participation to the invention of the printing press and the spread of reading skills which amplified collective intelligence five centuries ago. Of course, it also lead to revolutions, bloodshed, manipulation and fanaticism. These experiences make it abundantly clear how important literacies such as crap detection and the avoidance of echo chambers are. In other words, Net Smart is a book which is a must-read for people seeking a balance between their physical and virtual environments, for parents, young people, business people and educators.

It’s not just about learning skills which one can practice alone. It’s about the ability to use these skills socially, in concert with others, in an effective way. Howard distinguishes in his book five literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection and network smarts.

Howard is a talented inventor of new words and concepts. He’s the guy who came up with the notion of “virtual community“. More recently he coined the term “infotention”: “a mind-machine combination of brainpowered attention skills and computer-powered information filters” (also have a look at the Infotention Network).

Watch Howard explaining his book and project for the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) Change11: