Innovation and the Novelty Factory

My ears and eyes seem to have been bombarded by one word so often over the last couple of weeks that I’m now developing something akin to shell shock. A nervous tick here, a Tourette-esque outburst there, a cringe and a cry, a bewildered look in my eyes and a wanton desire to disconnect and float away.

Innovation.

Over hyped and over used the mere mention of innovation makes me wince.

You see

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

What scares me about this trend is that now innovation is being talked about in government policy, institutional strategies and every goddamn mission statement known to man – and yet, I don’t think there is any understanding about what innovation is: what it really means, what it entails or the implications of adopting it actually are.

Horace Dediu posits a taxonomy which I think is extremely useful to help discern innovation and reduces some confusion:

Novelty: Something new
Creation: Something new and valuable
Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

Using that model we can see that a lot of what people declare as “innovative” should be re-graded as simple novelty, and what people want in their mission statements isn’t innovation but creation. Innovation is not for everyone. It is not something that everyone should aspire to or need to achieve. In fact the pursuit of innovation often means that quality, sustainability and longevity are put at risk.

Innovation is a lot harder and more difficult to achieve because it is essentially change. And the reality is that most people don’t want to do that.

People want the same, but better. Faster and cheaper, but not different.

Change is hard. It’s disruptive and scary. Innovation isn’t additive, it’s subtractive – you have to lose or destroy something in order to attain it. It’s not the same but better, it’s different and better. It requires the embrace of something new, different and foreign.

Innovation is not something everyone should be striving for, and the reality is that they’re actually not. They use the label of “innovation” but if you listen to the pundits in government, technology and finance sectors what they actually want is Novelty. They want something that generates “new” at scale and from very little real investment or effort. What they crave is the Novelty Factory where you can package something differently, appify it, give it a new spin, change the colour and produce it at scale, but never actually do anything different. The reason for this is that novelty has the potential for massive profits, simply because who doesn’t like new? It’s engrained in our psyche to be curious and that’s exploited ruthlessly through an array of psychological manipulations that drive the cravings of a consumerist economy.

You’ll hear plenty about “disruption” but how much of that is actual innovation? How much is actually changing? Isn’t it just the same as before? Isn’t it just like the other thing? Isn’t it simile rather than metaphor? If we actually think about it, it’s distraction rather than disruption.

People don’t want to invest in innovation because change is really hard. It’s complex, expensive and risky and more often than not takes time – years if not decades. It requires behaviours and mindsets to adapt to entirely different concepts, inputs and environments. It requires people to leave behind what they did, what they built reputations on, what they trust and tacitly know, and replace it with something strange. Innovation is about trust and relationships more than anything else. It’s about building, shaping and learning not just coming up with ideas.

What most people want is novelty – simple, cheap, dumb and easy to sell. You can invest in that. You can profit from that.

Silicon Valley isn’t the hub of innovation – it’s a perfect model of the Novelty Factory churning out vast quantities of “new”, but affecting little real change. Sure there are innovators operating there, but they simply share the space rather than dominate it.

Real innovation requires change, not from the product but the audience, user or consumer. That’s where the complexity lies – it’s not about coming up with something new, its about convincing people to change. To let go of traditions and to trade in status, comfort and power from the old model to embrace something new and different. It’s for this reason that true innovation is exceedingly rare. There are plenty of new things we do, but how many require real change? How many were really just the same, but better? How many were subtractive and forced you to give away, give up and destroy?

Innovation is not as pervasive as we think, nor should it be as widespread as we’re led to believe.

I think there’s a need for a more nuanced approach to innovation, invention, creation and novelty. The distinctions are important and there’s a growing need to articulate the difference, to accept it and to choose what it is they need. If we want governments and institutions to embrace innovation we need to really understand what that means and what’s at risk. Maybe when we think about it novelty is enough, or that creativity is more important. Maybe that’s the real innovation.

*Image used https://flic.kr/p/4jCHgj

The Value of Exploitation

At the core of our societal structures, economic and political systems is exploitation.

Exploitation creates value in the most simplistic way by imposing a basic deficit model – I have, you do not.

Exploitation is systematic unfairness. It divides and separates people. It motivates the worst aspects of our human nature and utilises our innate ability to blinker, separate and abstract ourselves. It divorces us as individuals from what made us successful as a species the very idea of what is shared and common.

Value is created through exploitation which is then represented by “wealth”. Wealth is the abstracted concept of value and the process of having what others do not.

Money is the evolved representation of wealth. Before money wealth was tangible through physical manifestations such lands and treasure. Easily seen, easily coveted, easily taken. Money, in particular it’s digital form, abstracts wealth into something more pure and fitting of the modes and methods of current exploitation. Rather than simply act as a tool to simplify trade and exchange, money allows wealth to be accumulated in truly unimaginable amounts. Hidden and locked away as digits in a database its form is disguised – no longer an object easily identifiable, coveted or requiring armies to protect it. Wealth is removed from social constraints, removed from communities and removed from any need for redistribution.

The abstraction of wealth, and it’s associated value, into money allows exploitation to go on unfettered, unmonitored and mostly incomprehensible. How can you rebel against something you cannot imagine? How can you revolt against that which you cannot see? How can you reclaim that which isn’t tangible?

The current economic model of globalisation amplifies exploitation into a form that is trans and multinational. Exploitation can be systematised and localised – Asia becomes the hub to industrial exploitation, Australia and South America the environmental, North America and Europe is informational and economic while Africa is only pock-marked with points of exploitation due to its violent instability. Global exploitation is now almost complete – and for what? And for who?

The global disparity in wealth has never been higher. There is only an incredibly small number of humans on the planet actually benefiting form this global form of exploitation. As we charge into the Anthropocene leaving an indelible mark on the land, water and air around us – who benefits? As we poison the air, land and water shouldn’t we be asking why? As we destroy the planet piece by piece what do we gain as a people?

Capitalist ideology will simply attach value to something new – from land to industry, from industry to labour, from labour to information. Whenever a limit is reached you simply change the game, change the rules and move the goal posts.

Every equality is eroded.

Every commons is enclosed.

The value system that we’ve created has become so abstracted that people, the environment and the relationships we form are anomalies and impediments of the system. They are the dark areas, the externalities that affect the system but are not of it.

How did we develop a system that doesn’t recognise us or the ecosystem around us as part of it?

It has to change.

We need to move to a post-capital mindset. As an idea it is about finding and attaching value to something else – us. This is how you redistribute wealth. You assign value to each and every individual. The same value. In this way wealth is truly democratic and is untethered from the deficit model. Our footprint and ecosystem are not external to the notion of wealth, they become are part of it.

Can we effect this change now or will it emerge from the ruins? Will it require exploitation to reach its conclusion before we are ready to transform? How much needs to be exploited to the point it collapsed and is destroyed? What are we willing to lose in order to live appropriately? The forests? The oceans? The ice caps? The air we breathe?


POSTSCRIPT – After writing this post I listened to Can accountants save the planet? and Jane Gleeson-White discuss the idea of Six Capitals. It’s an interesting concept but there are some big caveats to this kind of approach. Monboit’s comment sums this up perfectly:

‘… everything will be fungible, nothing will be valued for its own sake, place and past and love and enchantment will have no meaning. The natural world will be reduced to a column of figures.’
– Guardian, 2014

I’m not sure if this is the right approach, but the singular model of financial capital has passed its use by date.

Image used https://flic.kr/p/owgD3y

The Enclosure of the Web

It’s been a dark time in Australia when it comes to our lives in digital spaces. Both sides of government voted to instate draconian, opaque and dangerous new legislation to increase surveillance. They have traded the people’s freedom and right to privacy for “increased national security” – a term I am yet to understand. Now we can be watched, monitored and investigated at any time without our consent and with no impartial oversight.

So ridiculous are these measures that members of government have been spruiking apps, tools and practices to circumvent the legislation they were working to implement. I kid you fucking not!

Australia however is not alone in its pursuit of greater surveillance. Similar efforts are underway in Canada and the UK, perhaps trying to replicate the truly horrifying efforts of the US. Despite these efforts little has been discussed by the general public and even less about the implications of these measures. Its complex but it is vital as John Oliver pointed out vividly in his recent interview with Edward Snowden:

So what happens when we are forced into trading the open web for something that needs to be encrypted, secure, private and hidden simply to avoid someone watching over your shoulder noting your every move? Is the concept of “security” actually cannibalising itself to the point where safety and privacy are eliminated rather than upheld?

At the same time one area that really hasn’t been discussed at all is how we as a people are being forced behind a firewall and to surrender the distributed commons that is the web.

Want email? Just get inside Gmail or Outlook – just don’t use a local service because Australian big brother is watching that. Don’t worry though because the NSA is watching the others.

Want to communicate with friends and family? Just use this app that has built in encryption. Don’t worry that now you’re being surveilled by a corporate vulture who on-sell your data to the highest bidder.

Want to read the news? Just do it inside Facebook!

App this and app that. The Web is Dead. Access is no longer free.

The vectors of information have been taken over, monetised and passage is paid by surrendering our data. The commons has been taken away and eroded by corporate interests and government surveillance and all of this has happened before.

During the agricultural revolution this process was known as “enclosure“:

the term is also used for the process that ended the ancient system of arable farming in open fields. Under enclosure, such land is fenced (enclosed) and deeded or entitled to one or more owners.

I’d say the web as it was, an open commons of information, is being enclosed. The Information Revolution, or whatever you want to call it, is following the same script.

Just like the before the process is being accomplished in two ways:

  1. “by buying the ground rights and all common rights to accomplish exclusive rights of use, which increased the value”. Hello Silicon Valley and startup culture where the aim is not to contribute to the commons, but get bought out by someone bigger. Data is the asset and the value point is not in what your app can do – but how many users and how much data you can get!
  2. “by passing laws causing or forcing enclosure, such as Parliamentary enclosure”. Hello Australian government! Your actions – implicit or explicit,implied or not will have the same effect. “Come inside our walled garden, its safe in here!” they’ll say. Government surveillance destroys the commons and forces people to seek safety and privacy somewhere else.

For labour the fallout of enclosure was considered a positive sum, but that requires you to completely disregard the hunger, suffering and displacement that occurred. Sure, eventually displaced workers found jobs and their labour fuelled the industrial revolution but many died and many lost centuries of knowledge, wisdom and connection. They lost their identity and cultural heritage as they were forced off the land. This process was repeated as part of global colonisation, not because it was good, but because it worked. It worked to establish a new ruling class and elite. It effectively worked to dispossess the people of all they had so they had to trade their agrarian subsistence for the exploitation of the workhouse. It reduced skilled and knowledgable agronomists to become simply cogs in the machine.

So what looms ahead in our revolution? What do we lose as we’re slowly being enclosed?

Let’s not forget that there is value in the commons.

It’s not in efficiency or profitability it’s in building social cohesion. It becomes a place to share, to cooperate and collaborate. It becomes a place to dance and feast and celebrate as well as to mourn and cry and grieve. The commons is the heart of a community, something that urban planners are finally starting to understand. You don’t achieve social cohesion without the commons and housing projects around the world provide all the evidence you need to understand that. By focussing on efforts on building housing and not a community the commons was left off the plans and what ensued was complete social chaos.

So when I look at what’s happening on the web I wonder what is to come…

What if we lose the commons? What happens if the web is enclosed?

Image used https://flic.kr/p/nZotpM

Reactive Ideas

The next three posts that will appear on the blog have been worked on concurrently for the past couple of weeks. They started as ideas and thoughts that grew out of what I saw and felt was happening around me. They’ve lived in draft form since their inception, not quite finished enough to let out as they weren’t really clear in my head, let alone as text.

Over the last week they’ve coalesced into something more solid – solid and connected.

Working on these three seperate topics – enclosure, innovation and exploitation – at the same time has been an interesting experience. Phrases that started in one post drifted into another. Concept that didn’t work in one would work in another. They fed each other and it’s been a strange experience to be part of. They aren’t a series as such but definitely share an origin and a process.

I’ve tagged them as Reactive Ideas because at their heart was a pure reaction to the world around me. A mental and physical reaction to events going on around me. Nothing in here is revolutionary or new – in fact there’s an increasing sense of history repeating itself. They are of their time and place and triggered by social happenings but they have forced me to ask bigger and deeper questions. About our society, what we value, where we are going and in some ways what we are destroying and willing to destroy.

They may seem a little bit off topic from what I’m usually banging on about in regards to edtech – but I can assure you they are linked. They explore ideas that are fundamental to the role and force that technology plays in our world and the trust we place in it. Maybe drawing more explicit links is another set of posts.

Subconsciously there seems to be a bit of Marx embedded in these posts. It’s one of the things I’ve noticed emerge from the process of writing, editing and rewriting them. I’ve been exposed to more Marxist critique and ideas recently mainly because I find them exceptionally relevent. His critique of capitalism is extremely insightful and the hype around Picketty’s book and the coversations stimulated by Stiglitz has revived a lot of the concepts and solutions that link back Marx. There’s a global discussion about what global capitalism is doing and the problems that it not only created but continues to exacerbate rather than solve. I think there’s also a deep concern for the lack humanity built into to the discussion going on around us. The ease that people can be abstracted from situations is deeply concerning and I wonder if empathy is being drained out of society.

It might explain why this resonated so much:

The other influencer on these subconscious thoughts was McKenzie Wark’s work on the athropocene and probably more directly his essay on 21st-Century Marxisms. Both of these broad topics have exposed me to many new ideas and thinkers including CSU colleague Clive Hamilton.

It feels good to get these three posts out. It’s been a challenge and an interesting experience – hence this post – and something a little unique to how I usually work. It will be interesting to see if they resonate with anyone else :-)

*Image used https://flic.kr/p/pVSiLo

Riffing off Remix

I’m feeling a little inspired after reading David Wiley’s The Remix Hypothesis and Mike Caulfield’s Paper Thoughts and the Remix Hypothesis. That’s on top of putting together an application for a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship where I’ve applied to carry on doing work around adaptive digital publishing. (The pitch video outlines a lot of what I’m going to describe in a pretty simple way – so if you want to know more have a watch and I’m happy to answer any questions). One thing I’m particularly keen to explore in this space is how to improve sharing, collaboration, reuse and remixing – is it possible to build that kind of functionality into a system so that is built for and with open content at its heart?

Over the last couple of years I’ve been playing around with the concept of Adaptive Digital Publishing. A group of us wrote a paper and developed a proof of concept. We shopped it around for funding but other people had other priorities.

Conceptually I think it stands up as the most effective way to publish materials across multiple platforms. It bought together ideas that are only now starting to emerge into the mainstream – e.g., in srcset and picture in HTML – where content is adapted depending on attributes set by the device & browser. The Adaptive Media Element we worked on did that – but in more complex ways and for all types of media – from video, data, images to audio and across print, web and eBooks.

The proof of concept we developed was built on WordPress and used the PressBooks plugin to provide many of the features we required, an easy to use interface and a solid foundation to work from. The ideas were executable more easily within an existing framework, so rather than attempting to build everything from scratch we could focus on our innovations – the AME and the corresponding Publishing Profiles.

Ever since we built that initial proof-of-concept I’ve been toying with how to make it simpler. How can we make it easier to share, collaborate and remix content? Our initial concept didn’t really think about those areas, but they’ve been bugging me ever since.

How to Support Remixing?

One way would be to expose the WordPress system via JSON. This would allow other systems to pull content in to display, but also to commingle, re-contextualised and retooled. My experience over the summer with Federated Wiki has challenged many of my preconceptions about how content, and indeed publishing can look like in a purely digital sense. I’m enthused by the concept of a JSON based system but there are plenty of dependencies and technicalities required to develop things this way.

My other idea is to go simple by removing the need for a database by abstracting authoring into a simple files & folders structure, and then focussing on developing a “generator” to the publishing. So rather than create a contained system we could build something that can be plugged into a file system and live separately locally or online. This idea builds on those already in use in a range of static site generators that leverage markdown, scripting and something like GIT to manage the whole workflow.

By simplifying the system down to the bare minimum the potential is to make content more “forkable”. You reduce the need for specific software in the authoring but also open the process to powerful versioning and management technology. In this way remixing is encouraged but with the ability to merge back the potential is a truly inspiring. This would ensure that the remix doesn’t become another standalone piece of content, but a connected component that might be co-opted back into the main branch. It enables localisation, translation and adaption to specific contexts not just to be made, but tracked, traced and attributed.

The other attraction to this more simplified model is that it also reduces the technical overheads required. It could be run locally or over a simple network. It could run offline and allows for asynchronous editing and collaborative authoring in a manageable format. I’m not sure if this will provide the simplicity or granularity of that the federated wiki has, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

This flat file model also means that content can be openly hosted using repository sites like GitHub but also almost any online space, and for educational and research publishing this could be a huge boon. Being openly hosted means that access is greatly improved. The ways that Mike describes data models being accessed and modified could be achieved this way.

The final plus is that switching to a flat file generator model means that there is less reliance on single technology or system . While GitHub, WordPress and certain programming language are the choice today they are also dependancies in the long term. Not relying or depending on certain technologies means that we’re creating more sustainable content that is open to change and evolution as technology and trends change.

Publishing in the digital age needs to embrace the concept of remix as it’s the most significant affordance of being digital. I’m in a state now where I can see that the technology required is getting closer to realising that idea. Once it does we’re going to be in for a ride.

How Everything and Nothing can be the same

Imagine silence – the absence of all noise and sound. Strain as much as you like your ears cannot detect anything.

This is Nothing.

Now you hear an orchestra begin to play a concerto. It starts softly, the strings, the woodwind the percussion and brass building in layers. The music steadily gets louder. Another orchestra starts to play another concerto. Over time more and more orchestras join in, each playing there own concerto. The noise builds and builds to a cacophony of tones, rhythms, chords and progressions. It gets louder and louder. The waves of sound crash together. The sound is so overwhelming that you hear nothing. You cannot make out a single note, beat or melody because the noise has become so complete.

This is everything.

In everything you hear nothing; everything is the same as nothing.

They are two opposites that unite and share a perception. Entirely different, but entirely the same.

Abstraction

Abstraction is changing the way something is represented in order to move it beyond its constraints.

This is perhaps best represented by the abstraction of oral language into written form. This abstraction frees language from the constraints of the spoken word – in particular the physical and temporal. It’s why we can read the words of Plato and Shakespeare despite the centuries that have passed since they last spoke.

The process of abstraction also changes the nature of what it represents. This uncoupling of constraints impacts both positively and negatively. In the case of language – writing liberates language so that it can be communicated broadly across time and space. At the same time this process removes key elements of its oral base – the social, ephemeral and tonal qualities that are embedded into the spoken word.

The written word takes on a monumental nature, embodying permanence and scale in comparison to the fluidity of our oral languages.

Stone vs water.

As an aside its interesting to see written text begin to embody more liquidity as the abundance of data and information being produced increases.

One of the most valuable aspects of abstraction is its ability to simplify complicated processes. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Mathematics. Through mathematics the simplification of complicated information and processes has been turned into an art. Extraordinarily complicated calculations and data sets can be crunched down into elegant and often beautiful equations. In doing so we can extend mathematics into increasingly complicated areas – but they’re complicated not complex.

Complexity is the weakness of abstraction.

At its heart complexity involves uncontrolled change and variation, which tends to wreak havoc on carefully developed complicated systems. The process of abstraction removes many of background, meta and environmental factors as noise in order to improve the signal they have chosen.

Complicated systems are improved by breaking them down into individual parts and components. These can then each be improved which will lead to incremental positive change to the system as a whole. This is the Talyorist or Scientific Management process.

Complex systems don’t follow the same pattern, in fact quite often working on the parts separately or in isolation actually damages the system. Improvements to a complex system are made by working on the interactions between parts, rather than the parts themselves.

(This is a repost of the original FedWiki contribution. You can fork, edit and extend the original.)

Silence and Free Speech

There’s a false argument that’s been floating around the concept of free speech for some time. Over the last couple of months I’ve taken an interest in it to attempt to understand what it is that’s really going on.

The argument itself pits Free Speech on one side and Offence or Decency on the other. The media rolls this thing out constantly tapping into the publics seemingly endless ability to take offence at anything you can possibly say. Whether it’s a bad joke, a good joke, an utterance that’s lip read or a misguided or youthfully naive tweet. If you want to read just one piece that utterly destroy the dichotomy of free speech and offence I would turn to the wisdom of the clown. Comedian Doug Stanhope have written the most fluent and coherent counter to this debate .

The problem is that these comparisons and equivalencies are false. They are not the two sides of the same argument and indeed the comparison hinders any real debate about the essential idea of freedom. My reasoning for this stance is simple:

Free Speech is about the act of Expression.

Offence and Decency are not a counterpoint to free speech, they are a reaction to it. They are themselves – expressions.

The opposite of Expression is Silence.

The dichotomy between free speech and offence or decency is false and it’s why the current debate is nonsense. The underlying premise is wrong and what you end up doing is essentially arguing against the same side of the debate. To actually have an argument you would have Free Speech I one side but you then need to put an actual equivalent on the other side – and that’s Silence. Silence is the absence of expression. You can attach motive and meaning to silence just like you can with speech. These may not be self-evident but embedded and contained within.

Silence is extremely powerful counter point to free speech. Steven Skala explores it in-depth in his lecture The Power of Silence. He prompts us to reflect on the silences as a guide to genuine understanding.

Silences and omissions, covert and overt, occur around us and cause us, positively or negatively, to shape our own experience, and most significantly, our understanding of the nature of things that are often most important to us.

When you start to reflect on the silences around us things really do start to get interesting. On one side you have the ability to expresses and on the other we have the inability to express. Now we can really start getting into a real debate!

When you discuss the right to say things vs the silence it creates we’re getting into a proper debate. We start to head beyond the trivial of offence and start to uncover what is truly structural, pervasive and damaging. When you start to notice is not the words being said but the silence that’s left behind you start to ask questions.

When someone uses free speech to preach hate, who’s voices are getting lost? When debate is framed by the extreme opposites of the argument, who doesn’t get a say? When we begin to really reflect on silence we have to question the mechanisms we hold up as tools of free speech. The free press for instance. Always the darling of free speech but what about the silence it creates, fosters and amplifies?

Who’s voices are missing in corporate media?

What ideas are missing when there’s a vested interest in the status quo?

What hope is there when ultimately someone else decides what the narrative is, who gets the bull horn and for what purposes?

How “free” is the press anyway?

Does a commercial, or even a publicly funded press, actually enforce silence at the expense of promoting free speech?

Comedian Frankie Boyle discusses the consequences of when free speech is equated with offence . Interestingly what he alludes to, without being explicit, is that it actually re-enforces the silence. It creates new ones, enforces old ones to deeply affect our ability to actually discuss and understand. In many ways silence is the preference to free speech when dealing with complex issues:

It’s always easier to dismiss other people than to go through the awkward and time-consuming process of understanding them.

I understand that offence and decency may be big issues for some people – but I’m with Frankie on this one

We have given taking offence a social status it doesn’t deserve: it’s not much more than a way of avoiding difficult conversations.

By avoiding those difficult conversations we create Silence. As I’ve written before – the cost of free speech shouldn’t be silence. If we’re discussing free speech without paying any attention to silence we’re missing the point.

The Current State: Mobile Learning

I’ve written a couple of opinion pieces over the years about the Current State. There’s this one on the The Education System, this one on Society Transitioning, and Educational Technology and my personal state. They’ve been a nice way of articulating a specific view of space and time relating to a theme. They’re interesting as markers in the sand, for wayfaring and digging around the past. They’re also a way to think more deeply about what we’re doing. So in that tradition, here’s the current state of Mobile Learning.

I’ve been working around mobile in higher education since 2010. I’ve written a few papers, done presentations, developed mobile content, systems and apps – so feel I’ve got a good handle on it as a topic. While it’s true that mobile is now part of the conversation, I still wonder if Mobile Learning is even a thing yet.

Here’s some observations:

  • Single app adoption is widespread, but that seems to be the extent of “mobile learning”. A single app for a single use in a single subject with a single purpose. That’s nice and all but is that what we would call mobile learning?
  • Students and staff are ill prepared to use their devices for learning. They lack the knowledge, practice and skill to integrate the technology into their learning and teaching. Those fresh faces out of high school have just emerged from an environment where mobiles have been contraband, so have little concept of how or why to their mobile in a learning environment. Staff and mature age students have barely got beyond mastery of text messaging (see parents that text) let a lone anything more complex. It’s an interesting dilemma as far as technology goes because for maybe the first time the issue isn’t access or event equity. The issue is cultural and what we are willing to invest in.
  • Content is still rarely mobile friendly. There’s limited use of “eBook”s – ones that go beyond text on a page and cater for on screen reading experiences and interaction with content (highlighting, notes etc). There’s also the systemic reliance on PDF which means that content is locked away in an A4 page and nothing is “mobile friendly”.
  • The administration systems we tend to use are still only designed for the desktop. They still only ever support a full and rich experience from a desktop browser. Mobile is a poor cousin and the experience shows.
  • Institutional web teams are often too small to affect the kinds of redesigns at the kind of scale that’s required. Instead the result tends to be a set of piecemeal components that shatter any hope of a coherent user experience.
  • The only system or practice that seems to have a consistent increase in use and reach is…. email. Yep, it now infects every device we own with pings and vibrations that we attempt to ignore. Email – the most un-mobile of technologies. It fundamentally fails to provide a good experience – for reading or writing – or utilise any of the amazing affordances of todays mobile devices that open up the opportunity for improvements to communication.

Yay us!

The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.

In fact it’s the failure to actually treat mobile as a legitimate computing device that is perhaps the biggest problem.

Mobile is still treated like a toy rather than a serious device.

This is despite the fact that mobile is more contextual, more powerful and packed with more affordances than any PC. Somehow if it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse it doesn’t seem to count. Mobile just doesn’t seem to justify investment in the eyes of most IT departments. This is despite the fact that the mobile device we have in out pockets is in most cases newer and more powerful than the junky PC we, and our students, are working on. Compare working with video on your phone vs your PC. Which one struggles? Which one drops frames? Which one renders longers?

The underlying fact is that mobile represents a significant change – in the type of technology, the kinds of affordances it makes available and more importantly, in the way we interact with it.

I published this table in 2013 to illustrate the kind of shift that mobile represents. It sticks out to me because I don’t think that much of the change or transition has actally occured. I think we’re still too PC in our mindset and have yet to actually embrace the reality that mobile represents. The current state of Mobile is that we’re not there yet – we’re stuck in the PC Age. Thinking PC thoughts. Doing things the PC way.

I developed this table at the end of 2013 as a way to express the diffferences I could see between the PC and Mobile mindsets and the way the thinking defined the two Ages. The idea was to encapsulate the change in affordances that each technology bought with it.

PC Age Mobile Age
affordances
tethered location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

Since I published that earlier table I’ve worked on developing a more expansive list.

Version 2 Additions
passive interaction active
broadcast communication dialogue
institutional data sovereignty personal
linear timelines polysynchronous
curated content contributed
physical storage digital
possession content communal
concealed practice shared
isolated learning connected
generic interaction personal
consumtion information creation

The Current State?

So what’s the current state of mobile learning?

We’re haven’t even started.

Critique & Creation

I started this post about 6 months ago and after observing the to-and-fro between Audrey Watters and Stephen Downes I went looking for it. I found it laying in a drafts folder, something started but not finished. Over the last couple of days other posts have come out, Debbie Chachra & Mike Caulfield, and it’s highlighted for me again the importance and role of critique. So I decided to push it out as the sentiments can perhaps add to the conversation but also explain my deep admiration for the work that people who don’t “make”, but instead think, care, connect and give.


I’ve written a few critical blogs and tweets in my time. What’s interesting is that they’ve been read, shared and replied to more than any of my positive, happy and (perhaps) thoughtful pieces. I think I am often at my sharpest when being critical, but being critical is not necessarily being negative. I am not an overly negative or pessimistic person – in fact I feel I’m the complete opposite. I’m a happy, optimistic, positive and passionate person. It’s this passion drives me to do better, to transform, reform, rebuild and create – not for their own sake but to be better than before. I’m an optimist that’s based in reality. I need to understand what is wrong in order to make it better. I think I have a talent for rooting out causality and seeing past the obvious, and perhaps that’s why those particular posts resonate more strongly with people.

It’s for these reasons I am such a fan of Audrey’s work. She has a way of clear communicating her insight to a broad audience and of explaining the nuance of quite complex themes and ideas. Her work is well researched and often provides the missing historical perspective from many of the deep conversations we’re having around EdTech. She has a talent for clearly communicating complexity, unveiling the hidden and asking questions that have been left unasked and unanswered. Her critique is sorely needed in educational technology where hype and hyperbole are the mainstays of communication. I often think that maybe the problem some people have with her work is not the criticism, but the fact that it’s all been done before (usually by more talented and progressive people a decade or more ago).

My education in art and design which baked in the critique as part of the creative process. I’ve learnt to appreciate it deeply because when it’s done well but someone who knows what they’re talking about it can change your life. It’s opened up my eyes to a different way of working and creating that is less self indulgent and more rigorous and defined. You see critiquing isn’t a review where you let fly with your opinion, no the purpose of the critique is to make the work stronger, better, and more fitting.

To be effective doesn’t just entail listing all the mistakes. Instead it requires a deep level of empathy and understanding. There must be understanding of the subject but also an empathy of the person and context to make it a critique and not an attack. One cannot simply critique the work, you must understand where it comes from, what is it’s context, and what is its purpose so that you can offer something back to the work. For this to occur critique requires work, and it’s damn hard work! It requires rigour not just an opinion. In the critique your not entitled to your own opinion, you have to actually earn it.

Critique is so important that it’s what good creatives leverage to do & be better. It’s how you grow, learn and change. It’s how you get better and actually improve. For that purpose alone a good critique is more important than the act of creating itself. Doing something wrong (repeatedly) or making something is not good or better because it’s “creative” – it’s stupid. Both the work and the critique have equal importance. They are symbiotic and by themselves ultimately futile.

The creative work might exist, but the critique is a plan for where it can go and how it can evolve. That might mean starting again from scratch, tweaking or taking an idea in a new direction, but it is not a dismissal of the contribution or the effort of making it.

The art of a good critique is a fine line but it can be guided by one sentiment – what are you offering back to the work?

  • If it is nothing but criticism, it is not a critique.
  • If it nothing but your opinion of what you would have done without any mention of the works context ,it is not a critique.
  • If it is criticism aimed at the person, it is not a critique.

Critique is important for any practice because it is a tool that improves that practice. Despite the old saying, practice does not make perfect – it simply makes it permanent. Critique is one of the most effective way of learning and improving.

From reading Audrey’s work for some time I find her critique of Educational Technology valuable and important because they demand we pay attention. They demand those that do make, to make are better things. They demand that we ask questions about ourselves and what we do to, for and with others. This critique asks us to do better and provides insight into where we go wrong and where we can do better.

We should want Educational Technology that addresses real problems, not manufacture new ones or answer a need we never, ever had. We should want EdTech that’s more authentic, more caring, more open and more free. Technology that humanises.