A month inside walled gardens

For some time, I’ve been concerned about the loss of creative work inside corporate social networks, so I’ve avoided posting unique text or images into Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

I didn’t want to give away my rights — give away a part of myself — every time I posted in a walled garden. Besides, the manic  stream of trivia whizzes by without much opportunity for contemplation. That’s not social media, it’s oversocial media.

Of course, simply autoposting my microblog content on those services missed opportunities for interaction. So I thought I’d see if thoughtful conversation was possible inside the walled gardens, and whether I could archive those discussions outside on the open Web. About a month ago, I decided to conduct an experiment.

Starting October 22, I began carefully reading the streams, looking for opportunities for meaningful discussion. I checked my TMI filter at the door. I came across some pretty spectacular emotional train wrecks and a few too many updates about cats-in-boxes.

However, I did find people who were willing to take time to craft thoughtful responses and sustain conversation threads. I soon got into some interesting discussions about the election, education, and politics (a few excerpts will follow), and it was really fun and stimulating.

Since I spent a good bit of time crafting well-considered prose, I tried to find software that would capture and preserve my words outside the corporate walls. I didn’t have much luck, except with one attempt: after Twitter deleted 3 years of my entries — and then brought them back (which I discovered was not uncommon) — I did find a PHP script to archive my tweets. However, for Facebook, I had to go old-school: I copied and pasted my comments into Open Office.

Now the month is over. I’m glad Facebook and Twitter sparked my interest in threaded discussions, and I enjoyed participating. However, that content would have been lost — locked up forever in a space where I could not protect it — if I hadn’t worked to save it.

At the beginning of my experiment, I responded to Wired’s debate about the open Web and the closed Web, and, last week, I read Tim Berners-Lee’s case for openness and transparency. I know that the proprietary world of Apple apps and the preferred-bandwidth model of commercial ISPs is more lucrative. I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous.

There was, however, an important side effect from my experiment. While paying more attention to the social media stream, I fully reorganized my Twitter lists to capture my recent research on the idea and experience of learning.

I know the pendulum spirals between “information wants to be free” and “information want to be expensive” and I think we come out at a more expansive level most of the time. It’s just that the exclusionary approach makes me nervous. It still does.

I’d been asking: What is learning, really? What are the powerful ideas and approaches that inspire teachers and students? What can I, myself, learn to bring into my role as a father and as a volunteer in a 2nd-grade public school classroom … a classroom of students who will soon enough be part of the high school class of 2020 and the Elderhostel cohort of 2070? (Or, as Stewart Brand would have it, 02070.)

I followed the tweets of Maine’s first TEDxDirigo held in early October. Through the event’s lead organizer, Adam Burk, I found a multiple-author blog about learning and education called Cooperative Catalyst. I read the passionate posts of  people who have been developing and testing and reconsidering their approaches to learning and education for years. They are mentors, teachers, and learners in the best sense.

So, this was actually the highlight of my experiment. Twitter helped me find an organic collective of caring, intelligent people posting and commenting on a WordPress blog. The stream still works best as a pointing mechanism, but I found the meaningful, valuable space … elsewhere.

Now … I wonder what next month will bring.

Excerpts from the experiment

So, here’s some of what I wrote last month inside the walled gardens. (Just so I don’t lose it.) Unfortunately, I do not have the right to republish both sides of these conversations … and perhaps, really, not my own, either! Let’s just say I’m saving this writing for scholarly research.

Facebook – October 22

Twentieth-century marketing used fear — reinforced insecurity and fear of “others” — and mixed it with a deliberate obfuscation of true risk assessment to get attention to sell product, and 24-hour news programming only exists to fill the space between the commercials.

One sign of hope is that programmed-TV-channel viewership continues to go down for younger people. Do you think college students have more tuned hype filters these days? Are they more skeptical? Looking for research …

Facebook – October 22

I’m starting to feel as if I am in a parallel universe: by the time I learn about the scream-of-the-day (from the echo-chamber land of mass media), the hubbub has already died down.

On the one hand, I am relieved to not waste my energy on unimportant trivia. On the other hand, I feel as if I’ve missed out on something: those water-cooler moments. In the old days, they called it the lowest-common-denominator.

With no programmed TV service (broadcast, cable, satellite) in our house, though, I still feel connected, especially with Hulu and Netflix. But am I experiencing the world in a different way than the breaking-news afficianados? From a civic point of view, is this positive or negative?

Incidentally, I also began an experiment one month ago to participate more in the walled gardens of Facebook and Twitter — in conversations like this one — to see if such dialog was possible, and what I was losing by committing my words to proprietary, corporate social media.

I’m writing a summary, and posting what I wrote in a blog entry, and I hope you’ll give me permission to post both sides of this one…

Chronicle of Higher Education – November 4

Of course, education is more than just a commodity or service relationship.

However, if business and marketing are evolving to focus on all types of mutually-satisfactory exchanges between people, then we need more sophisticated ways to evaluate success in the exchange of knowledge and experience between our schools and our students.

Are we creating valuable, meaningful, and authentic experiences through our whole offering? Experiences that will resonate for a lifetime? Experiences worth the cost of admission?

I think Gilmore & Pine on Authenticity is worth a look …

Facebook – November 4

Evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The world is becoming more complex and interrelated, and fear of the unknown devolves to binary thinking: “you’re with us or agin’ us”, “you were born in some other country”, “it’s all a conspiracy,” “they’re out to control us.” We saw such thinking on all sides this time, including vilification of the “Tea Party.”

But evolution continues to crush black-and-white perspectives. They just can’t be sustained, and the last gasp of a failing world view is the loudest just before dying away. “Do not go gentle into that good night. … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Thomas Frank’s book focused on the midwest, one of the most recent regions to succumb to the fear of “otherness.” If we seek to understand and recognize that fear, we can avoid the same hell.

On Cooperative Catalyst – November 3

Thanks to you and your partners, Adam, for bringing TEDxDirigo to life. I agree that introductions to great ideas, coming from the thinkers themselves, can be a significant addition to education at all levels.

Last summer, Fast Company ran an interesting article on that topic by Anya Kamenetz, author of D.I.Y.U.

The responses were informative. I was especially taken with a comment from Open Culture — which I consider to be one of the best curators of free educational videos from around the Web.

They wrote: “Will watching 18 minute lectures – ones that barely scratch the surface of an expert’s knowledge – really teach you much? And when the 18 minutes are over, will the experts stick around and help you become a critical thinker, which is the main undertaking of the modern university after all?”

That gets back to your proposal, as well as the Innovation Lab in Loveland, Colorado. Once a mind is sparked by video presentations of engaging insights, how do we turn that enthusiasm into sustained critical thinking? How do we teach and model techniques for discarding 99% of the trivial information that crosses the oversocial media threshold and for selecting the most meaningful interactions, virtual and in person?

You are right: it’s not about quantitative standards. But effective lifelong learning certainly does require teachers, mentors, task-masters to show us how to develop and use discriminating reason to pay attention to what’s worthwhile.

Fred Sheahan – November 9

The fields of traditional education and online learning are on a collision course, and I think you’re right: one of the greatest sources of friction is the different pace of each.

Although titles are valuable in providing a context for the work, in a field that is changing as quickly as ours, the responsibilities and the titles will change rapidly, too. At the same time, the slower pace of structural change in educational institutions can prevent the nimble decision-making required in this new environment.

The governance process for online communications at a school — from marketing and engagement, to learning and business processes — is an excellent indicator of whether the school is ready to seize the opportunities.

Find out how institutional strategy and online communications are aligned, and how decisions are made, short-term and long-term. Who are the executive sponsors? To what degree are advisors able to advocate for their own constituencies and also understand and support the overall institutional values and identity.

But don’t worry much about the titles themselves. They’ll be different in 6 months.

Fred Sheahan – November 19

Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. I don’t think age matters that much.

I’d like to suggest that we are hard-wired to be social to some degree and hard-wired to be solo to some degree, depending on the individual and the influence of the surrounding culture. Regardless of whether we are “digital natives” or “digital immigrants,” some people are more comfortable with exposing their self-identities publicly than others. (Some prefer contemplation in life over amassing Twitter followers.) I don’t think age matters that much; these traits are, I believe, deeper personality-based preferences.

In 1961, Jane Jacobs wrote about that dance between public and private spaces in New York.  Just as we benefit from those clear distinctions in the real world, so, too, are such boundaries important in our virtual lives. For example, I think the presence of a private virtual space right next to a public space is an apt application of the “creepy treehouse” effect.

However, having grown up in a medium-sized town where you were always seen and being seen, I can certainly remember feeling like I was in a fishbowl and wanting the freedom of urban anonymity. After that exploration, though, I realized what was missing, and chose to return to small city life and the expectation of responsibility that comes along with being seen by people you know all the time. (A friend of my uncle described that experience in an article she wrote about him some time back.)

With the Internet, we have made effortless the ability to try out new identities online without having to go urban, and such virtual promiscuity comes with little cost. Trustworthiness cannot be easily judged. Even “real-name” profiles can’t always be evaluated: “Is that person really who s/he says?” Multiple identities are easily juggled. I think the only real way to verify that an online profile matches a real person is to meet them in meatspace.

I’m not sure that online services are really ready to provide a real small-town experience. Imagine this: a social network that brings together people with very different beliefs, forces them to interact randomly, imposes severe consequences when they behave outside the norm, and makes it very difficult to leave. Some would choose to participate. Many would grow into stronger, yet more compassionate people. Unfortunately, I suspect most would prefer the online echo chambers of self-selected beliefs and believers. Much easier.

But, they might watch for the vicarious thrill.

2 thoughts on “A month inside walled gardens

  1. hi jay

    i think we’ve become too dependent on the digital world (computers, the internet, digital gadgets, etc) to do things for us that we should be doing ourselves.

    i’ve actually stopped using the my computer and iphone for a lot of what i used to depend on them for:
    doing math, drawing things, looking up telephone numbers, finding locations on a map, looking up a recipe for dinner, having a conversation with a friend, etc, etc, etc…

    computers and digital gadgets, and the software that runs them are supposed to be tools, not crutches, but unfortunately we’ve allowed ourselves to become dependent on them. this by the way, plays right into the hands of the corporations that own and sell the technology. addict and dealer.

    “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want” — Steve Jobs

    Want, not need.

    we have to stop the madness. we have to turn off the laptop, the device, the television, the wii and get out and play with our kids, weed the garden, go find a nice trail and take a quiet walk with a best friend. and so on. we just have to find the right balance.

    • Yes, Daniel. I concur.

      It is interesting that, as I have benefitted from the increasing power of digital processing and the Internet over the years, I’ve actually used them less, and sought a simpler lifestyle, finding the space to do the things you mentioned.

      For me, the biggest difference has been using personal technologies less for synchronous activities, and more for asynchronous interaction, at punctuated intervals, when I want. Very few mediated activities need to be “right now.”

      When you remain present, without devices, and then decide when you want to get connected virtually, it becomes a choice rather than an obsession.

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