Social Media: A Story of Exploitation, Enclosure and Enslavement

This talk was given at the Wagga Nerd Nite event on Tuesday the 24th of November 2015. To give it some context – it was originally planned to be given on September 24th but unfortunately that was the day of The Fire.

Tonight I wanted to present some of my observations about the emergent behaviours of social media companies and peel back the veneer of PR and advertising and take a look at what’s happening behind the scenes.

A couple of quick questions: Who has a Facebook account?

Who’s tagged someone else in a photo or post?

Who’s changed their relationship status? What I’d like you to do is think about those answers and how they fit in the narrative we’re going to explore.

So I want to start this story 25 years ago when this, the pager, was the height of technology – something really big began to emerge.

This year the web is 25 years old, and while that might seem old, its important to understand how relatively young it is.

This is what the web looked like back in 1990. And we’ve come such a long way since, but it’s important to understand that the web is emergent – in the sense that no one really planned on it developing the way it has, nor was there ever a grand masterplan. This has meant that it’s incredibly adaptable to change and has allowed it to evolve along with the technology that powers it.

I want to preface this talk with a few things. I built my first web site 19 years ago while on work experience in Year 10, so I consider myself an early adopter. And since then I’ve myself a resident of the web, conducting my work, professional and social life through this medium. And as such I’m someone keenly interested in exploring it’s possibilities and pioneering its practices. So I believe in the web – this idea of a connected planet, through which we can all share freely and by doing so prosper. And I believe in this idea of a vast, open and distributed network that allows the world to share its knowledge and wealth of information beyond the concept of borders and nations.

But Social Media is not the web. The reality is that the emergence of commercial enterprises operating online as “social media” has perverted that dream. And a lot it comes down to how these systems are built.

The web was designed as a distributed system. Each node connects to each other which creates a resilient and robust system.

In contrast Social Media operates as seperate centralised systems. Connected but dependant on interfacing via this central component. While they sell themselves as enablers of connection you can see that you what you can connect with only occurs within one network. They’ve set themselves up as the middle-man. You also can’t branch out between Facebook into Twitter. This is not how the Web was designed to work.

So what am I talking about when it comes to Social Media?

The key identifier is this concept of “sharing”. This is technology for a group not the individual. It’s not like the apps on your computer or phone that are about personal productivity. They are about the socialised sharing of data, images and communications

So this broader definition includes – messaging applications (twitter, whats app, snapchat), image apps (flickr, instagram) but social media extends to things like LinkedIn and Foursquare and new players like Uber and Airbnb that depend on social and shared data.

And finally there’s Facebook. Aaron Sorkin identified them as The Social Network, and they are the biggest and perhaps most influential company operating in this space so we’ll take a very specific look at what they’ve been up to.

I want to introduce this term of Enclosure to describe what I believe has been happening on the web since the emergence of social media.

Enclosure is a term from the Agricultural revolution and is the term used to descibe the process that ended the ancient system of farming in open fields. It essentially ended the concept of the Commons – community land which was shared in order for everyone to benefit. Enclosure was when the fences were put up.

Property moved from the commons into private hands – and this process generated massive social and economic change. It started the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution but creating new classes of people, some who would become rich and powerful but most who would become exploited as slaves to the industrial machinations of the west.

So how does this apply to Social Media? To me it’s a case of history repeating itself. The original concept of the web was that we all would have our own websites. These would be our own place to create, store and publish. We would create a “commons” in which we share knowledge. And it happened because of the way the web was designed – to be distributed. These centralised platforms are the equivalent of throwing up fences.

So what we end up with is not this great network, but silos. Great big silos but none the less silos that are walled off, separated and controlled. The “network” isn’t open in the way it once was. What we’ve ended up with is a model where we put our stuff into other peoples containers.

We put our photos on flickr, our resume on LinkedIn, our personal lives on Facebook, our location on Foursquare. And from that point on the data doesn’t live in the commons. A part from our direct contribution there are other techniques that are used to enclose our data:

Acquisition of data. Venture capital and the buy-out culture of startups has meant that our data often becomes an asset, often the only asset, worth being acquired.

Controlling the flow and shaping experience. A good example of this is how Facebook deals with video where it slows and reduces exposure if video comes from an external source like YouTube when compared to uploading it directly into Facebook.

Binary choice. This is a reference to the binary choice we are given when faced with the 50 or so pages of legalese in the Terms and Conditions. There’s no oportunity to negotiate, no way to limit or argue. You simply accept and can use the system or decline and be locked out.

Licencing and ownership of digital objects. While none of these sites are quite as bold as to claim ownership of your data, what you’ll often find hidden away in those terms and conditions is the fact that you’re granting these companies a perpetual license to use your data however they want.

And so we have to ask ourselves some really important questions. So who owns your data? Who and how do they define your identity? When you’re no longer in control of your data what’s really going on?

Quite frankly it’s Exploitation. What’s happening is that once you’ve put your data in then these companies they use this to test and experiment on you. You become part of their universe and domain, a resource they can utilise in a purely cynical and exploitative manner.

This is the social graph and it’s Facebook’s attempt to map out all the data it has access to. To map out all the relationships between data and indiviuals, what we Like, who we like, who we are connected to. Every comment, picture, post and like is mined for relationships. And unknowingly or not we don’t just contributes the collection of data, we do their job for them by tagging our location which goes in along side the time stamp of when, who we were with and what we were doing. So what’s the value in that?

It means they can create a means of targeting individuals with a laser like focus… especially for advertising which is the main source of income currently. Mainstream media – newspapers, radio, television – these are scatter gun approaches to engage with individuals, finding your target and appealing to them. This means that into the future advertising on social media will become far more valuable to advertisers.

It’s what’s led to the explosive valuations (July 2015) attached to these companies: Facebook valuation $US250 billion, Uber valued at more than $US50 Billion and AirBnB valued at over $25 billion.

And this value is reflected in the notion of Metcalfe’s Law where the value is all proportional to the number of users connected to the system. Basically the bigger you are the more valuable your are, and Facebook is worth the most because it is the biggest.

It begs the question too – are we “sharing” or “giving”? Have they changed the notion of what sharing actually means? Or do we need to question this notion of what “sharing” actually means on

In 2004, before the rise of social media, McKenzie Wark published the Hacker Manifesto and suggested that what was occurring was the rise of a Vectoralist Class – the owners of the vectors – the various pathways and networks over which information flows.

Rather than capitalists versus proletarians, the central antagonism was between hackers and vectoralists.

Instead of owning the means of productions they own and exploit the means of transmission – the vectors through which data travels. They own the wires and the cables, the platforms through which we consume and share.

Vectoralists commidify information. They exploit information as a resource for capital. Our information, our data, becomes the commodity that they trade with. We are being exploited in order for them to make a profit.

Remember those market evaluations? Well that’s despite the following:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”
Tom Goodwin.

They own virtually nothing that is physical or a tangible good, simply the vectors through which data travels

This is the Vectoralist model in action. It’s not theory. It is our reality.

Uber owns no infrastructure, no equipment. It simply owns the app the connects the driver to the passenger. This is perhaps the clearest example of owning vector between these two points.

It’s the same with AirBnB – they own the vector that joins the room with traveller.

These are the new vectors through which money and power now travels.

And it brings us to Enslavement. If this can get darker, it does. What powers these sites and provide these companies with their power are the algorithms. They are ways of interrogating data in order to make a prediction. And what’s scary is that these algorithms are hidden from view.

And these algorithms then go onto to make predictions – if X knows Y then they should know Z and so heres a suggested friend. That’s nice huh? Or if X is 24, likes Y has more than 100 friends then target him with this ad. And thats great, another happy customer.

At the moment these algorithms are designed for advertising because it’s paying the bills at Facebook. They’re pretty benign and can be quite useful.

But what if those same algorithms got into the hands of the secret police or the military in an oppresive government? What if they got hacked?

So back at the beginning who changed their relationship status? Well that’s not all Facebook knows.

Thanks to the Social Graph Facebook can cross reference that data with the huge array of information they’ve gathered on you. And those algorithms can mine that to determine your sexual orientation, political tendencies and probably a variety of indiscretions you don’t want anyone to know about. Because it knows when, where, and who you were with. And we told them.

Does your best fried know that information about you? When Facebook knows more about you than your best friend – you should be scared. The centralised and enclosed nature of these systems actually facilitate this surveillance to occur, by making it easy for this “big data” to accumulate. They have placed themselves in the middle of every single connection on their network – the ultimate and perfect panopticon.

Algorithms are the dark side of social media because we can’t see how they manipulate what we see. It’s a known unknown – we know that the timeline changes and shifts around what we see and what we don’t – but we don’t know how, nor the motivations behind them. Is it because someone paid them to advertise or becasue a government made a request? These algorithms are the power behind Social Media and they are hidden from us. Jesus this is all pretty doom and gloom…

But Wark mentions another class – the Hackers. His definition is a little more expansive than just notion computer hackers – they are sources of innovation, knowledge, and abstraction — the creators and makers. The people that don’t care about the commodity, they care about the act. They do this out of passion, out of a drive to do it differently, to conceive the new, the future. The Hacker Class generates alternatives to the current state.

The Vectoralists are the new fat cats. They may look young and hip and cool, but they are following the same model of exploitation and enslavement of the industrialists. They make money by exploiting our of data and our effort.

So originally I was going to end here with a stirring call to action. Where we need to throw off the shackles of our oppressors and rebel.

With the banners unfurled and united we stand against the onslaught of social media facists who seek to enslave us. That united and together we can be free!) But…. I don’t feel quite so militant anymore. I think we need change, but for quite different reasons. You see the day of the last Nerd Nite, I was heading home early to practice this presentation when I got a phone call from the police.

I turned into my street to see 3 fire trucks and a cacophony of flashing lights. Someone had broken into our place and then set it on fire. They’d taken the stuff that was worth something to sell and then set fire to the rest of it. We lost photos and memorabilia, toys and our clothes. All of it gone.

But what happened next was amazing. Through social media there was an outpouring of support that neither my wife, nor I, could have ever imagined. Those networks connected us to people more than willing to offer help and support. People gave without question, including those well beyond our own personal networks. And at that point I realised that the reason to rebel, the reason to rethink and reenginneer the ways these systems are structured, is because they’re too important.

Too important to have profit come between our connecrtions and relationships. Too important to sacrifice our identity and privacy in order for a company to sell us fucking ads.

So instead tonight I want to end by saying that the aim of social networks should be on the connections and relationships, not profit. That they should empower the individual to connect with people and ideas and share and give to one another, not for profit. That we need to rethink our relationship, not with each other, but with corporate entities that seek to exploit and enslave us.


PS: Would like to get some feedback on whether this format works better for presentations or if videos, like this,  are a better way to go. Feel free to comment below – welcome your feedback.

The UX of Telecommunications

UPDATE: So magically the internet popped into action 6 hours after posting this. Doesn’t change the experience, but I’m glad to be back online :)

I’m putting this post together for a couple of reasons:

  1. Because I am so frustrated at the moment that I need to get it off my chest.
  2. Large organisations seem to have no idea what customers actually experience with the systems they’ve developed.
  3. I’m 100% sure I am not alone (just replace company names with pretty much any telco, cable company or mobile provider).
  4. Maybe someone might want to do something about it.

So on the 1st of November I ordered a new ADSL connection for the house we are now living in due to the fire. A simple enough process it would seem. Things started off well despite the odd experience of many of my first interactions with the company being via an Automated Menu System. A technician was sent out and he did his thing. When asked, he let me know that once he’s logged the job as being complete (that afternoon) that within about 2 days the connection will be activated and I’d get a text and email letting me know.

Wednesday comes around and I’ve heard nothing. I log on to my mobile to chat and end up having a rep call me. After back and forth about my order I am told that everything should be live on Friday. Friday comes around, nothing. I call again and spend waaaayyy too long on hold. Registering my dissatisfaction that this is now late I am told that tomorrow it will be fixed. Saturday comes and nothing. I’m call again. I get a more thorough explanation – ie more than “computer says no” – and told that it is a “back of house” issue which has now been forwarded on to another team. When I prompted for an ETA I was given the answer of Monday, as the team it was forwarded to don’t work on Sundays. I asked that I be notified when the job is completed. Monday comes, nothing. I try an use the handy link the service person gave me to get in touch – which was supposed to guarantee I don’t have to negotiate the chat service or call centre again. I get an error on the website. Frustration. Is pretty much at peak now.

Again I go into the chat room. 40 minutes later I have a person on the other end. A person who can’t deal with my request so must forward me to another team. I get a call, am told I’m being transferred to that team, “shouldn’t be a minute” and am then placed on hold. 40 minutes later someone picks up at the other end. I’m told that the due date for my activation is midnight tonight, and that it will automatically happen. I express my frustration – this was the same response I got last Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I am sceptical that this will be fixed. I asked to have this information emailed to me. I ask to be contact tomorrow with an update. I get another direct line contact email and a phone number. Monday morning rolls around. Nothing. I try the direct link – it does’t work. I try the phone number – wrong number. I am done. This is the most pointless system that I have ever encountered.

I tried calling the helpline and was offered a callback option. I took that and gave them my number to save my ears from another onslaught of “hold music”. About 10 minutes later I got an automated call back and was placed on hold. Then was told there was a problem and was hung up on. This happened 3 more times and then promptly ended without actually having spoken to anyone.

My experience has become completely cyclical

  1. Place order
  2. Technician Installs line
  3. Nothing happens
  4. I call Telstra
  5. I sit on hold for 30 minutes
  6. Responder informs me that it will be fixed in 24-48 hours.
  7. Repeat from 3.

I’ve even made a diagram.

Mapped Process of dealing with telstra listed above

As a side process to all this I’ve been tweeting my frustrations to @Telstra. But these seem to little to no bearing on the outcome. In fact this is how that process works:

  1. I winge on Twitter.
  2. Someone from @Telstra provides sympathy but no solution.
  3. Nothing happens.
  4. Repeat at each stage of above process.

What I’ve done here is give Telstra a pretty good “User Journey”, and if you map that user Journey you find that there isn’t a point in it where the goal is achieved – particularly if this is “make customer happy”. Like some layer of Dante’s inferno i just keep going round.

Later on I got a call from an unknown number. It was the voice prompt lady again. But this time she wanted me to press “1” to connect the call – an entirely different user action – and one that I was unable to perform because I was driving. Because I didn’t press “1” in the allotted time I was then bombarded with a phone number to call and 10 digit reference number to cite…. lot’s of use when you’re a). driving b). not you’re warned and c). you don’t have a pen or paper because YOU WERE THE ONE “RECEIVING” A CALL! You can’t force your expectations on someone nor should you flip the expected modes of interaction. Using a phone is oral interaction, using a chat is text, if you want to change those you have to ask permission first or at least offer options or alternatives. When I got out of the car I called back the mystery number. I spoke to voice prompt lady who then connected me to a human – only had to be on hold for 5 minutes this time.

The responder informs me that it will be fixed in 24-48 hours.

The circle continues.

PS – If anyone from Telstra actually wants to talk to me – feel free to contact me – I’m on Twitter and am using my real name on this blog. I’d be happy to update this post with any news, changes or outcomes.

PPS – I’d estimate that I’ve wasted about 4-5 hours of my own time trying to sort this thing out. There is also the inconvenience that this has caused – not being able to work form home a big one – which has resulted at at least another 5 hours of lost productivity. It’s not how I want to spend my time, nor should I have to. If I measure this at my current hourly rate we’re looking at the process equating to about 6 months of broadband. I’ve also had to purchase multiple data packs for my phone and a 4G modem that was supposed to just be a stop gap. There’s another month there.

Empowering the Node & Avoiding Enclosure

This is my presentation from the dLRN15 conference – Empowering the Node & Avoiding Enclosure. Below you can watch a audio of the talk + slides or just the slides below.

In this presentation I’ve really tried to highlight the perceived problem with current online technologies and practices, distilling it down to the concept of Enclosure. I introduce a bit of Marxist theory updated for the 21st century and discuss Wark’s concept of the Vectoralist class.

The second half is a vision – or outline of a vision – of how we can actually overcome these problems. Not by recreating or developing new systems, but by redesigning the underlying models. By moving to a more distributed model, one that harks back to the original conceptualisation of the web.

This is a passion project for me and I’m definitely keen to collaborate and discuss the concepts behind MYOS. If you’re interested feel free to comment or tweet to start a conversation.


#dLRN: The Cynefin of Conferences

So I’m flying home to Australia after a challenging week here in the US. Challenging is good, but damn, it’s hard work!

I got some time to myself, to be with my thoughts and be away from the situation at home, which was a bit of a relief. I was also away from those dearest too me for too long and there was a definite sense of isolation there. I’m beginning to really understand how close knit we are as a family, and any extended time away from each other is hard for everyone. Can’t wait to see them soon!But the conference … How do you describe #dLRN15? It’s complex.

This was not your usual conference. While some of the structure was familiar, some was new. The conversation was different. The themes were different. The people were familiar but new. The discussion was broad and inclusive. There was respect and balance and care evident by everyone who spoke.

There were a lot of first for me:

  • first time seeing a lot of this community in the flesh, I only new them as an avatar and a @ handle before;

  • first time interacting with many of these people outside the digital, so ditching the blogs and tweets and actually having a dialogue;

  • first time discussing topics outside of text, pushing language and the limits of oral thought processes;

  • first time discussing actual issues that are having a real impact on people;

  • and first time in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley and an elite institution like Stanford.

That’s a pretty heady mix and a brew shared by many of the attendees and why I think it’ll require sometime before we’re able to really process the conference and what we might do next.

So to be honest I don’t think I’m ready to unpack the themes yet, but I do want to make an observation.
This is the first conference I’ve ever been to that dealt with education in the complex and chaotic domains.

I’m referring here to the Cynefin Framework and  I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful way of trying to in which to frame what’s going on in the world and the solutions and approaches required. As Wikipedia describes

The framework provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply.

If you’re new to Cynefin if suggest you check this video best describe I’ve found

If I was to think about the conferences I’ve been to historically I’d suggest that they fit the various domains:

Simple = Vendor/Commercial Conference

Well to be honest the relationship between cause and effect is obvious – it’s the vendors product – and the content is usually about applying best practice

Complicated – Society or Professional Conference.

While taking it up a notch these conferences focus on analysis of the relationship between cause and effect. Content focussed on investigation and the application of expert knowledge. Through this we get a sense of what good practice is.

Complex – dLRN15

This conference really did focus on discussing the relationship between cause and effect in retrospect. There was a lot of presentations that referenced the past – success and failures – and attempted to place what was happening in a historic context. We discussed a lot of what had happened but there were not a lot of predictions of what will happen. There was an acceptance that the environment is a complex mix of social, political, cross cultural and economic issues that are locked in step. There was acceptance of complexity for the first time ever – in particular that there is no single solution. As such the presentations and discussion for the most part was very much focussed on  the emergent practices of digital learning. It also attempted to place them in a much broader and connected context.

Chaos – Bits of dLRN

To complement the complex there was definitely elements of the chaotic too. These were more like fleeting moments where the  relationship between cause and effect was left out of the equation and instead a focus on

novel practice. Mike’s discussion of the federated wiki and garden metaphor, while

grounded in the history of information, was very much a novel approach and alternative to the current model. 


It’s important to point to the final state of Cynefin – disorder. Which is very much the state of higher education and edtech. 

The fifth domain is Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. 

That to me sounds very much to the system (and the battle) that everyone at dLRN is involved in. 

The California Effect

There was something so refreshing about this conference and its ability to move into that complex and chaotic space. Maybe it was the location, the weather or the people, but it felt like something significant happened on the Stanford campus. Maybe it’s the Californian Ideology at play – but judging from the blog posts so far (from @acroom & @googleguacamole) whatever it is it’s left a mark on many of us who were there. 

The Fire

Tonight was going to be a good night. I was booked in to speak at Nerd Nite, so I left work a little early to have one final practice. I was nervous about my ending – I had a couple of lines I really wanted to memorise and nail to round out the talk. 

It was then I got a phone call. The number on the dash said Unknown. I don’t usually answer these calls but I did today. I hit the answer button on the steering wheel. Usually they’re telemarketers, today it was a police officer. 
I confirmed my identity and address. I was then informed there had been a fire at my home address. OK. I was literally a block away. I turned into the street still speaking to the officer sitting in the paddy wagon with the flashing lights at the entrance to our street. 

There were two fire trucks in the middle of the road. A hose linked to the hydrant in the middle. It was full and snaked it’s way up the the road. There were maybe four other police cars creating a strobic pulse of red and blue across my field of vision. 

Thank god my wife was at work. Thank god my daughter was at day care. Thank god we were safe. 

I got out and was informed of what was happening. A fire in the front bedroom. Our bedroom. The glass was shattered and in some spots looked melted and fused like toffee sitting on the sill. The bricks were stained black. 

Firefighters all kitted up in their gear walked in and out carrying an array of equipment. The fire was out. It was limited to the bedroom but the other widows, and what I could see inside, was stained black. Black and burnt. Soot and ash. 

The station commander spoke with me to get the lay of the land. Where were the powerpoints? What was plugged in? At the same time guys from the power company claimed up the ladder and disconnected the wire. The umbilical to the house was severed. I guess it was safe now. Dead, but safe. 

It was then I was told there were signs of forced entry. Fuck. I mentally check the events of the day. I’d dropped my wife and daughter off and had then gone home to practice of my talk. I’d locked everything up, checked the back door was bolted. This wasn’t me being being absent minded, even when I’m absent minded I always go to check and double check myself. There’s a compulsion to just make sure, you don’t want it to be the one time…

Detectives arrived. They took down details and asked questions. 

Fuck. What is going on? I tried to call my wife but couldn’t get her. I called Mum. I told her what happened. A fire at our house… but I didn’t know anything else. I’ll let you know when I do. I called my wife again. No answer. Just her too pleasant, too normal sounding voicemail. This wasn’t the time for normal. 

More questions and answers. Fire and Police quizzing me. I’m good at trivia, but the minutae of our lives? Not so much. Questions about locks and doors and windows. I think I told them the wrong date of birth for my daughter. My mind just went blank. 

What about the photos? Shit, what had I backed up? How much was in the cloud? Oh god, I can’t get those back. 

“Was there a TV in the front room?”

“Ahhh …. Yeah. Next to the window there.”

“TVs gone.”

The detective scrawled that down. 

Shit they took stuff too? 
The computer? The hard drives? 

How much had I properly backed up to the cloud? Stupid internet. If it hadn’t been so fucking slow! 

What else did they take? We don’t even own anything expensive! 

Wife calls. I spoonerise the news. “There’s been a house at the fire”. We curse and cry and breath relief that each body is safe and our little one is oblivious. 

I don’t know what was next. Questions. Weird ones. Why is my mouth so dry? What kind of stress reaction is that? I couldn’t tell or scream or cry if I wanted. The liquid in my body has evaporated. I spot the quaffed look of a reporter and a camera with a long lens. I had a camera in there. We’ll make the news. Wow this IS news! 

Shit my talk. 

My wife arrives and we hug. Her eyes are red and splotchy already. Fuck. It’s our common word, one we share in this moment. 

My uncle appears. The family newswire at work.  He’s offers a hand. A supportive “fuck” and an optimistic perspective. It’s all just stuff. You can repair and rebuild all that. You can … I guess. 

Aunty arrives too. Hugs and tears. I’ve got them too now. 

I don’t know what to do. I could handle the questions. Now we’re just waiting. A fan to blow the smoke. Spot checks and heat sensors. The carbon monoxide is still a bit high. “You can go in and grab some essentials”. But I don’t have any. No clothes. No socks. No underpants. I have what I’m wearing. They’re all burnt. 

When we go in – its devastating. The light open house with its white walls, wooden floors and red kitchen we knew and created is all stained black. Black that drips down the walls. Ash and plaster on the floor. The bedroom door is charred through. And everything is gone. 

It’s not the fire that shocks me. They took everything. Computer, DVD player, my guitars (all of them), the fucking modem?!? The reverse cycle unit has melted down the wall. 

Doors and drawers opened. Units moved. Everything rummaged and ruined. And then the fire on top of that? Are you kidding me?

The air is acrid. Wife is crying. I don’t want to be here. They took my bike. The one I’d just bought to replace the one that got stolen. The one I kept inside to stop it from being stolen. They took that too. 

I head into my daughters room. Past her “art wall”. All those bright colours now stained black too. Her bedroom seems untouched. Ash, but not the thick black that drips down everywhere else. Her toy animals are there. What do I take? We can come back, but not till tomorrow. We take her bunny. I grab the two photos of her and a friend too, just so that there’s something real to salvage. I check the garage, they left that. Our childhood treasures look like they’re still there. Lawn mower too. 

That’s kind of it. Forensics in the morning and some poor sod is on guard all night. We shake hands. 

“I need to do something”. I try to be practical in a moment of despair and loss and grief. Distraction so I don’t have to think about all this. We need pyjamas, socks, underpants. It dawns on me – I have no clothes anymore. No shoes. 

We thank Uncle and Aunty. Family means so much right now. There’s text messages coming in. 

We head to KMart. Cheap and painless shopping. Function trumps style. No-one here knows that this is all we have. These three little bags. 

We head to Mums. She has our everything. Picked her up from daycare and entertained her. We have a hug. Wife tells her the news. On the way we agreed she should know. She has to know sometime that we aren’t going home. That some of her stuff is gone. The television gets tears. It’s been good to her. 

We hug and talk and I call the insurance company. I don’t know how this works. I’ve never done this before. I don’t even know what happens next. Tonight, nothing I guess. I talk to family text and chat. How do I tell everyone else? Facebook I guess. My talk… 

We eat a little. The little one stays up till eight. Way past bedtime. She’s tired. So are we. So are the phones, as batteries are on red but we have no chargers. It’s the little things. 

Late night shopping. I can get more. We can power up overnight. Supermarket too, for toothbrushes and deodorant. The little things. 

Home and sit. I’m drained. Messages and support. It’s nice. Comforting. The world is a nice place, people ARE good. 

Except for the ones who break in, take all your stuff and then to rub salt into the wound – burn you house. 
There’s lots of small things. Little reminders. Tomorrow we’ll dig through the ash and find big things. We’ll salvage what’s left. 
It’s weird, knowing you’ve lost almost every physical object you’ve ever know. It’s not the stuff though – it’s the sentiment. It’s every single choice and process that went into acquiring it. It’s the loss of the effort involved. This stuff didn’t just appear. It came from working and planning and striving. And now it’s gone. 

PS: Thanks to our neighbours and the emergency services. They did an amazing job today and I am truly thankful. 

PPS: We made the news

Ditch the Duality

This presentation was developed for a series of Think Pieces at Charles Sturt University. I’ve nominated to do these for the last few years, mainly because it gives me an opportunity to explore issues relating to education and technology in a slightly more expansive (and sometimes provocative) way. My take on these think pieces is not for me to do all the thinking – but open up a channel to explore some different ideas.

I developed the topic for this presentation about 6 months ago – having a notion of what I wanted to discuss. What I’ve ended up with is probably not what I orginally intended but actually more cohesive. It brings together a number of ideas I’ve previously blogged about (interaction, abstraction & mediation) and ties in with some interesting pieces I’ve been reading recently – most notably this post from Nathan Jurgenson. Nathan’s post appeared at the perfect time – one where I had the ideas but not the taxonomy laid out – so I’ve borrowed quite a bit of his post.

Let me know what you think!

You Are Not In Control

Tonight I’m giving a presentation for INF537 Digital Futures Colloquium, a subject part of the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation).

While the title slide is a little ominous it’s aimed at being a provocation to the class to stimulate discussion rather than a lecture. I really want to hear what the students have to say – even if they think I’m way off.

Hopefully the seminar “provides the stimulus to identify and reflect critically on topics that have implications for a student’s own professional development, professional practice and scholarly interest” the subject aims to do.

Personality in Teaching: Content, Activity & Relationships

Martin Weller’s post on the role of personality in education has stimulated a lot of really interesting conversation and dialogue (it’s particularly interesting to see so many comments on a blog post these days!). I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing a response to Martin’s post but I honestly couldn’t articulate what I was trying to say. This post is like Martin’s – some musings on the idea of personality – and how it relates to teaching and pedagogical models. There’s a disconnect for me between the personality in say an xMOOC and a course like DS106. How it’s expressed and what it represents are two very different expressions of “personality”. One sees personality as something akin to celebrity – the other uses personality as an adhesive or conduit that connects people, ideas and expression. MOOCs made embedding the personality into the content the main feature of their curriculum. Don’t learn a topic from just amy old hack, learn it from the “best”. The video has become so ubiquitous in MOOC pedagogy because it provides the simplest and most immediate injection of personality. Text is too hard, too nuanced and it’s not like you ever interact with the actual lecturer anyway. Content provides the only real way to embed any sense of the “teachers” personality. (Yes I’m using a few terms “loosely” in that paragraph). To me the objective dilemma that plagues institutions like the OU aligns quite nicely with the Reusability Paradox that illustrates the inverse relationship between reusability and pedagogical effectiveness. The more something becomes objective the less personality it retains and the less that there is to relate to. You need some personality but just how much? Yet when you think about it, particularly in the case of say the OU, personality is there – it’s just down the line. Rather than be in the content it occurs when the individual tutors that students interact with. Personality comes through this relationship rather than through the content. As I listened to Doug Belshaw and Dai Barnes discuss Martin’s post on their TIDE podcast the concept of “relationship” was raised. Rather than content being the focus in the classroom it’s the relationship that really matters. Which is one of the affordances of face to face teaching, particularly in schools where you have time and proximity on your side. That kind of deep and meaningful relationship is pretty difficult to establish online and so that expression of personality tend to be lost Interestingly when I think about the kind of work someone like Jim Groom, personality is often exhibited not through the content nor through establishing a deep relationships, but the activity of the course. Jim embeds himself in the tasks and activity of the course in a way that’s unmatched by most of his contemporaries. The wacky topics, the gifs, the assignment bank this is where Jim’s personality is embedded. Why? Because he makes himself a vital part of that activity. He is part of the action, not a passive observer, but an active participant – a learner as much as a teacher. It made me think that there are these three key expressions of personality in teaching:

  • Content
  • Activity
  • Relationship

Each of these components compliments the other and by changing the order of emphasis, where the personality is most expressed, there’s a fundamental shift in the pedagogical approach and the delivery to the students. What’s also interesting is that if any of these items are missing the learning experience is compromised. Content, Activity and Relationship actually provide an interesting model for understanding and mapping teaching, and more broadly education. When I think about it, it may provide an interesting lens to look at current trends. At first glance I’d say that MOOCs represent the pinnacle of a Content First approach. DS106 of Activity First and classroom teaching (perhaps best exhibited in primary and lower secondary schools) the focus is Relationships First. Shifting the emphasis between the three components provides a way of changing the possible pedagogies deployed. An online course that shifts from being fairly content centric to relationship centric would be pretty different in terms of design and structure. So too would shifting the emphasis in higher education to a more Activity First model – both in face to face and online.

The Quiet Page & Linking the Web

A number of recent posts and articles I’ve read discuss the concept of linking – Will Deep Links Ever Truly Be Deep?, Beyond Conversation, Follow-up: Reader as Link Author, How we might link and The Web We Have to Save.

Each in their own way has resurfaced an idea that I had a number of years ago. The year was 2011 and I’d spent about 3 weeks in the US as part of professional experience program. I’d spent a lot of time in the company of some great thinkers and innovators. At at some point there was a discussion about books – the supposed death of print, the inadequacy of ebooks but the potential that digital technology has for rethinking what makes a “book”.

Out of those discussions and over some long days driving I started to flesh out some ideas about what could be, where could the concept of the book go once it had been made digital? I wrote it down, drew it up on paper and left it there. Knowing the idea wasn’t ready. I couldn’t see how it could be done. Not yet anyway. But I pulled that paper out over the summer and read through it. Rethought it and started to rework it. And the big idea?

The Quiet Page.

At that original point in time most discussion was around what digital could add to the reading experience. Media, interaction, social media, video, analytics, data metrics, the list was endless. I was actually draw to the simplified, the unadulterated text. To be able to experience words and language without distraction. Without embellishments. Without blue underlines, embedded video, high definition graphics, interactive elements or embedded social media – the quiet page.

Text delivered to my liking. My font, my size in my colour or screen setup. Quiet. Relaxed. Readable.

And from the quiet page we can add the ability to turn on functions. To add to the quiet page layers of functionality. To view the text in different ways. To move beyond the navigation of our magic ink, and to embed the text with additional contextual information.


  • To see it linked to other resources to show its research and context. The internal and external connections of the text itself. (Author)
  • To add richness by adding media, visual and auditory elements that help enhance the message. (Publisher)
  • To annotate it myself. To highlight underline and note. To visualise and add my experience with the text. (Personal)
  • To view others experiences of the text. To see their notes and discussions. To see their highlights and to experience the text in a social and shared way. (Social)
  • To create trails. To connect the text to other content, ideas and resources myself. To place the text in my context, my experience and my knowledge. (Synthesis)
  • And then to share those trails. To let others see how I’ve contextualised the text. To see my experience but to then be able to add to it and expand it. (Connected)

From the Quiet Page you can do all these things – because the page doesn’t change. Each layer is an enhancemennt, an addition to the text rather that part of it. The Quiet Page allows the text to be adopted for other functions and purposes. To become non-linear, lived, felt, experienced and shared. To map and chart the interactions with the text. To go far beyond the “book”.

The point was to link the text. Not just in one way, but many. Internally and externally. Personal and social. Private and shared. And to cross between those states. To make the external internal, the personal social and the private shared. To link the text to life.

This discussion around linking – in particular Mike’s contribution – has made that importance of linking clear. That it is one of the key differentiators of the digital – not just the linking itself, but what the linking enables. It allows connections to be formed – not just between data, ideas or information, but people too. They provide a way to express, to visualise and map connections. To share, create ad communicate with humanity beyond our physical and temporal constraints.

The link is unique and powerful. It drives the potentially of the digital medium and needs to be enhanced rather than killed off or replaced.

Otherwise all that’s left is the Quiet Page.

Moving. Writing. Learning.

This blog has been a bit quiet of late. It’s not for a lack of things to say or lack of things being done, but rather a lack of time to do so.

In the past week and a bit I’ve started a new blog and re-evaluating my online presence – where things live, who controls what, what I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to be.

In most cases what I put online is pure self expression. I don’t do this for anyone except myself. When I started this blog it was just another attempt at blogging – one that spans back about a decade of repeated failures. This one has stuck because it came at the right time I guess. I was actually doing interesting things and having interesting ideas – my previous failures might be attributed to youth and lack of anything worthy to contribute.

But now I’m in a different mindset – too much to say. Not that I care if anyone actually listens – what I’ve found through blogging is that the externalisation of ideas is profoundly useful. Putting ideas and thoughts into words, constructing them in ways that can be understood, solidifies them and reduces the jumble going on inside my head.

Writing brings clarity.

Clarity is becoming an incredibly important part of my life. Juggling busy work hours and home life with a wife and toddler, while under the pressure of a tidal wave of information is exhausting. Having clarity creates a stillness. A moment of zen. Even if only temporary, clarity is becoming incredibly important for my ongoing mental health. It gives me the mental space to switch between tasks and dedicate time and attention to where I am and live in that moment.

This is in opposition to the manufactured chaos that the media and corporate society inflicts on us. They actively deny us the ability to think by providing an infinite amount of distraction under the illusion of choice and a retarded form of free-market economics.


As part of a personal project to learn how to use static web publishing tools I set up a new blog – Inhale. My idea is that it will be a replacement for the reading list posts I previously posted here that capture the interesting bits of content I inhale as part of daily life on the web. The reading list posts were pretty useful but time consuming because I did very little prep. Inhale is aimed at being more “stream of consciousness” – a link to the post, article or podcast with a quick comment attached. It’s a poor cousin to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily or John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, but definitely inspired by the value that curation plus that little piece of commentary adds to the collective discussion and understanding.

The other new site I’m planning is Exhale. A place for quick, simple posts, half formed ideas and things I’ve learnt. I’m not sure what form it will take. The Jekyll workflow I’ve developed utilises the iOS Editorial app which means it’s extremely simple to get a post written and up on GitHub. I’ve been looking for an excuse to try Known for sometime though. And there’s also Federated Wiki, which I love and have been trying to work out how to incorporate. I might need a bit more of a think about this one. (PS Open to other suggestions if you’ve got one).

What I’m seeing is an opportunity to expand my online presence and to use different platforms and their different affordances. Rather than try and find a single solution (a unicorn right?) and instead make smaller investments in tech that take advantages of the plethora of tools out there.

Learning Jekyll has lit a spark. I’ve had to learn it from scratch and have been doing things way beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been installing via the command line, editing code, tweaking domain settings and really learning.

Learning is something that I love. The last few years I have been quite passive in my learning – spending most of my time reading, observing and reflecting rather than doing. This process has been much more hands on and as a result I feel enthused and empowered.

I’ve already redone a prior project, a blog of my life lessons for my daughter, am designing a template for a Jekyll resume page (already sorted the design) and hoping to experiment with using subdomains to support the whole family in having a web presence, and I want to dig into the older posts on this blog to organise, edit and revisit some of the ideas packed away in there.


I’m not sure what’s changed but I can feel a real momentum behind me. There’s a spark and a desire to move and disrupt the way I’ve been doing things. I think I’ve felt too comfortable it’s how things were and as a result too passive. I’ve been shouting from the sidelines and realised the only way to change is to get into the game. The MYOS post (and those from others it links out to) was for me a real kick in the arse. A turning point because I could actually see a different way of doing things. An alternate model, not one that fits the current narrative but could actually change it.

This blog will be staying here. There’s a history and a presence attached to it and a heap of hyperlinks I don’t want to kill. I’d say it will evolve and change and be augmented by other stuff. It also provides a stable home, somewhere to come back to, to revisit and retreat to.