I noticed the Fab Lab has been in need of some more inventor spirit lately. So for Spring semester 2017 I’ve committed to doing at least one hack project a week. It’s also a way to reboot JAG85.com. Go take a peek to see what I’m up to lately!
Just wanted to share an excerpt from my dissertation, the big take-aways for the field of library and information science.
The help desk manager at the UIUC Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Jill Gengler, once said that the kinds of people she wants to hire (and inspire) are “positive problem solvers.” I don’t have enough words to express how much I agree with this sentiment. These are the attributes of the people I met in my research who truly helped to foster digital literacies and enabled their libraries to have visible impacts. Throughout the process of the dissertation I couldn’t help but compare my experience with graduate studies in LIS to what I was observing in the field. I had the privilege and honor of attending and working with one of the highest ranked institutions in the world in several capacities: as a student, researcher and instructor for several years. Throughout most of the period I frequently struggled with feelings of being an outsider or rebel because of my consistent desire to focus on practice and optimism (solutions), which was often regarded as unscholarly, naïve or arrogant. At one point it even led me to reject affiliating myself with librarianship entirely, but the better answer, I later determined, was to take ownership over what I wished for my area of study to be. In that vein, I posit that LIS must address several major issues:
Identity. LIS has a branding problem. Too many people think librarians are the rigid old ladies who go “shuuush.” They think libraries are boxes full of books and inert silence. They don’t think of public TV production centers, talking gingerbread men or the building as a hard-earned symbol of social justice for an African American neighborhood, or as many of the other possible associations present in the stories of my site visits. We need to alter what libraries and library and information science means to people, and we can do this by teaching—socializing—our future public librarians with professionalization that emphasizes human and technology services as much as reading materials or organization. Libraries should bust out of their walls and into their communities and on to the internet to be heard and seen differently. As a field of research we need to think and talk about ourselves differently as well. Instead of defining the field as being in a state of crisis over information needs, we can construct it as being in a state of proactive responsiveness. We are not the handmaidens for information merely here to serve other fields, we are innovators and leaders with all things connecting people and information.
Diversity. Public libraries serve patrons of all kinds, and yet library science is continually one of the most homogenous areas of study. This is true in terms of nearly every socio-analytic category (race, class, gender ) and often in other ways, like personality types or disciplinary background. The impacts of our lack of diversity is sometimes surprising, like when it results in intolerance for conservatism, Christianity or optimism, and also sometimes very unsurprising, such as assumptions of default whiteness or expecting every student to own a smartphone with an unlimited data plan and penchant for checking email. Of the librarians I spoke to over half of them expressly and independently indicated they did not come from a background in the humanities. They were from fields like IT, business, education, social services, art and communications. Some of them were even a little disorganized and many of them showed that they appreciated change and yearned to be flexible. A few even said they weren’t all that excited about books. Above all they were able to connect with patrons as diverse as they were, and found assets and opportunities in the knowledge and needs those patrons had to offer for library services. Our ability to relate to communities, patrons and technologies, as well as our motivation and capability to teach and innovate, is reliant on our diversity. There are many trajectories for tackling issues of diversity in LIS institutions, including altering recruitment strategies, better supporting and sustaining students, recruiting and funding faculty of different backgrounds and crucially working recognition of the importance of diversity into curriculum, particularly information science classes and projects.
Research and Teaching. A large share of research that comes out of iSchools appears to be on academic libraries and academic topics. Much of the curriculum and body of publication focuses on critical analysis of important issues, like discourses in literature or methods of information organization and abstraction, but not active and direct implementation of solutions and services in fields related to information. If the study of library and information science is to actually inform what goes on in public with information professionals then we should be working more actively with institutions beyond the academy. This includes researching with partners like corporations, schools and community libraries and emphasis on areas like community informatics, digital literacy and usability. Practicums and internships are a well-recognized method to engage master’s students in this, but PhD and faculty-level research and scholarship must follow suit as well. Like many areas of study PhD’s in library and information science often do not go on to fill tenure-track positions at research universities, and consequently experience in practice-based and teaching settings can be very important, it ought not be seen as a ‘distraction from true scholarship.’ On the other hand, research methods are not evenly taught in many institutions. Master’s students may not get the opportunity to learn about how to conduct social science (or other kinds of) research and PhD’s are often not familiarized with action, participatory and community-based methodologies common in fields like health, education or psychology.
Several times throughout my research I was asked by librarians (who already had a Master’s degree) if my school offered any continuing education for librarians who wanted to better understand what they were doing or who wanted to develop innovative programs like makerspaces in libraries. There is an enormous opportunity for life-long learning in LIS education that can be built upon pre-existing frameworks like online course systems or organizations like the OCLC to ensure that a given librarian’s degree doesn’t have to be stamped with a certain vintage. Just think of what might happen in an LIS research center explicitly set up to be a public (or corporate or school) library program and systems innovation lab!
 A developing array of strategies for this can be found on the ALA website, at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy-university/public-library-resources.
 See http://www.ala.org/research/librarystaffstats/diversity for some relatively recent statistics for the overall profession, or http://dmi.illinois.edu/stuenr/index.htm#race for a very recent representation of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This may be in part due to the field’s position as an exclusively graduate area of study, but the graduate level in the social sciences, arts and humanities show that the severity needn’t be the case.
 The Harvard Library Innovation Lab (http://librarylab.law.harvard.edu) might be an example of this. Admittedly I’m more excited about the development and deployment of in-person programs than online systems. The Center for Digital Inclusion (http://cdi.lis.illinois.edu/cdi) here at the University of Illinois may be an example of this.
In 5th grade my primary teacher had each student in his class independently come up with an invention. Parents were allowed to help but it had to be mostly driven by the kids themselves. Mine was a golf putter with an aluminum tube attached to the side that could hold and deploy balls that would enable you to rapidly practice putting and assess the nearby ground. This was probably the kind of project that ultimately helped to propel me into the worlds I’m in now.
I only remember a few of the other kids’ inventions – mostly the ones that were really bad. Some kind of pizza turn table and a basketball hoop with a laundry basket mounted on the bottom. Makes me wonder what enabled and inhibited creativity in us back then.
Anyway I was reminded of all of this during our past winter holiday family outing when my 10 year old cousin and I deployed what we affectionately dubbed “the bowling stick” – a 2 meter long flimsy PVC pipe with a confusing, twisted assemblage of pipe parts and pads for chair legs attached to the bottom. It was the invention of my Aunt, who really intended it to be a low-impact Adaptive Bowling instrument that required a little more skill than a ramp that she and my grandmother could use. For my little cousin and I, however, it breathed new life into bowling like nothing else could have. Normally the game seems pretty predictable: you fling a ball down the lane, aiming for the center pin hoping to knock them all down… and after regular practice can get spares and strikes quite easily. There’s little in the way of thrilling competition or real athleticism involved, I get the sense that it’s more about having an easily interruptible game medium that can serve as a pseudo-escapist way to punctuate conversation.
Enter the stick. Neither one of us knew how to use this thing, and while it felt a little like hockey it was much harder to control the heavy ball. It was adjustable and you could use all kinds of techniques to send it down, amounting to a substantial amount of silliness and chaos. Anyway I thought it would make an excellent updated version of the 5th grade invention project:
- First and foremost it could be used as an excellent excuse to teach physics and engineering – angles and spinning with the ball, bending and tensile strength of the stick, force created from different swing techniques , friction of various surfaces and so on.
- As a kid I would have been pretty bored by talking about this kind of physics until we actually had to apply it! And that’s the beauty of this thing – you could take what you learned and attempt to make improvements to your technique and the actual construction of the device, and then observe and test them in an iterative and scientific method type fashion. What happens when you add more or different prongs on the end? Alter the wheels or put pads everywhere instead of just on the bottom?
- A variety of models could be developed around each kind of ball propulsion technique, with advantages and disadvantages and instructors could help students to learn that it doesn’t have to just be about speed or efficiency. Perhaps the controlled-instability and unpredictability makes the game more fun. Might there be other improvements, like making it height-adjustable for multiple players or able to hook on to a table without falling over? How might the aesthetics alter the experience we have using the stick?
- And this of course could build into other related projects: can we make a new off-shoot of bowling based on this stick? What makes a good game? What would it take to make a Kickstarter out of it? Do we need to create a video and how do we categorize and present the features or benefits? How can research data be collected about health impacts, possible damage to the floor or other issues that might come up?
Anyway just a thought. I’m not really qualified to be a full-time teacher for 10 year olds but if any of them want to come to the Fab Lab to pioneer a bowling stick, just tell them to drop me a line. I sent the same cousin home with an Arduino this year. $10 says she loses or breaks it, but maybe, just maybe, she’ll get to thinking about what to invent with it 🙂
I love CGP Grey. And Hank and John Green on YouTube. But I don’t think a customized version of this sort of thing is the ideal future (or solution) to education. Here’s my take – start by watching this video:
Two experiences come to mind:
- I teach (and previously attended class) in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UIUC (GSLIS). It’s regarded as one of the most highly-ranked schools in the country and has many cutting edge programs, including a distance learning system known as LEEP. While LEEP isn’t exactly what he’s talking about here it has many characteristics in common – the school acts as an intermediary for providing learning materials, assignments, guidance on subjects and evaluations, at a comparatively lower cost for all involved. Students generally pursue these materials on their own timeline (save for a 2 hr online class held at a regular time) and largely in front of a computer screen. One of the biggest problems with LEEP (in my opinion, though we have some research on this topic) is that students find it harder to be engaged when they’re stuck in front of a screen instead of amongst peers in a classroom. We try to counteract this by having on-campus days for in-person activities, which usually go well, but fact of the matter is their motivation is often less because they’re often less committed to participating in a class. Students listen to lectures while doing their dishes, slack on doing online readings and so on. And these are top-tier masters students. It’s easier for them to not care because we trust them to do more self-guided learning and we don’t check on them as much. I don’t think this problem is endemic to online learning, I think there’s a lot of variance in how much people actually enjoy learning at all. Many of the undergrads at U of I aren’t here because they like or want to learn, they’re here because it’s the path that’s been laid out for them.
- I’ve had a few years of experience teaching classes in informatics in GSLIS for both graduate and undergraduate students. A lot of the time we’re working on technical application skills, like building websites or learning to code, and since this stuff moves at a pace that’s too fast for even me to keep up I do a lot of referral to online learning resources like videos and sites like Lynda.com or the Khan Academy. I do what I can to inspire ideas, answer questions, provide interesting, challenging and realistic assignments and create an environment where students work together and feel supported. I encourage only self-driven potentially-independent individuals to enroll. Even in this environment I’ve noticed that as many as half in a given class has difficulty driving themselves to evaluate and make the most out of learning materials out there. They often have trouble caring about it given all of the other classes and deadlines on their plates, especially when it’s a “learn at your own pace and work at will” kind of setting.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, my issue with CGP Grey’s idea here is that he’s missing three big issues that relate to education:
- Motivation – This varies a lot by individual but often times people can’t be entirely (or optimally or joyfully) self-driven. They need to be paid for work, get recognition for it by others, or find it constantly relevant to their in-the-moment tasks and challenges. Online learning faces a myriad of issues with motivation. Look into Nicole A. Cooke’s research for more on this issue. I think many of the people who learn online effectively in technical fields have inherited motivation and self-teaching strategies from prior in-person schooling in their early years. If my college (and above) level students struggle with this I can’t imagine what high schoolers and below in socially excluded settings go through.
- Socialization – Another reason we have people in school is to teach them how to participate in society – as part of the workforce, as citizens in countries or communities, and as individuals. Online learning doesn’t provide as much of an opportunity for this, and I think it can even be dangerous. I make all of my kids learn about how racism, sexism or homophobia relate to technologies, regardless of if they want to because it’s part of our duty as educators to work to do so. If a learner gets to just pick and choose material Ala-cart online they’ll avoid this total package that I think is so essential to holistic and contextual learning. If we make them take ‘perspective-taking 101’ how can we assure that they’ll ever advance past the first class? How do we even know this kind of thing can be taught without real human-to-human interaction? How do we prevent ‘personalized’ from becoming ‘isolated’ in negative ways?
- Edutainment – I’m not really convinced the internet is going to have any less interference and distraction than TV, radio or the other technologies that have failed to be our saviors in years past (see the 2:30 mark in the video). How many hours have been lost to people watching cats on the internet? There’s a reason that educational material is not the most popular – there’s not as much money there. Many instructors already feel pressured to be especially entertaining to compete with this stuff, I think this will happen on the web too. TL; DR is one of the most infuriating expressions of this I think I’ve ever run into.
So, ultimately, what am I saying? That we shouldn’t have personalized online learning? No, not at all! Does a Digital Aristotle program have a place within schools? Absolutely. Is it a good idea to split kids up by ability within given subject areas, instead of age? Sure. Can self-guided learning be powerful? Probably more so than any other type!
I’m saying I’m excited to see models where we can solve issues with motivation, continue human-to-human socialization and avoid being pwn’d by digital capitalism. I don’t know what these are yet but they’re certainly not a bunch of kids just being plugged into computer sockets in a classroom (or at home) with no real teacher. As much as the fallout from standards might cause problems (like exams being a horrible method for assessment) I think having some sense of what we want all students to know and do is useful. If we are going to implement systems like Digital Aristotle let’s be careful about ensuring they can work with an entourage of strategies to ensure well-adjusted, adaptive learners.
“You speak. Siri helps. Say hello to the most amazing iPhone yet.”
So the ad on the back of the April 2012 edition of Wired magazine reads. We’re left linger on that last word: yet. Nevermind the agency we’re assigning to Siri, the overly-hyped, distinctly inhuman voice recognition software that yearns to sell you more widgets[G1], focus instead on that triumphant little three letter word. We are assured this is not the first iPhone, nor will it be the last. With each model we gain more features, claim more battery/bandwidth and obsess over the nuances of the shape of the device. And yet there is an absent dimension to this story. This American Life and Mike Daisey (2012) did well to bring a lot of attention to variety of scaling costs to workers that go into one of these gadgets and Johnathan Zittrain (2008) established years ago Apple’s ongoing project to demolish the open web and computer interoperability in favor of compartmentalized proprietary, high-profit-yielding apps. Both of these would seem to me to be steps backwards. So why then do we so easily accept it as a “most amazing” technological evolution in what is most likely assumed to be an inevitable story?
Progress. Or, more accurately, the false progress narrative that everyone seems to have had stuck in their head since the 50’s. Statements like “the evolution of technology” are just what continue to give it life today. It’s a smaller piece of a greater whole I’m afraid, a component (or proponent?) of technological determinism—the dominant, impetuous voice given to the presentation of technology and its relationship with society that always takes the form of continual self-contained (and self-evident) progression. The age-old classic might be the generalized (read: wrong) form[G2] of Moore’s law, the notion that computing capability accelerates in a predictable (periodic and exponential) and inevitable fashion. Faceless, decontextualized “technology” is seen to be a force of change because the darned stuff is somehow always causing itself to increase in speed and effectiveness, relative to how it was, of course. The net result of defining technology as progress is that society must adapt to it instead of shape it. Some say that technology is merely the application of science. Us informatics scholars claim this is faulty because scientists create as much as they ‘discover’ and, historically speaking, science and technology have not had clear-cut or consistent connections. And this proposition that technology simply builds upon preexisting technology is a misnomer (not to mention it breaks Kuhn’s heart). Neither is technological progress an eternal project of addressing reverse salients, unforeseen setbacks or problems [G3]resulting from the unfolding of technologies over time, because not all technology is designed to correct problems caused by previous technology. To be sure, human values are definitely embedded in technologies. Not only was the nuclear bomb a reflection of the values, capabilities and agendas of its time [G4]but it really could be used in only so many ways. Technology comes about as a result of human ideas and agency; the direction it goes and the effects it has is largely up to us. Now I’m not saying technology is purely socially constructed either. In some ways it may have limited agency, like the way a dead person’s Facebook profile might be continually animated by algorithms and interactions. But at the end of the day we are the ones who make sense of what it all means.
A lot of work on the subject of power and our current “information” society examines people’s ability to participate in it meaningfully, be it as part of global conversations, local democracy, or broad movements of social change[G5]. This assertion assumes that participation boils down to a matter (requirement) of information access, known commonly as the digital divide, or, stated succinctly, the power differences between people or communities tied to varying levels of computer and internet opportunity.
Establishing the digital divide as our enemy necessarily embarks us on a quest for digital solutions, but the lack of possession of material access to information technology as well as the absence of skills, community support and perceptions to make effective use of it is certainly a symptom of deeper, more prolonged issues. In the information revolution the have-nots are those who are simply digitally divided. Why do we forget to think about what caused them to be digitally divided in the first place? In some sense the digital divide is a moving target, as the make-up of information communication technology shifts as we look back over time. In this sense we’ve been in an information revolution (or crisis) for over thirty years. To suggest the information revolution is a regularized state of being is to render the term inadequate[G6]. But truthfully it just keeps getting used. First it was the onset of significant availability of computers in business and homes in the 80’s, then it was the beginning of widespread internet adoption that broke out in the 90’s and in the recent decade it has donned the hats of mobility, broadband and Web2.0. Up next might be the semantic web. It is worth taking a step back, disentangling oneself from the ever-changing constitution of ICTs, and interrogating the underlying assumptions and agendas of the digital divide and the credence for the proliferation of ICTs that we find wrapped up in the idea of the information revolution.
One might follow the lead of Jan Pieterse (2005), who questions the motivation behind the digital divide in his critique of information communication technologies for development, or ICT4D. His argument depends on the frame of digital capitalism, a world in which networks of corporations drive and dominate cyberspace and subject the world to certain flavors of media as well as the brunt of larger forces, like consumerism. ICT4D implies the imposition of flawed (or loaded) developmental models, such as the aforementioned technological determinism or neo-liberalism (market forces are development) that serve to mask the true intentions of insidious political and economic agendas: to make money off of poor people through selling more material goods and exploiting labor, to control markets with ideologies like intellectual property rights and to force developing countries to choose between dependence on NGO’s or corporate networks. Pieterse’s stance is accurate, if resoundingly pessimistic, and reminds us of the complex of baggage we drag with us when we deploy ICTs to ‘bridge the divide’ between peoples as we “progress” in the alleged information revolution.
This is why I prefer to shift the conversation to literacy. In the vernacular, literacy often is taken to be equivalent to competency, proficiency or functionality, and is frequently affixed to other words to create compound meanings[G7], such as information literacy, (new) media literacy, and stranger and debatable pairings, such as emotional literacy. I take the term a step further than competency. As an educator I advocate for literacies that affects power. Literacies comprised of social practices that foster critical social awareness as well as measurable knowledge and creative command over relevant communicative[G8] tools. Students who can accomplish some degree of mastery over these literacies are able to look at phrases like the evolution of technology or the information revolution and see them for what they are: political positions inscribed in terms that obscure the tangled masses of sociotechnical forces in operation behind them. These same students can go on to actively create, share and remix[G9] information, media[G10] and ideas to be a conscious and intentioned part of the drive behind the information revolution or technological evolution, as the case may be.
How to foster such literacies, however, is another subject entirely, and will have to wait until next time.
How we pace ourselves into this future of (r)evolution?
I’m in the midst of testing the Windows 8 Customer Preview. Some notes on my experience, in no particular order. Clearly they don’t have power users in mind!
- UI needs work but is a good start
- Not enough non-MS app support yet
- Need more ability to customize things
- A good OS for tablets, phones, and media centers, not powerful computers
Look and Feel + Interaction
- Great for everything MS
- Poor for apps that are not MS
- Give me more power to customize the Metro UI start screen
- Show active Metro UI apps in a flyout on the taskbar
- Right-side gesture options don’t work well if you have a dual-display to the right
- Why repeat my task bar on both screens?
- App-switching on the left of the Metro UI is good
- Make folders on the search menu in Metro UI collapsed by default – I don’t need a screen full of dutch language manuals for Nero
- Provide more windows-button hotkey bindings and shortcuts (customizable??)
- Can we integrate the whole control panel into Metro?
- Overall performance dropped ~10% according to benchmarks, can’t feel it though
MS Apps that are useful
- Explorer file transfer management is MUCH IMPROVED
- Internet Explorer’s interface is good…
- Bing Weather
- Built-in PDF and ISO readers
- System Rating – look I’m no longer the fastest possible!
MS Apps that need improvement
- App store – very little selection, give me the big names
- Maps – way worse than Google’s, let me manually input my location
- Photos – let me add/remove sources to my liking, and pick what goes in the live tile
- Videos/Music – let me control directory sources from Metro UI
Some stuff doesn’t launch
- Daemon Tools (SPTD 1.8 can’t be layered with 4.10 anymore)
- PowerDVD 11 (updated to a mid-level patch, probably works with a new one)
- Can’t recognize my Hercules webcam
- I’d bet most antivirus won’t work, I’m using AVG
Some stuff crashes
- Creative volume control (crashes at shutdown, works otherwise)
- LOL skin changer (.NET framework issues, can’t import skins)
Weird behaviors that have happened randomly, without repeat
- Drag and drop stopped working
- Couldn’t see files through Windows Explorer
- Icon images on Control Panel
- Bluray burner disconnected randomly while burning with Nero 10, disc toasted
Things they need to put back in
- Recently used documents as sub-menus on start items
- Make it easier for me to get to sleep/shutdown/restart
Things I haven’t played much with
- Anything that makes me sign into a MS Live account
- MS Email
- Internet Explorer compatibility
I often have people ask me why I’m not a fan of Apple. I thought I’d try to gather my thoughts into something with a bit of organization. I had hoped it would be short, but it turned into a long rant. It’s also pretty coarse. Here we go:
- Practical: They want to control as much as they can to cost you money… and freedom.
- Ideological: They don’t want information to be a public good, they want it to be a monopolized commodity.
- These philosophies, in turn, get implemented in their products.
Simple as that. Not enough? Let’s go through some examples, starting with this one:
This post is a little harsher and has a more aggressive tone to it. Just envision me on a soap box and take it for its points of interest, not religious doctrine.
The iPhone trap and the new iPad threat
First, let’s tackle the mobile.
The App Lock
Johnathon Zittrain outlined this issue in 2008. If you buy an Apple phone you have to get/buy applications and music for it from iTunes. They limit what apps can be created and sold, and limit which devices they can be used on (own more than 5 devices in your lifetime? Tough luck, buy all your stuff again). If you buy a new Android phone later you have to then get/buy an entirely new set of applications for that phone. This means people who buy apple are locked into using Apple, because switching out of it costs you a lot of time and money. The same goes for Android, but at least it’s supported by all carriers and has many more phone manufacturers.
iPads are essentially big iPhones. People are starting to use them instead of laptops. They inherit all of the constraints of the iPhone, which means they are primarily sites of information consumption (not creation), and this consumption happens only on Apple’s terms. If they become as pervasive as laptops we will have a very large body of users who will be at a disadvantage. The social norms of computing will begin to change for the worse. Instead of buying and using software however, whenever and wherever you want, you will have to use it however, whenever and wherever Apple wants. They will find ways to make you pay money for various kinds of use, and you won’t have a choice to use something else, unless you want to pay a lot of money.
Alternative: Run an OS like Windows 8 (not available yet, but I’m investing all my hope in it) that will run on all hardware platforms (phones, tablets, game consoles, computers) and run any software built by 3rd party developers. Just like a real computer. On more powerful devices (computers, tablets like iPads) you will probably even be able to run a virtual machine to run Apple software!
Another Alternative: Jailbreak your iPhone. Install whatever you want. Sell it unlocked years later for more than you got it for.
Yet Another Alternative: It seems that Apple’s high-price and unreasonable restrictions are causing it to start to lose the tablet battle, as the Nook and Kindle push their way in. While they still lock you into media library collections, these devices can have Linux installed on them…
The Hardware Debacle
iPhones are not modular. You can’t upgrade memory or [easily] switch in a new battery (unless you pay them mad $$$$ or void your warranty). The USB/power adapter for an iPhone only works for iPhones. You are unable to use an iPhone as a mobile hard drive.
Alternative: Apple could make it easy to switch out the battery, use micro-SD or common memory types that can be used in many devices, and make the USB connector something universal, like mini or micro-USB. Allow for users to partition up to 80% of the storage space to be usable as a mobile hard drive.
Historically Apple has asserted control over iPhones that eliminate choices. They used to be an AT&T-only device, and now only have a few carriers. They used to not allow multitasking on phones, like if you wanted to listen to music, surf the web and deal with text pop-ups at the same time. And they still do not support Flash, blocking users out of a major form of web content. iTunes infests every file you download with digital rights management (DRM) that makes it only usable in certain conditions.
Why does this bother me? Well, let’s think a minute about the market, economics, and information. On the one hand we’re seeing Apple prevent healthy competition. On the other hand we’re seeing them impose artificial limits on information to make it a much more easily controlled commodity, one that they can have exclusive access to. What are the economic qualities of information? Presented in three relevant sets:
- Easily searchable (harder to exclude users)
- More persistent (arguably non-rivalrous)
- Easily replicable (low marginal cost)
The traits make it easy to argue that information could be a public good (non-exclusive, non-rivalrous, with low marginal cost and likelihood of positive externality). Apple wants to be the one who controls all replication, search and persistence.
- Information technology (IT) benefits from network effects (the more people with Facebook or Windows the more valuable it becomes)
- It crosses many genres (e.g. we feel uncomfortable with commodifying “personal” information)
- Its true value is determined by use or knowledge
Apple wants everyone to use Apple, so that the value of their product is higher.
- It is easy to create, but hard to trust
- It is easy to spread, but hard to control
Apple doesn’t want to promote creation (unless it is on their terms, on their devices and within their constraints) and definitely wants to control the spread of information. It is trying to counter the social norms and economic possibilities of information.
Alternative: I’m not asking for a completely socialist system, or a purely open market. I’m asking for Apple to not be a jerk. Let me buy a song or app and use it on any device I own. I should be able to make an audio recording on my phone and transfer it to my computer without buying some expensive app to do it. Apple should support common standards like Flash, but allow for new competition, like running other OS’s on iPhones or running iOS on non-Apple hardware. Interoperability and negotiated standards are what benefit consumers the most!
The MacBook Monster
Now, let’s talk about Mac computers.
Are you one of us?
There are extremists out there when it comes to any kind of opinion or position related to something. I’ve certainly met “Linux people” who wonder why you would ever use a graphical user interface (aka colors, shapes, buttons, desktop, icons, pictures, etc…). There is no single character to “Apple” people, exactly, though I think that Apple’s marketing would indicate one. I’ve only played around with a little bit of content analysis of Apple ads, but they’re usually white and well-off, which is really no surprise or difference from most IT advertisement. What I’ve actually gotten more of in person from “Apple users” is condescension. It’s the “we’re better-than-you” club because we know to buy macs because they’re better. Why? “Because they’re pretty. And not PC’s. DUH, gawd, get with the times you narc-bum.” In America we get wrapped up in this tangled mess of consuming as a way to augment, project or otherwise construct your personality and identity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “but graphic designers use macs because they’re better for that.” Graphic designers are using the same programs (e.g. Adobe) on Mac or PC, and actually I’m convinced dual-display is better than a single iMac display any day. The real reason graphic designers use Macs is because other designers do and they learn on them, not because they’re better in any substantively measurable way for design. I also occasionally get the “I use Macs because I’m different” response. This feels a lot like when 500 sorority girls walk down the street all wearing the same T-shirt that says “Be Greek, be Unique.” Apple is incredibly normative, if you want to be truly different run Linux.
Mac fans sometimes carry the vestiges of the “Thank god I switched away from Windows XP” with them. Yes, Windows XP is a bad operating system, and no this is not news. It’s a decade old and, by comparison, now terrible. I wish Vista weren’t a disaster, I’m not going to defend it. But this doesn’t make you wiser for choosing Apple, not in 2011, when we have Windows 7 and are on the cusp of launching Windows 8. Ubuntu and Chromebooks have caught up as a viable options for any user who’s not producing media, playing games or doing power computing.
I don’t have an alternative for this one, really, it’s more just what I’ve observed Apple users to be like in-person, anecdotally. I just don’t want to be one of those “better than you” people, I want to bring as many people into computing and the internet as possible, and empower them along the way. I don’t want them to have to pay more money to be part of it, and I want them to be able to express themselves to the world on their own terms, not Apple’s.
Outrageous Cost Does NOT mean Quality
Not only does Apple find a way to charge you for everything because it’s all proprietary, but their computers cost a lot in the first place. Tremendously so – two to three times more expensive!
And no, this doesn’t mean their hardware is any better. I can buy a computer that’s nearly two times as fast as a mac for what someone would pay for even an entry-level mac. And no, Mac computers don’t have the best graphics. In fact now that they’re stocking the new Sandy Bridge chips their low-end models have Intel Express graphics, which are pretty poor “onboard” chips. AMD processors, while they might be slower overall, offer better integrated graphics. Apple also didn’t get SSD’s with TRIM support until Lion, placing them way behind in the storage race. Their ‘solid unibody construction’ is certainly no more durable than the equally-priced Lenovo (previously IBM) business travel Thinkpads or the military-grade Panasonic Toughbooks. Many people say Apple products are tougher and last longer, but I’m pretty convinced these days they have the same degree of planned obsolescence as everyone else – they want you to upgrade every two years and sign a new contract of some kind.
In other words Macs don’t have the fastest or highest quality hardware, and are often not at the cutting-edge of speed and technological development. They’re certainly not budget-buy machines, but they’re not the best either. They’re just priced high.
Apple Hardware Compatibility
Apple controls their hardware in many ways. They don’t want you to know the model number for your computer, so that they can prevent you from upgrading it on your own. This way you must take it into their store and pay them to do it. In fact even under “about this Mac” you won’t find model numbers, but instead a vague “early/mid/late 20xx.” They also like proprietary plugs. VGA adapter type has changed with virtually every generation of Mac, and this, combined with obscured model numbers, makes it very difficult to figure out how to buy the right one. Apple power adapters also only fit Apple computers. They are better (the magnetic thing is neato!) but this means you can’t easily borrow one from a friend unless they have a mac. And finally, it’s harder to swap in modular parts even if you do want to do it on your own. Many hard drives and videocards require special firmware for Mac.
Alternative: Apple, get with the program. Just make your hardware flexible, labeled and modular like everyone else. It’s not good to be different if different is incompatible or unnecessarily more costly. Oh, and can you release your OS for install on any computer hardware? That would be handy. And… like… Windows and Linux??
Virus? Coming soon to a Mac near you
While historically Macs have been a safe zone from viruses, I am confident this will change in the future. They aren’t as tempting as large corporate bot networks based (on windows) that can be used for spam and DOS attacks and the like, but they do have three factors going for them that could easily make them the up and coming go-to target:
- Users with money
- Users who are less digitally literate who purchased a Mac because it’s “the easy computer”
- Apple is increasingly “the man”
Yes, I am insinuating that many (nMac users are “rich people who are bad at computers” and this will make them targets for viruses with clever social engineering. This will likely spread to iOS as well.
Alternative: Uh, well, anti-virus for Mac is going to become more common…
The OS – Real Problems?
Clearly people get used to certain operating systems. They get annoyed switching because there are slight differences between them. Sometimes those differences do matter in a substantive way. For instance Exposé is really handy for managing many windows on a single screen, and is native only to OSX. By contrast the ability to truly get a full screen view of pictures in a folder and adjust them to be any preview size you like is only available in Windows 7 and Linux. I don’t honestly think these are big issues. Apple, like Microsoft, has made mistakes in charging their interaction models that defy previous norms (OSX Lion switching the scroll direction), but this isn’t all that big of a deal. The biggest complaint have I have about the OS is more of a complaint about people being disorganized but it’s worth noting because there’s a dimension of abstraction and learning.
The File System Display: Apple obscures the hierarchical relation of folders and files. In Windows you have a C-drive, subfolders and so on, and you could easily illustrate this structure as a tree. Mac has this too, but if you have a folder open in Finder you will just see yourself in a place like “documents” or “pictures” or “applications”. I find this causes users to do silly things, like downloading and unpacking an archive for a program into applications, installing it in applications, and leaving the install files there floating, to create a bloated mess. Besides this, what happens is users lose track of sorting files in an organized fashion. They learn to just use spotlight to find things they want and kind of just put stuff wherever, without having a good model in their head for knowing where it is. Don’t get me wrong – this happens on PC’s all of the time too – especially with Windows 7’s new “libraries” system or just dumping files on the desktop, but I think OSX encourages the behavior by always hiding the true location you’re in (the path or address bar) and abandoning the file address metaphor. I don’t think relational search and organization is bad, I just want to train users how to do both hierarchical and relational. I’ve met a lot of people (remember 5 years as a netech and several years as a technology education person, I’ve met hundreds of computers and their users) that can’t keep their files straight. They’ll have 10 gb videos laying around from 2 years ago in some strange directory that they’ve forgotten about. A gagillion programs installed that they don’t use. It’s sad and frustrating, and I think Windows does an ever-so-slightly better job of helping people to have an idea about how a computer is organized beneath the GUI.
Alternative: Include a file path in the top of finder windows, one that can be turned off via view options. Include the true path and extension of a file in the properties for the file. Really the better solution to this is to teach people to be more capable of effectively organizing information, something I’d argue is a part of digital literacy education.
Does Apple do anything well besides make money and control people?
Turns out yes.
The only low-cost easy-to-use video editing program that lets you map music to media via timeline, includes a hefty sum of excellent templates/effects and helps you to manage your assets with other integrated sound and photo editing programs. Check it out if you haven’t already. I even figured out how to do OSx86 and run OSX 10.6.8 on a Virtualbox install to try to get it… but sadly you need a true mac with video acceleration to run it.
Someone asked me how to come up with an idea for a dissertation the other day, and here’s how I responded:
…Most PhD programs in the US require students to take a couple of years of classes so they can better work out their academic interests and determine where they might best fit. It’s usually a process of socialization and indoctrination into the norms and expectations for the field as much as it is familiarization with content.
My cousin, however, is pursuing a PhD in Canada, and apparently they don’t have classes there, they just go straight to working on their thesis. I don’t know if they even have advisors.
So if your school format is more like the former system, I’d suggest you identify some general topics or themes you’re interested in, and begin to ask questions. Find classes that relate to these and build off of ideas you encounter.
If your school format is more the latter, then I’d suggest you think about a few key things:
1) The sorts of academics you’d like to model yourself after – namely active research professors and scholars you think are ideal
2) The types of research methods you find fitting – LIS is quite interdisciplinary, community informatics does well with ethnography and participatory action research, but these methodological frameworks would not be accepted in, say, bibliometrics and knowledge organization. Often researcher experience and personality type helps to determine what kind of research suits a person best.
3) In stride with what I suggested above, ask questions. Look at the “why’s” and the “how’s” behind social processes and work to link them to existing literature.
I think there’s a lot to be done in many areas. A few topics you might consider that I’ve always wished I could more deeply explore:
- Cultural aspects of the digital divide and digital literacy; identifying and understanding social practices with technology that shape information sharing, expression and creation.
- Positive impacts of values embedded in technologies. Critical pedagogy could be interlaced into the construction, interface, and teaching agendas behind initiatives like OLPC or other ICT4D efforts. While these technologies might bring negative corporately-driven values, like consumerism, they also bring other possibilities, such as student-driven learning or [more] gender equality.
- Development and prototyping of media creation and analysis tools, like image annotation or collaborative video construction; exploration and best practices.
- Fostering and encouraging social-justice and egalitarian thinking amongst videogame communities; the next steps of what to do after we find evidence of structural oppression in social media and games.
Ordinarily when I say digital literacy, I am careful to premise it with the descriptors critical and creative, terms that, upon first impression, might seem a little ambiguous. After all, each word has at least two meanings. In this case the use of the word critical could give the impression that this is an essential or important incarnation of digital literacy, and I would argue it very well may be, but my main intention is to invoke the analytic meaning of the word: to interrogate, deconstruct and discern value. Likewise creative is often read in the sense of creativity, the process of hatching worthy and original ideas, which actually would lend itself to the critical component, which requires some measure of divergent thinking. Instead I don’t require that creative include uniqueness or discovery, just conscientious construction of objects and ideas, with the possibility that they may also be innovative or even deviant. Such distinctions provoke a preamble, this section jumps into digital literacy as it is seen in recent literature and lands squarely in the definition that inspires[G1] my proposal[G2] .
Literacy finds many different definitions in varying contexts, but one of the most globally conscious, as well as universally adopted, is that is put forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO 2004):
Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential and to participate fully in their community and wider society.
In presenting this definition UNESCO (2004, 2005) thoughtfully positions literacy as a set of social practices rather than a singular skill, and elevates it to the level of a human right (the right to education[G4] , UNESCO 2005). It suggests that meaningful acquisition and application of literacy provides the basis for positive social transformation, justice, and personal and collective freedom. Although this characterization establishes desired outcomes that match those of the ideological component of Cyberpower the UN report purposely restricts their focus [G5] to text and written materials. It is at this juncture where digital literacy comes into play.
In the vernacular, literacy often is taken to be equivalent to competency, proficiency or functionality, and is often affixed to other words to create compound meanings[G6] , such as information literacy, (new) media literacy[G7] , and stranger and debatable pairings, such as emotional literacy. Digital literacy is another one of these duos, and like the others it has a surrounding body of literature and discourse. However, I think it stands apart[G8] because it is well-positioned to appropriately frame research on libraries, information technology and empowerment, as will be explained.
Many definitions of digital literacy have turned up over the course of the past two decades, but they can generally be sorted into two major categories: (1) conceptual (abstract) definitions, often advocacy-laden, and (2) “standardized sets of operations intended to provide national and international normalizations” (Lankshear and Knobel 2006:21), or, more simply, comparable described[G9] skills. In a sense this is just theory and application, but the examples are so numerous and vague that they become difficult to track, especially when someone is seeking to determine which theory leads to which application. Even still, digital literacy research is largely international, which makes direct comparison and universal classification difficult, and the majority of it seems to be focused on youth enrolled in K-12 education, which delivers an incomplete view of the issue. Reviewed here is not a comprehensive or catch-all literature review of all ‘digitally’ associated literacies [G10] but instead a simpler concrete and outcome-oriented alignment of commonalities found in several apprehensions and models of digital literacy that I think are important[G11] . In other words, this framework provides the basis for my research approach.
In the Abstract
Conceptual definitions of digital literacy include a call for an alteration of the media and mode limitation seen in the aforementioned UN articulation: reading and writing with physical text. Some interpret this as broadly as the ability to comprehend information however it is presented physically, no matter how complex (adapted from Lanham 1995[G12] ), while others provide a new concentration as a stipulation: the ability to understand, evaluate and organize information represented through ICTs (among the first to propose this was Gilster 1998, there have been many others since). The field of New Literacy Studies is so bold as to suggest that digital literacy is a facet of entirely ‘new literacies’ and that though these literacies include practices mediated by post-typographic forms of text[G13] they also inherently involve social behaviors and patterns, such as being ‘participatory,’ ‘collaborative,’ or more ‘distributed’ (Lankshear and Knobel 2008, Jenkins et al. 2006, Mills 2010, Hague and[G14] Payton 2010). Such practices may dramatically transform the production of knowledge (Warschauer 2010); this implies that new sets of cultural or social relations may be necessarily represented through information sharing and expression with ICTs. Stated differently, it could be said that these new social practices are value-laden, and these values can get intertwined with the process and medium of ICTs.
The power digital literacy, to some extent, actually lies in its flexibility and lack of strong structure. In the 80’s scholars grappled with the idea of computer literacy, and later, in the 90’s they incorporated a broader view of information literacy (Bruce 1994, 1997). Bawden (2008) explains that the roots of digital literacy are interrelated to a host of other terms: library literacy (Bawden 2001), network literacy (McClure 1994), informany (Neelameghan 1995), mediacy (Inoue, Naito, and Koshizuka 1997), and e-literacy (Martin 2003, 2005). Though the objective is not to create one master form of digital literacy, Lankshear and Knobel (2008) suggest that a view of digital literacies (plural) is appropriate, and can account for the underpinnings of traditional text literacy, computer literacy, background knowledge, central competencies like knowledge assembly, and attitudes or perspectives, like independent learning.
As a result, digital literacy is notably situated in related sociocultural debates (Koutsogiannis 2007, Williams 2003), topics like textual design [G15] and multimodality (Kress 2003[G16] , Kress & Van Leeuwen 2001), the trajectory of education in the global information age (Cope & Kalantzis 2000[G17] , Luke & Carrington 2003), what forms or adoption processes the social practices of literacy take (Lankshear and Knobel 2008), and in envisioning new media as potential sites or environments of learning (Gee 2004). This discourse may be, in many cases, a reproduction of previously-encountered literacy debates (Collins & Blot 2003), and a great deal of the extant reports on digital literacy could stand to benefit from integrating a broader range of disciplinary perspectives. Conversations too far removed from practice may give insufficient attention to cultural tradition, the role of identities[G18] and local economic[G19] factors, to the point where we may fall into the trap of reinforcing digital capitalism, in a variation on a broader theme of the digital divide (Pieterse 2005, Koutsogiannis 2007). Despite all of this, the rhetoric does illustrate the sheer assemblage of ideologies on the topic, as well as the powerful interdisciplinary constituency of scholarship.
The fragmented theory from the numerous academic disciplines surrounding digital literacy are inherited in its application in research; many measures of digital literacy exist in recent publications. Similar to education and other intersections of humanities topics and social science, digital literacy seems to be most often measured in two ways: (1) in terms of flexible (qualitatively described) examples and typologies[G20] of best practices as well as (2) specifically measured aptitudes and behaviors, usually seen in the performance of tasks .
A complete review of studies employing these types of measures is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, reviewed here are two exemplars that give an idea of the ways conceptions of digital literacy might be applied.[G21]
First is the model for participatory culture discussed by Jenkins’ et al. (2006). In their report the authors argue for the existence of an emerging culture tied to digital literacy, described as having “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (Jenkins et al. 2006:3) The authors suggest that the recipe for participatory culture includes many social practices connected to engagement with ICTs, such as affiliations in online communities, digital expressions and circulations, and distributed problem-solving. They see this social action as related fundamentally to other challenges, such as digital inclusion and participation, transparency of information, and the question of ethics in the proliferation of new media. Out of this they draw a set of skills and cultural competencies and give examples that include teaching scenarios and encouragement for best practices. For instance, they describe transmedia navigation, “the ability to deal with the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities” (Jenkins et al. 2006:46) by presenting the case of Pokémon, a fictitious set of creatures for which there is no single core source of information. Children learn about Pokémon by following stories of their experiences and characteristics in a variety of mediums with different affordances and systems of representation, including card games, television, videogames and websites. Though Pokémon appear in many contexts, children still have a grasp of who and what they are. The application of digital literacy seen here is helpful in that it constructs useful and flexible categories and instances of social practice, but without chaining them to specific information technologies.
Second, Eshet-Alkalai and Hamburger (2004) and Eshet-Alkalai and Chajut (2009) introduce a compelling model in their operationalization of digital literacy as testable skills[G22] : photovisual literacy, reproduction literacy, branching literacy, information literacy, socioemotional literacy, and real-time thinking skills. Their series of studies (2004, 2009) featured a sample comprised of a diverse group of participants controlled for age, education and socioeconomic variables. They demonstrated the testing of digital literacy skills through verifiable and reliable tests over time, but with sufficiently complicated tasks. For instance, participants were challenged to use a word processor to modify the meaning of text by rearranging its parts. The work involved included an understanding of connotation, grammar, and composition as well as knowledge of the interface and comfort with hardware manipulation. In comparison to other simpler measures of digital literacy, such as knowing how to send an email, the authors more effectively capture digital literacy in its context: while they might pay more attention to technical aptitudes and cognitive abilities with regards to certain variables, they acknowledge the complexity and embeddedness of technology use. Knowing how to send an email has as much to do with knowing what or how to write and grasping the cultural norms of the people using your domain of the internet as it does using a mouse or navigating Gmail.
What makes these examples powerful is their emphasis on surrounding context and application-oriented research. They are also in need of one another. Jenkins et al. don’t present metrics that work well with operationalized (hypothesis testing) research and evaluation and Eshet-Alkalai, Hamburger and Chajut remain constrained to cognitive models that don’t take enough of the wisdom of cultural literacy studies [G23] into account. Research on digital literacy more generally falls in with the same trap[G24] : how to balance giving sufficient attention to informing theory and at the same time establishing and testing comparable and valid models or measures.
Establishing the Terms: Critical and Creative Literacy
A valuable digital literacy framework lies in a combination of insights from the field of research reviewed above. Digital literacy is best understood as a fuzzily bounded [G25] and dynamic set of social practices that foster critical social awareness, as well as measurable knowledge of and command over relevant digital tools. This is what is meant by the qualified critical and creative digital literacy[G26] , and I think this combination, is the most likely to affect the arrangements and production of Cyberpower.
Critical social awareness [G27] is the component that keeps this model outcome-oriented[G28] . It is not unlike the objectives of critical pedagogy (Finn 1999): educators must work vigorously to decipher and dismantle the oppressive structure that has come to characterize modern stratified education and push for authentic dialogue between teachers and learners[G29] . This need for a critical mindset goes beyond teaching young students in schools, extending to people of many ages and cultures, and also beyond the domain of skill acquisition—to aiding learners in becoming aware of their right (and capability) to transform reality (Freire 1998). In order to empower[G30] literacy should be an avenue for individuals to better understand how their identity and agency rely on and produce cultural forms. Contemporary introductory sociology classes refer to what is essentially the same concept when they teach students about C. Wright Mills’ (1959) Sociological Imagination: critical consciousness of the relationship(s) between experiences, of individuals and communities, to social structures and processes.
In other words, people become consummately digitally literate by approaching ICT tools critically, and this process deals with a moving target. What has been liberating literacy in the past—simply knowing how to read—has become domesticating literacy—a requirement to be plugged in to the system, but not command power within it—now (Finn 1999), and there is no reason to think this trend will not continue. I would posit leveraging the web is the new facet of this issue. People ought to engage in making sense of information access, communication and production tools in terms of their relevant fundamentals:
- · The ways they affect their capacity to assert identity
- · Recognition of the limitations and opportunities afforded by the cultural context surrounding a given tool
- · Its possibility for meaningful communal participation or collaboration
- · And finally, reflection on this process of sense-making and evaluation [G31]
Robinson (2011) would likely stress that these fundamentals constitute exemplars of creativity as he refers to it, applied imagination, but in this case it is applied sociological imagination.
Critical consideration of ICTs informs and orients the agenda of building a base of knowledge about these tools. To accomplish the transformation of the world around us as Freire describes people require basic concepts and skills for ICT application in everyday life. This includes a dimension of augmented information literacy, which Martin and Grudziecki (2006:7) aptly describe as:
“The awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize information resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others.”
Creative[G32] digital literacy, as I conceptualize it, hangs on the latter half of this definition, but with greater intensity. Contributing to the creation of the content and knowledge that flows between ICTs is a step towards empowerment, but this may leave out a key condition: the ability to generate, modify, repurpose, remix and otherwise assert control over the mediums these ICTs depend on and exist in. This requirement may be extreme, but can be cast as a long term goal, much as justice and equity might at first seem farfetched. If individuals can program, design, hack, and build software and hardware then they have[G33] greater control over the means of knowledge production. They can participate in liberating movements like Open Source (Chorpa and Dexter 2008), dismantle [G34] oppressive social structures knit into digital architectures (Lessig 2006), help to maintain the innovative context that enabled the proliferation of the internet to develop in the first place (Zittrain 2008) and understand and advocate for their position in a permanently beta (Neff and Stark 2004) ecology of the internet.
Indeed, what sets this apart from classic media, visual, and information literacy is that creative digital literacy is fundamentally about being an active player: the study of the influence of a hundred channels of information all produced by external authorities might be an act of raising awareness, but viewers in the contemporary have little or no ability to shape what’s on the airwaves of radio or TV. They have limited access to the print-based publishing world and little say in the formalized rules of visual design. By contrast, the discourse, ideas and content that perpetuate throughout the internet and via ICTs is in large part authored by individuals and organizations of varying type and scope. Digital literacy is necessarily an involved and directed activity that is about interacting and producing; it must go beyond watching or reading[G35] as much as it might go beyond experience and comfort with computers. Exposure to ICTs does not translate to competence, even when it concerns young learners, but research has begun to suggest that those who are indoctrinated into the active-producer norms of the internet will apply these skills and conceptual models to classic media like TV (Shirky 2010[G36] ). Writing code for your own software program or painting a picture with a mouse are not easily reducible to the application or interpretation of information. These tasks involve a dimension of craft and require attention to social context. The recent decade has produced and made accessible more information and communication [G37] opportunity than ever known before, but leveraging the quantity to produce quality is best as an active process.[G38]
I will return to this argument in a moment, to explain how it relates to Cyberpower, but first I should explain why I have abandoned the frame Cyberpower was previously associated with: the digital divide.
Differentiating and Deciphering the Digital Divide
I want to take a moment to distinguish digital literacy from the digital divide. A lot of work on the subject of power and information society examines people’s ability to participate in it meaningfully, be it as part of global conversations, local democracy, or broad social change movements. The frame this instinctually assumes is that participation boils down to a matter (requirement) of access, known commonly as the digital divide, or, stated succinctly, the power differences between people or communities tied to varying levels of computer and internet opportunity[G39] .
Establishing the digital divide as our enemy necessarily embarks us on a quest for digital solutions, but the lack of possession of material access to technology and the absence of skills, community support and perceptions to make effective use of it [G40] is often a symptom of deeper, prolonged issues. In some sense the digital divide is a moving target, the make-up of ICTs shifts as we look back over time. As stated earlier, we’ve been in something of an information revolution (or crisis) for over thirty years. First it was the onset of significant representation of computers in business and homes (the computer and information revolutions, Beniger 1986 and Jones 1982, cited by Williams 2001[G41] ), then it was the internet (DiMaggio and Hargittai 2001, Warschauer 2003) and more recently mobility (Johnson, Levine and Smith 2009, Horrigan 2009), broadband (Horrigan 2008) and Web2.0 (Scholz 2008[G42] ). It is worth taking a step back, disentangling oneself from the ever-changing constitution of ICTs, and interrogating the underlying assumptions and agendas of the digital divide and the credence for the proliferation of ICTs.
A fitting example might be Jan Pieterse (2005), who questions the motivation behind the digital divide in his critique of information communication technologies for development, or ICT4D. His argument takes place in the context of digital capitalism, a world in which networks of corporations drive and dominate cyberspace and subject the world to certain flavors of media and deepen forces like consumerism [G43] (Schiller 2000), which is not unlike the network society described by Castells. ICT4D implies the imposition of flawed (or loaded) developmental models, such as technological determinism or neo-liberalism (market forces are development[G44] ) that serve to mask the true intentions of insidious political and economic agendas: to make money off of poor people through selling more material goods and exploiting labor, to control markets with ideologies like intellectual property rights and to force developing countries to choose between dependence on NGO’s or corporate networks. Pieterse’s stance is accurate, if resoundingly pessimistic, and reminds us of the complex of baggage we drag with us when we deploy ICTs to ‘bridge the divide’ between peoples.
Many researchers have set out on task of revealing the digital divide and have found illustrious ways to describe dimensions related to unequal distribution and use of ICTs: from material access and skills (DiMaggio and Hargittai 2001, Banks 2006, Van Dijk and Hacker 2003) to mental access (interest in ICT) and usage opportunities (Van Dijk and Hacker 2003, Banks 2006) to perceptions of these variables (Porter and Donthu 2006) to the accumulate ability to openly critique technology tools (Banks 2006). Van Dijk and Hacker express the situation rather appropriately when they criticize the passing way most articles situate their findings:
…based on a rather static and superficial sociological analysis of the present situation. Constructing rather arbitrary background variables of individual resources at a single point in time does not make a theory that is able to relate to social and technological development, that is to say, the level of society and technology. (Van Dijk and Hacker 2003).
They instead link ICT policy to long-lasting and concrete positive outcomes, specifically social inclusion and equal distribution of resources or life chances, and suggest researchers place emphasis on variations of classic factors that strongly determine socioeconomic status, like education. Or, in my case, literacy.
The shift in focus from divide to literacy is desirable because the emphasis is placed on changing individuals, who then in turn affect social change in the aggregate, in the ground-up fashion described by Cyberpower. Literacy as I describe it necessitates that the learner play a strong role in orienting the agenda, not just external authorities like government, corporations or NGO’s. In this model access instead becomes a down payment[G45] for literacy, and consequently empowerment, but it doesn’t really amount to much without this end goal.
Digital Literacy as Cyberpower
One stated definition of Cyberpower is that it is a measure of to what extent individuals, groups or movements are able to wield power with benefit from ICTs. Considering this description, it could be apt to state that digital literacy is active Cyberpower. The study of new literacies teaches us transformative social practice can and should be part of digital literacy[G46] , and my chosen modifiers of critical and creative can be construed[G47] as social practices.
To clarify what I mean by this, and in order drive home the connection between critical and creative, as well as underscore a more eloquent presentation of Cyberpower, I would like to introduce the recent work of David Gauntlet (2011).
Gauntlet’s thesis, based largely on the ideas of John Ruskin, William Morris, Karl Marx and Ivan Illich, is well-encapsulated by his book’s title: Making is Connecting. Fundamentally, he argues for the significance of creation, the generation of virtual and real things by everyday people. Like Robinson, Gauntlet attacks the idea that the world of thinking (theory) should be separated from the world of doing (application) in some kind of archaic industrialism-era fashion, and suggests that to have creativity and craft contained by formal intuitions and fields—like professional art, theater, dance, programming, writing and more—is to further the illusion that everyday people cannot be part of cultural production, when, in fact, they’re perhaps as responsible for it as any news media, educational or governmental force. The explosion of interest and sensation over the Web2.0 “brand” (Scholz 2008) represents a challenge to many traditions of cultural construction, and Gauntlet is careful to note some of the downsides, like the danger identified in Baym and Burnett (2009), that collaborative production may be unrewarded or exploited labor, of a kind. Nevertheless he makes three points that I feel are worth noting:
1) In the case of creation, both on and offline, we need to think about more than just tools of craft, but instead platforms and communities. The ease of use and access for a given tool is certainly part of the picture, but Gauntlet’s book is teeming with examples of people connecting to people, by making in context. It is not, a case study of the technology of the moment.
2) Imperfection[G48] is not only okay, but it makes us happy. Unfinished works, learning activities, rough remixing projects, all of these are potentially productive, what is most often important is the personal aspect of a work. Gauntlet finds plenty of ties in the literature on individual happiness to the process of freely-chosen, goal-oriented creation projects, including emotional support, communal recognition, helpful feedback, social approval, self-awareness and more.
3) Making leads to connecting, which in turn affects social capital. Though tracing the importance of social capital in issues like community health is difficult, Gauntlet suggests that this is how to best take a sociological viewpoint on aggregate wellbeing.
Gauntlet lands, finally, in a chapter on Ivan Illich’s work on deschooling and the social roles of the tools of creation. An education system based on creation would look radically different than our contemporary mass-production factory, and would involve more direct skill-sharing and exchange-based teaching, peer matching or mentorship and, quite applicable to my dissertation topic, public libraries full of all kinds of educational objects and attached programs. The vision behind this[G49] , which I think beautifully connects critical to creative in the context of Cyberpower, is stated best by Illich himself:
“Tools are intrinsic to social relationships. An individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters, or by which he is passively acted upon. To the degree that he masters his tools, he can invest the world with his meaning; to the degree that he is mastered by his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image. Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision…a convivial society should be designed to allow all of its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.”
Illich demonstrates the necessary connection between a critical perspective of self-awareness and active creation of Cyberpower through tools. When people become cognizant of their desired and imposed identities they are able to act with direction and conscience; they can envision the world as they wish it to be. Here we have a vision of society filled with empowered, self-directed people, who purposefully use tools largely of their own design or control. These participants connect with one another, not just in terms of communication or information sharing, but also through making and remaking both content and the systems through which it flows. I see this as all three levels of Cyberpower, (1) they possess power, in the form of a repertoire of tools, skills, and creations, (2) they help to guide the investment of power in platforms and objects more actively and critically, and (3) they are power itself in an ideological sense because they are a greater stakeholder in the network of abstract forces that structure society. I think Robinson and Gauntlet would both agree with me in saying that they are also more likely to be happy and positively contribute to the social capital of communities.
I am not suggesting that in order to be digitally literate, a person must know how to create YouTube, in full. I am suggesting, however, that the more they learn about the inner-workings of YouTube as a black box, the better able they will be to use it effectively. For instance, understanding that video preview thumbnails are based on stills generated by an automatic parsing system which splits a clip into quarters allows a video creator to determine their own video advertisement images with precision. Knowing how to code a flash (web element) container that can play any kind of video gives a person more insight on a key efficiency of YouTube’s design. Understanding how the multiple streams for content of varying quality are downloaded to your local client, and how to save them permanently enables users to acquire the assets for remixing projects without having the original source. All of these undertakings become easier when you make your own black box. As Zittrain (2008) has pointed out, while the internet was constructed by people who all could help to generate its inner-workings, its mass adoption has led to a vast majority of increasingly ignorant users. The ‘ease’ of access is the dark side of a consumer model based on ignorance. Companies like Apple would prefer their users only be able to consume content on their terms, on their devices, and not be able to create it unless it goes through their own restricting information-control-overkill development and rights management (DRM) models. Apple’s worst nightmare is probably a body of users willing to critically interrogate their ethics and business model, as well as its foundational pro-marketization reproduction of information as a controlled commodity. In fact, their nightmare does exist in a budding form, as the Linux and FOSS community.
I think this combination provides the beginning of an answer to Lessig’s fourth constraint: architecture. While Lessig talks mostly about the architecture of code as a structuring force, a sociological imagination-fueled creation ethic could probably battle oppressive ideologies knit into physical world objects as well. In sum, I think critical and creative digital literacy is constructive of Cyberpower that can play a role [G50] in (1) shaping the space of flows (Castells 1997), (2) reinvigorating the library in the public sphere (Buschman 2003), and (3) assisting the ailing public education system (Robinson 2011).
The question remains, how does this composition of theory roll into a research project?
From Theory to Research[G51]
As will be explained, I intend to approach this topic with targeted qualitative interviews and a limited series of case studies. Simply stated, I think this theoretical framework equips me to do this research well in two primary ways:
1) It alters and justifies the frame in which I ask questions about what is going on in libraries in ways that most previous studies have not: investigating programs, people, and policies, in addition to infrastructure like devices.
2) It supplies the scaffolding for my analysis of the data. In inspecting the relationships between all of these factors as they relate to digital literacy I will remain obligated to discerning social impacts in terms of Cyberpower.
Epistemological assumptions my scholarship depends on can be found in Appendix D[G52] .
 Compute as in basic mathematics, not computing or computer operations.
 For a brief history and example of emotional literacy analysis in action see Liau, Liau, Teoh, Liau 2003. As Burman (2009) point out, however, the term is still somewhat contested in its use and needs to be considered and employed with caution.
 An ever-increasing amount of research on digital literacy education and associated practices is taking place in countries outside of the US, including Ireland (DLIPS 2009), Greece (Koutsogiannis 2007, Mitsikopoulou 2007), Israel (Eshet-Alkali & Amichai-Hamburger 2004, Eshet-Alkalai & Chajut 2009), Spain (Meneses and Mominó 2010), Australia (Walsh 2010, Bulfin 2007), Brazil (Braga 2007), South Africa (Jacobs 2004, Walton 2007), Botswana (Mutula and Mutula 2007), Rwanda (Mukama & Anderson 2008), and Hong Kong (Lee 2002). Together these comprise a rich array of ideas and perspectives.
 It is widely acknowledged that digital technologies significantly impact literacy developments in K-12 education (Walsh 2010, Carrington and Robinson 2009, Jones 2007, and more), and this has been given special concern with young children (Hisrich and Blanchard 2009, Burnette et al 2006, Russo et al. 2009 ). The popularized ‘digital natives’ concept (Prensky 2001, Palfrey and Gasser 2008) may be responsible for this heightened interest and concern, but could also be a reflection of the current iteration of moral panic that is reoccurring in education (Bennet and Maton 2008).
 This might be stated more specifically as any “ways of making meaning with diverse semiotic resources” (Warschauer 2010:124) that could enable in the discovery of ‘invisible literacies.’ (Baynham 1995 in Warschauer 2010), which is too broad of an approach to be useful here.
 A budding typology that included several aspects: assembling knowledge, evaluating information, searching and navigating in non-linear routes
 And in fact, Lankshear and Knobel (2008) advocate that an expansive frame of ‘digital literacies’ (plural) more honestly accounts for the diversity of research on the topic, and ties well into previous research on literacies.
 Though they make reference to this in the introduction, examples can be found throughout their whole book by a range of authors: David Bawden, Genevieve Marie Johnson, Maggie Fieldhouse, David Nicholas, David Buckingham, and Ola Erstad.
 One such example can be seen in Williams’ 2003 assessment of the National Research Council’s 1999 report Being fluent with information technology. While the report effectively captured fluency with IT in terms of technical skills, concepts and history, it failed to articulate many of the ways literacy connects to social structures related to power, democracy, and cultural hegemony.
 As seen in Meneses and Mominó 2010 , for instance.
 As explained by Braga (2007), Resistance Theory (Giroux 1983, 1988) compels us to move past issues of ‘social reproduction’ to rescue notions of agency and resistance, as motivated by the work of Gramsci (1971). It is therefore important to engage all social groups in the process of social critique to forge alliances that promote progressive political actions.
 Banks (2006) refers to this as critical access: “Members of a particular community must also develop understandings of the benefits of the problems of technology well enough to be able to critique, resist and avoid them when necessary as well as using them when necessary” (42). To frame critical analysis of ICTs as access is a cumbersome appropriation of the digital divide rhetoric. It is probably more accurate to describe it as literacy, even if the critical qualifier may be redundant.
 To reiterate, Lawrence Lessig argues that the internet heeds four constraints: social norms, the flows of markets, law, and the way its systems, interfaces and channels are constructed; their architecture.
 Permanently beta, in this context, refers to regular state of instability of digital products. Take Google: it never has a final released version, but is instead an interface with a continually changing and wildly complex set of databases behind it. What’s more is that the consumers, the users of Google, have a strong role in influencing the way the system develops. The internet is made up largely of these kinds of feedback and innovation systems.
 When radio and TV first debuted they had considerable entrepreneur uptake and were not dominated by a limited set of corporate powers (Zittrain 2008). This fell away over the years to reach our current state of media company conglomerations.
 Readers will notice I have not made much effort to distinguish computer literacy here. I don’t really think it’s a relevant term anymore, because of its implied restriction: computers. We use much more than those to access information these days. and more often than not the term just refers to knowing how to do things like operate a mouse and show some understanding of the conceptual models taken up by operating systems.
 In their study Baym and Burnett noted that often respondents didn’t see things this way. Not all activity must be rewarded in a monetary form. In fact sometimes the best rewards are not possible to quantify in that way. Scholz gives an argument similar to what Castells or Buschman might say: the discourse and ideological framing around Web2.0 as a zone controlled by the everyday person is a tool of those who control the space of flows, the technocratic pro-marketization elite. Substantively, ability to contribute content and establish connections does little to disassemble structural oppression like racism, sexism and the like. The alternative demographics of the web (which has in part led to the digital natives scare) and the existence of powerful counteractive forces like international hacker communities do make for some social change, but not the egalitarian liberation it was once dreamed (or purported) to be.
 In Deschooling Society (1971), Illich effectively the crisis of education as presented by Robinson earlier on, only, as would be reasonably expected, without emphasis on information society. He proposes a more radical reformation of education, too.
 Titled formally, Tools for Conviviality (1973), the book is largely about having the power to shape one’s own world, the dangers of organizing human interests into systems and institutions, and the way that tools could apply to both of these issues.
 An alternative phrasing of this might be subverting. Finding and making “hack-arounds” to systems of content sharing is a way of remaking and exerting control on them.
 Apple is not alone in doing this, they’re just particularly notorious for finding a way to put a proprietary price tag on everything. They, like many other tech companies, convince users to give up liberties so that they can be ‘safe’ from viruses and not have to be responsible for thinking much about their consumption. In the case of Apple users can instead choose to relish the sex appeal of devices that showcase their membership in a higher or “better” social class.
[G1]Word choice fights – motivates, undergirds, lies beneath, etc…
[G2]I might also go on to say that it illustrates connections to cyberpower and lirbaries in information society, but I should probably push those at the end.
1) [G3]Here’s what literacy is generally
2) It’s an extension of the human rights to education
3) There are many types of literacy, but digital literacy is appropriate here because of my focus
4) Nobody seems to agree what digital literacy is, so I’m making my own functional definition that builds on my research questions, method and site
“ [G4]Education should cultivate individual talents, cultural understanding, good citizenship and economic development. Everything depends on the quality of teaching and on personalized learning.”
[G5]I previously used the term unit of analysis, which I still kind of like
[G6]There is considerable debate between fields of study that include literacy. Many attempts to propose a single master set have been made, but I don’t want to go about colleting those.
[G7]Assumed that the reader will know what these are, they have no single easily traceable history, as far as I can tell
[G10]This would be a dissertation itself, actually
[G11]Formalist alarm, use of first-person!
[G12]I don’t know if this is the best reference – my goal is to say that some people just see digital literacy as information literacy. Lanham writes that his book’s concepts were applied in many contexts…
[G13]or ICTs – does the distinction between medium and mode matter here?
[G14]And probably more I don’t know about – these are recent/influential people I know of.
[G16]1) Texts are becoming intensely multimodal, that is, image is ever-increasingly appearing with writing, and, in many domains of communication, displacing writing where it had previously been dominant.
2) Screens (of the digital media) are replacing the page and the book as the dominant media.
3) Social structures and social relations are undergoing fundamental changes, as far as writing is concerned, predominantly in changes of structures of authority, and in the effects of changing gender formations.
4) Constellations of mode and medium are being transformed. The medium of the book and the mode of writing had formed a centuries-long symbiotic constellation; this is being displaced by a new constellation of medium of the screen and mode of image. The consequences of this shift are profound.
[G17]Situated Practice, which draws on the experience of meaning-making in everyday life, the public realm and workplaces;
Overt Instruction, through which students develop an explicit metalanguage of design;
Critical Framing, which interprets the social context and purpose of Designs of meaning; and
Transformed Practice, in which students, as
meaning -makers, become designers of social
[G19]Control of production
[G20]The PEW reports, for instance
[G21]More active voice alternatives:
It wouldn’t be very productive to overview the hundreds of examples of these types of studies, so instead I’ll give examples from just two.
As one might guess, there are many studies based on these kinds of measures. For the sake of space, two exemplars follow:
See this is my natural voice, but I’m told it’s too informal, despite being much more concise and clear!
[G22]Example of skills-based measurement
[G23]The social construction of literacy – as a set of political and moral behaviors, etc…
[G25]This is a math-related phrase that’s managed to sneak into my vocabulary. I should probably replace it. The idea is to indicate flexible boundaries that are unstable
the term multiliteracies highlights two related aspects of the increasing complexity of texts: (a) the proliferation of multimodal ways of making meaning where the written word is increasingly part and parcel of visual, audio, and spatial patterns; (b) the increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity characterized by local diversity and global connectedness
[G28]Cyberpower goal oriented
[G29]Most cultures approach learning as process that includes a delivery of content, be it via a text, teacher, or computer, but a crucial component of learning lies in inquiry. Bruce and Bishop (2002) emphasize a complementary model known as inquiry based learning: the practice of asking questions, investigating sources of answers, creating solutions, discussing outcomes and application, and consistently and deeply reflecting on procedure. Thus inquiry-based learning moves pedagogy from transmission-oriented tasks to the open and relevant discovery and sharing of ideas and perspectives, which can certainly take place outside of a classroom or online (Bishop and Bruce 2002).
[G30]“In the face of the growing pessimism associated with the inequities of the global digital technological shift, it seems more important than ever… to recover and support new discourses informed by notions of hope, possibility and resistance”
[G31]Rather long: but this – right – critical reflection on the nature of information itself its technical infrastructure and its social, cultural, and philosophical context and impact
[G32]Alternative version of this:
…to cultivate productive aptitudes, such as the ability to program, design, draft and implement text, images and video in meaningful ways, and otherwise manipulate information technology devices and software to craft something for functional use. In broader definitions of literacy this component is simply thought of as the ability to communicate over multiple mediums, but in my version of digital literacy the necessary skills expand to include creation or remixing of both systems and content.
[G33]The capacity for
[G35]Might be stepping on the toes of reading people here – some suggest reading is a more active experience than it is often given credit
[G36]But now, for the first time in the history of television, some cohorts of young people are watching TV less than their elders. Several population studies—of high school students, broadband users, YouTube users—have noticed the change, and their basic observation is always the same: young populations with access to fast, interactive media are shifting their behavior away from media that presupposes pure consumption. Even when they watch video online, seemingly a pure analog to TV, they have opportunities to comment on the material, to share it with their friends, to label, rate, or rank it, and of course, to discuss it with other viewers around the world. As Dan Hill noted in a much-cited online essay, “Why Lost Is Genuinely New Media,” the viewers of that show weren’t just viewers—they collaboratively created a compendium of material related to that show called (what else?) Lostpedia. Even when they are engaged in watching TV, in other words, many members of the networked population are engaged with one another, and this engagement correlates with behaviors other than passive consumption.
[G38]Digital literacy involves critically engaging with technology and developing a social awareness of how a number of factors including commercial agendas and cultural understandings can shape the ways in which technology is used to convey information and meaning.
It means being able to communicate and represent knowledge in different contexts and to different audiences (for example, in visual, audio or textual modes). This involves finding and selecting relevant information, critically evaluating and re-contextualising knowledge and is underpinned by an understanding of the cultural and social contexts in which this takes place.
Digital literacy gives young people the ability to take advantage of the wealth of new and emerging opportunities associated with digital technologies whilst also remaining alert to the various challenges technology can present.
In short, digital literacy is the ‘savvyness’ that allows young people to participate meaningfully and safely as digital technology becomes ever more pervasive in society.
Indeed, if formal education seeks to prepare young people to make sense of the world and to thrive socially, intellectually and economically, then it cannot afford to ignore the social and cultural practices of digital literacy that enable people to make the most of their multiple interactions with digital technology and media. Yet the notion of digital literacy and how it may translate to teaching and learning is not always well understood. This handbook therefore aims to support teachers to begin to think about how to address digital literacy in their everyday practice. It explores the importance of digital literacy and sets out some pedagogical techniques for fostering it in the classroom from within subject teaching.
[G39]Okay, so this isn’t all that succinct, but does it make sense???
[G40]Remove? This is really what I wish to get at beyond access…
[G41]Which is in Cyberorganziing, Alkalimat (2004)
[G42]Pretty vicious he is
[G43]God that was abridged as all hell, I hope Dan’s okay with it 😮
It’s a little adapted from Castells, too, but this is like, WAY outside the territory of this paper as it is.
[G44]Probably deserves a greater introduction, but I don’t know all that much about it!
[G46]At its core literacy is a construct that we abstract from experience and communication, it is not really an entity itself, but a way of describing individuals who can engage in a (literate) way with their own emancipation through ICTs. It can best (only) be understood as it is manifested by individuals or their aggregate.
[G47]interpreted, understood? I repeat words SO MUCH
[G48]In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett, states that craftsmanship leads to self-esteem and wellbeing – imperfections reveal our individuality and presence.
People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative; while the growth of tools beyond a certain point increases regimentation, dependence, exploitation and impotence…
[G50]“Society requires literacy because in the power-knowledge relationship of the modern world, literacy defines who controls the means of production, that is the means to produce wealth (industry) and the means to produce knowledge (education).” Taylor 1993, covering Freire
[G51]Worth expanding this some, probably
[G52]Linda felt this did not belong in the main text, but knowing how much resistance there is to CI and public scholarship there is in the academy I felt I should include it somewhere.
Contemplating average people: amicability, happiness, prejudice, concentric circles of concern, and a challenge.
So I’m in the midst of reading Saul Alinsky’s Reveille for Radicals, one of his most influential books . In the opening chapter he characterizes what he calls Mr. BUT in his answer to the quintessential question: What do most people say when you ask them if they like other people? Alinsky’s claim is that most people will reply “Sure, I like most other people, with a few exceptions” which I think is a fair prediction. He goes on to say, however, that when you start talking to this example “typical” person their list of people they don’t like will by far outnumber those they do. And he’s not even talking about “like” in the sense of who you might call friends, but really just general people. It is here where he unveils the grand straw man Mr. BUT, who would say something like “Oh of course I really love black people, BUT you know whenever there’s someone loud and obnoxious on the subway, it seems like they’re always black.” And this got me to thinking.
I don’t agree with him that the average person dislikes more people than they like, but I have a feeling this is my own optimistic projection operating again. I remember my roommate back in college once claimed that he thought the average person was unhappy (that is, most people are unhappy), and I was taken aback. Really? I thought. And as I started talking to people asking them this question, I began to realize that their answer really just mirrored if they, on average, were a happy person.
Anyway what Alinsky is really getting at here, is something worth turning on myself: prejudice. All of us “good-natured” privileged and educated liberals have a helping of Mr. BUT in us. I thought I’d take an opportunity to draw mine out, because I think it’s surprising. Alinsky’s Mr. BUT had resentment and dislikes for people of different religions, races, ethnicities, and more. I think my inner-BUT-man (yes, I know all of you people with a 14-year-old boy in you are laughing now, the language is unfortunate) has some really overt expressions and some subtle ones. Okay here we go.
1) Most anyone who really knows me has heard me complain up and down the wall about passive and apathetic people (or in times past, “the librarians”), but in recent years as I’ve existed in a department dominated by introverts I’ve realized that sometimes this is just tantamount to hating on the shy person, which isn’t very constructive. Sure, I’ve been hurt by my fair share of passive-aggressive people, probably in worse ways than most, but insulting or chastising these people and actions hasn’t really brought an end to them. In fact it’s encouraged the worst of them, and it has sometimes hurt the less intense people that I care deeply for.
2) The academic world is rife with rivalries. I’ve done a lot of saying things like “those cultural studies postmodernist people” or “those data-head people” in a dismissive fashion, often unfairly. The first group I often dislike more because they’re fixated on negativity, but really why make fun of people who are probably comprehensively unhappy? The second gang may at times seem cold, calculating and disconnected, but their lack of empathy or interest in social issues is probably a symptom of their own fear or ignorance, one that likely they haven’t come into in a malicious kind of way.
3) And then there’s the Christians. I just refer to them like that, as if the religion isn’t one of the most wildly diverse and complex ecologies out there. It’s downright stupid for me to transform some small extremist group into full-on representation and ignore all of the good Christians have turned loose in the world.
4) And I’m sure there are more. I’d ask readers to call me out, but that would be asking you to subscribe to my method of positive confrontational discourse (when you challenge me because we’re on the same side, building a better tomorrow), which many do not appreciate. My last prejudice I want to talk about next, because I’m not sure what to do about it.
All of this reminded me of theory I talk about from time to time, that’s not very unique or insightful, and yet has gotten me into a great deal of trouble. Here, a picture:
I sometimes call it concentric circles of concern, which apparently is a book on Amazon, and the name of the same idea as it appears on a Church website or two, according to our local expert Google. Anyway, the pitch is that most people care about the inner-most layer strongly. My roommate is this way, he’s good-natured, funny, and quite empathic at times, but quite introverted; he exhausts his social interaction needs quota at about 5 people. I think most people also expand out into the next two circles, which change composition as their life goes on, which of course makes sense. Some people don’t really have best friends (truthfully I sometimes think this is me), and many people (on a bad day I might claim introverts) don’t really care much for people in the acquaintance zone. And then there’s the last outer circle, which is what interests me. People who care, enough to act, about strangers they’ve never met. This might be environmentalists, for a counter-intuitive example, but also people like my sister, who worked with refugees for a year, or Tom Fairbank, who casually gets to know random homeless people and gives them his time and money in a compassionate way. I think there are also people who give their entire lives to random people they barely know, immersing themselves in places like the Peacecorps without really having anything in the inner-circles to fall back on.
In any event I have this tendency to really spill the haterade (prejudice) on people who don’t expand out to the outer layers. I don’t want to do this, the negativity is unhelpful. And yet at the same time I have no good way to push them out of their inner circle, other than by demonstrating my beliefs with my lifestyle. And this method, if it even is one, is certainly not satisfying or at all effective. I can’t even get past the opening questions sometimes, as asking a person “so why is it you litter?” or “why does voting not matter to you?” or “what turns you off to feminism?” often puts them on the offensive. And rightly so, I’m not just asking to know most of the time (the true dialogic), I’m asking to understand so I can negotiate a better solution. And this, of course, is one of the many reasons people don’t like me, which is mildly unhelpful when I try to act in a leadership or teaching capacity. But I’m unable to turn my back on the tremendous desire and duty to do my part in constructing a better world.
Am I looking for answers? Maybe brainstorms instead. Tom would of course tell me that the world is perfect and I should just appreciate what good we have, which would be warm and fuzzy for a second and then promptly make my life not worth living. With blissful inaction ruled out, what other strategies remain?
–Followup: It seems this diagram can be found all over the place in varied form. My favorite version is when they turn ‘strangers’ into markets.