Temporary Permanence

This is a long post that seeks to join three threads together. It’s taken a while to get to this point and it is definitely something I am still actively thinking through. Feedback appreciated.

1. Home (or the lack there of)

I haven’t really written about my personal life for quite some time, not since The Fire from last year. Part of that’s been a choice of mine not to publicly discuss and publish my experiences and those of my family. Part of it was an inability to actually articulate the emotions of dealing with the loss of our home and everything that entails.

Now that we’re coming up to ten months since the fire and we’re still not in back in our house, I feel the need to describe the state that we’ve been living in. I don’t want to start “pity party” – but there is something in this uncomfortable reality that’s been part of our everyday lives. A force and effect that has been shaping our physical, mental and emotional state that I would would describe as temporary permanence.

The temporary part relates to the fact that at some point we will be moving home and rebuilding our physical spaces along side the emotional space around that thing that we call Home. When, where and how seems ephemeral, but it will happen eventually. It’s been telling not to have Home as part of our lives. It isn’t simply a physical building, it’s a combination of different spaces and states that act as an anchor, a reset point, and a refuge. Being without a Home has led to a very different kind of mental and emotional mindset that guides how we think, feel and deal with our day-to-day lives.

The Permanent component is the fact that this has been going on for soooo long that it no longer looks, feels or smells like something that’s temporary. When I consider the what is temporary, I picture a couple of months at best (or worst). But dealing with the loss of our home has been going on now much longer than that.

This temporary mindset has been going on for so long that it is now embedded into our routine physically and mentally. The temporary has become part of the permanent. There is significant distance between Home and where we are now. We exist in a transient state that combines the features of both the temporary and the permanent. We stand on, in and between two different temporalities. Two completely different realities and ways of seeing, interacting and rules for operating in.

It reminds me of the demountable buildings used so often by schools. Designed to be be bought in on a truck and erected quickly to house students during a crisis, like extra enrolments or to carry out repairs to a building, they lack the fixtures and fittings of a permanent space. They’re used for something that can clearly be judged as a temporary measure, but they don’t ever seem to go away. Over time they become a permanent fixture, they don’t stop being used and they’re never actually demounted and moved somewhere else. They stay and become permanent fixtures, looking awkward and out of place as they settle into the landscape. That idea of something designed to be temporary, living in a permanent space is what I’m feeling. It’s a juxtaposition a whole bunch of questions and choices that seemingly contradict each other. Choices that work in a temporary space are not built to cope with permanence and vice versa.

This manifests itself in this concept of Home and the role it plays in our lives. We are/were lucky to have access to temporary rental accommodation that came fully furnished, a rarity in Australia. At the time it was a godsend not to have to rush out and buy furniture for a place that was always going to be temporary for us. We could just move in and inhabit the space . That was fine and accepted in a temporary mindset, this is only going to be a couple of months, after that we’ll be Home. Back to our place, our stuff, our space, our choices and decisions. Until then we were OK with what the temporary afforded us because we knew that soon enough we’d be house with our own fixtures and fittings and personal items.

Ten months on and it doesn’t quite feel the same. The clear edge between what is temporary and what is permanent is gone. The furnished state of this house is now a cumbersome burden that impedes us from really claiming the spaces as Home and provides a constant reminder that this isn’t our space. We are foreigners here. This is not our Home, and that has a direct effect on how we process things emotionally and how those emotions influence our lives. So little things like the appliances in the kitchen, the furniture layout and configuration of the rooms begins to grate on you. They’re so foreign to the Home that we left and become an impediment to engaging with the space and to treating it like our home. And that sentiment seeps into the rest of your life. In many ways that disconnect becomes part of how you live life. You begin to act, behave and care like this is all just temporary. It seeps in that deeply. You have to adapt to what’s here and what’s present and now, and that is starkly different to what was. Your whole life becomes a nice place to visit but at least I don’t have to live there! But now you do, the length of time spent dealing with the temporary has constructed a permanence that changes everything.

The place that was a refuge is now a prison. This place now mounds every aspect of your life – your hopes, dreams and aspiration. Your thoughts and feelings become detached as realities and temporalities collide. Life becomes stuck, a victim of this Temporary Permanence.


2. An Age of Temporary Permanence

In the last few weeks, having got to the point where I can recognise and articulate this experience, there has been a profound recognition that this is a lived experience for so many people on this planet. This disorientation and contradiction and the affect of temporary permanence is a global state. For every refugee in the world that it’s displaced, this is their reality. The refugee camps that were seen as a release and a safe haven from conflict become prisons over time. Where years are spent readjusting and living in not just temporary accommodation, but temporary lives, cut off from Home but also work, family, community and place. My affinity is limited to just to place, I don’t have any other trauma to deal with, so by no means do I want to compare what my family have been through with those of refugees. But I understand now that kind of disruptive emotional state that temporarily permanence places on someone.

There’s a stress and conflict created by the inability to divide the temporary and the permanent, they actually co-exist within the same space. For us it’s been the constantly changing timelines of the process of rebuilding. We’ve kind of gone from thinking that this is a short term temporary thing to not actually knowing when we will ever be in our house due to the continuing delays.

I think this is the root of it is that I don’t think we are designed as humans to cope with that coexistence of temporalities. That the temporary and the permanent need to be separate in order for us to cope. The ambiguities around time lines is the disrupting force here. These changes affect emotions and the way that our brains cope with the information and the situations we find ourselves in. We can’t rely on our mindsets and processes from our previous experiences. This is like nothing you’ve ever felt or experienced before, and most people don’t and won’t experience this.


3. Temporary Acts Permanently Changing Lives

Perhaps the most stark example of the effect of the Temporary Permanence was captured in the recent footage from ABC Australia’s Four Corners program, Australia’s Shame. Of greatest concern for me was the fact that children were being a locked up in solitary confinement for arbitrary and extended periods of time. There was now defined dates or times for these kids. The rules around adult solitary confinement were completely ignored and I am deeply concerned about the psychological and mental state of those children. This is situation where Temporary Permanence is harmful, and we watched as these kids cracked over time. The inability to attached themselves or their lives to anything permanent, the fact that what was supposed to be temporary punishment become a permanent state, that these kids were already damaged by the system – it creates a powder keg, and the resulting explosion is that of a young persons life.

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Provocations on the Personal API

The Personal API.

It’s a really interesting idea – to have your own way of interacting with online systems. Most big online systems today utilise APIs (or Application Programming Interface) in order to transfer and transact information. APIs have been around for a long time, but they’ve mostly been internal and accessible only by developers. That’s changed dramatically over the last few years as more and more technologies provide public APIs that allow you to exchange information, access services, publish information and what powers the ubiquitous “Share” functionality from you desktop to your phone.

But what if you had your own?

What if you were able to interface directly with the variety of systems out there in order to build your own products, services and applications?

What kinds of systems would you be able to build? What would they look like? How would they even work?

What follows are some initial thoughts of my own. I’m putting them out there as a kind of provocation, a conversation starter. I’ve written them to be considered on their own, each with it’s own merits and flaws. Let me know what you think too – maybe we can actually resurrect some old time blogging to respond to each other 🙂


The ultimate aim of the Personal API is to claim sovereignty over our own identity. It will allows us as individuals to define ourselves, manage how we are presented and more importantly control how we interact and transact on the web. The Personal API provides a method and a mechanism for us as individuals to reclaim choice and turn the web back into a participatory medium.


The Personal API is a first step towards independence. It represents a push towards a more democratic web. The only real threat to the oligarchs of Silicon Valley is true democracy. The Personal API has the potential to create the means towards something akin to universal suffrage on the web. To bring power back to the people. It’s more than reclamation, it’s liberation and provides the instrument to empower the Node, to take control and have autonomy over your digital self.


The Personal API is how we can create distributed systems. The problems we have with the web at the moment is that they have become too centralised instead of distributed. Centralised systems create a panopticon – and that’s the business model for companies like Facebook and Google. We get services for free but they get to constantly capture our data. One way to defeat this predatory surveillance system is through distribution. It’s a more complex process and way of working but in the broader sense it’s better. It’s hard work – to establish and agree to protocols, standards and to stick by them – but once you have them you’ve created a platform. A platform for individuals to create, innovate and invent. SMTP is a great example of protocol as a platform. Where the standard allowed you to use any service, any application, any client and email would still work. There is no autonomy in these centralised systems, they strip you of the ability to make choices. You don’t get to decide. You don’t get to choose the app, the client, the service – it’s all or nothing. It’s all in their eco-system, on their Terms (of Service). You can’t tweak the timeline. You can’t choose stars instead of hearts. You have no choice because you’re not a participant. You can’t reach out beyond the eco-system. You don’t exist outside the eco-system. A real social network would allow you to socialised with those outside the network, not force them to be part of it. A Personal API can provide the glue to make those connections. To bring people together on their own terms. To create our own civic space through which we can socialise, connect and interact. No longer confined to their space, we can have OUR space.


The Personal API provides the system for choice. It provides a way to PUSH information out into the world and to choose how you’re connected. But it also allows you to decide how information and interactions could be PULLed back. That it’s not just about the act of publishing, there’s the possibility of hospitality. That you can welcome someone in to access you data. That it’s not just about feeding their database, filling in their forms to create an “asset” – instead you can welcome them into your world. What if we started to participate in these transaction? If instead of filling in another form with exactly the same information again, what if we had a handshake – an exchange of data that is mutually agreed to and one that is built on the premise of hospitality, not authority.


As a complete aside I just wanted to include this rant about forms. If there’s one thing that the Personal API should make redundant it f$@!king online forms.
Filling in forms is not participatory – it’s a demand and the inconvenience is on me.
Even if I’m attempting to give you money, the onus is on me to provide you with information.
It’s all one sided. The exchange is unfair. Not only do I give you money but you get to store my private information.
And that private information gets stored in way where you choose the method of security.
Your business is improved and made more efficient, but what’s in it for me?
That’s not an exchange.


The Personal API provides a way for transactional behaviours to become much simpler. You don’t need to store my information in perpetuity if I give you access to it. You just need it long enough to complete the transaction. You could keep a “memory” of me, but there’s no longer a requirement to keep all my data forever. As a user I should also have some control over what this “memory” looks like and how long it stays. As participants we should be able to define when and how data is forgotten. As participants the lifetime of the data should reflect the nature of a transaction. If it was a one off, then the data retained should be that, not coopted and personal information stored in yet another database. Through a handshake process we can agree to terms – what data can be accessed, how often, how long it an be stored and under what circumstances.


A Personal API would allow us to assign a death to data, a point in which it is forgotten. If instead of data being stored in a database, it was simply accessed from ours then we can create a termination point. Once we have completed our transaction we can go our seperate ways. I can turn off the tap instead of being tied to your database for eternity. In doing this we can create attached value for our data, that it’s not something we just give up for free but is a kind of currency. If we can control the flow of data it can become scarce, rather than something that is scooped up as par for the course, because the reality is most businesses don’t need to retain our information. They do so because they themselves are limited. What if instead of storing personal data they simply accessed it via a key, a key set by the Personal API and which you can control. Then you could actually have real data protection. You could have real private services and actual privacy going into the future.


The Personal API provides the backend for creating of my own operating system. This backend that’s powered by the web would work as the equivalent of a device operating system, but one that I can integrate into multiple devices via a set of applications. That regardless of the device, operating system or hardware I can connect all these things to My Operating System (MYOS). That instead of service Cloud being the duct tape between applications, that MYOS is the sovereign source and all data goes through it. That I can allow applications can access this layer – I don’t need to set up multiple accounts or profiles and authenticate through them – they authenticate with me.


The Personal API provides an opportunity to fix the problems of the web. It creates a new way to think about the kinds of systems we need, how they’re designed, what they look like, how their maintained and by who. It provides a tool to reshape the web. You could re-create the services we love as infrastructure, as a utility that we can all access and share without the corporate interests. We can customise these services to suit us. We’d get to choose! It could be as simple as choosing if we want Hearts or Stars or Poop emoticons. What if “tweeting” was a protocol rather than a business? We would not be beholden to venture capitals choices as they drive to monetise.


The Personal API provides a mechanism for us to make decisions about the web as individuals, as friends, as communities, as institutions and as organisations. That the Web can be something that we do together, not something that is done to us. That the web that we’ve seen transformed from the individual spaces into the contained controlled and surveilled, can become a social and civic centre.


The Personal API is foundational to the next web, and what I think the next web looks like is a return to the distributed network. It’s Web 1.1. Same ideals and goals as before but with a decade or more of technological change behind it and a slew of lessons learnt from the foray into Web 2.0 and centralisation. Why is the Personal API foundational? Because what we should have learnt from Web2.0 is that the web doesn’t handle our identity. It creates space to express it. Databases to store versions it. Bots to define and track it and Corporations to monetise it to service ads. The web doesn’t provide us with a way to create, define and manage our own identity. Instead we’ve offloaded that responsibility to Google, Facebook and Twitter. We’re generously able to have a single sign on across the web, just with an identity ultimately controlled by someone else.


The Personal API needs to be accessible. We need to take lessons from the UI and UX world in particular the Facebooks and Instagrams. That if we’re planning to change paradigms then we have to bring people with us. If that requires a staged approach then we do it. If it requires analogies and skeuomorphic flourishes to begin with, then do it. If it’s simplicity over features then do it. It needs to make people feel it belongs to them. It might start off replicating or replacing existing paradigms to set itself in motion and once it reaches a level of maturity take off the training wheels. Not everyone wants to run their own server or open up terminal. Some just want a human at the other end to take care of it. The Personal API should be a seen as a service rather than a technology.


PS – I have to acknowledge the posts from Phil Windley who have really clarified some of the thinking on this – in particular the concept of sovereign identity and the awesomeness of SMTP. 

I don’t think in words

One of my personal frustrations is my inability to get my thoughts into words. What seems so clear in my head usually comes out as a jumbled mess to begin with and needs to be carefully crafted into something that can be communicated. It slows the process down a lot and an idea often has to spend months dwelling around in various forms, being nibbled at and moulded into shaped before it’s ready to come out.

I was thinking tonight that it would be great if I could write more… But that’s not really the problem. I write plenty, what I struggle with is the fact that I don’t think in words. My thoughts take a very different form and something that is a struggle to describe.

They are visual and sensory objects to me. They are often pieces that join together – not like a puzzle but as a truth. Complexity is there and can be felt rather than explained. Their is a physicality to these thoughts, a real weight and mass. They are solid rather than ephemeral and gossamer. What I struggle with is translating these truths in to words. To encode and abstract them into language and structure then in text.

An example is probably my first memory and inclination of this problem. It was back at uni and I was trying to think of a project to develop for my major work. One of the ideas I had was to map a four dimensional space. In my mind it was (and is) as clear anything but any attempt to verbalise – even to visualise it is hopeless. I spent a long time with that one, eventually dropping out of uni and heading out into the workforce. There was a number of factors in that decision, but my inability to get out an idea scared me – how could I spend time one something that I can’t quite describe?

What tends to come out is not what I see, especially in it’s initial form. The best comparison is Terry Pratchets description of the colour of magic:

It was octarine [the eighth colour], the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself. But Rincewind always thought it looked a sort of greenish-purple.

That’s what happens to my ideas when I translate them to words – they become a greenish-purple – a poor representation of my minds eye. An inferior description that does little to capture the truth and true nature of the thought.

I want to work on that this year and I’m willing to trying and be more iterative in my ideas – to put them out in various forms, remould them, change them and adapt them over time. It’s slightly scary because it’s a vulnerability I don’t usually expose… but hey lets give it a go!

Featured Image: Canvas of Clouds by Tim Klapdor BY-NC

Moving Beyond The Default

Default. According to Homer Simpson the two sweetest words in the English dictionary.

To me though, default is more insidious. It represents choices denied and the removal of control by eliminating the opportunity for discussion to occur at the place and time it should – before decisions are made.

This post was triggered by some fairly innocuous tweets from Rolin Moe but they struck something that had been sitting there for some time.

While on the surface these are small fry complaints they point to something big:

What are the consequences of the default?

I’ve been doing some work on designing spaces over the last year looking at spaces that promote creativity and group work. One of the key issues we are facing is that space is at a premium, so a “feature” of these designs is that they are required to have multiple configurations. They need to be able to be re-designed and re-configured to suit a range of purposes and activities.

The work has involved visiting a range of spaces across our campuses but also looking more broadly at other universities and places which enable the kinds of work we are seeking to promote.

I’ve taken a few key things from this:

  • Furniture is too often bolted to the floor and thus it actually inhibits true flexibility. Furniture needs to return to its root and once again become mobile rather than a structure.
  • Technology is still fixed. The reality is that it still requires wiring, connections, setup, support and central control. These fixtures limit the flexibility that’s possible. Wires and cables are still the reality when it comes to technology – wireless just isn’t there in any way shape or form just yet.

But perhaps the biggest lesson was this:

The Default is what defines the space. No matter how flexible the room and the furniture in it is, it has to have a default position. No matter how flexible the space is, it has to have a starting point, a point zero that it can return to. It’s this default that defines what the space is, how it is perceived, how it is defined and inevitably how it will be used.

The simple reason is that people rarely move beyond the default.

Yes, the room may have a million-and-one configurations, but the reality is people stick with what’s there. They won’t move anything because they are used to the notion that the choice has already been made. That the default isn’t a starting point, but the end of a designed process. That someone else with more skills has looked at all this and made decisions on our behalf, whether this is true or not.

I get the reasoning behind the default. It’s something that’s necessary because decisions can’t be made all the time. There’s a cognitive load related to making decisions that is often at the expense of focussing on what really matters. Yes configurations are important, but at what cost and for what benefit?

Should we simply accept the default or be actively working to change it?

Defaults aren’t bad, and they can actually be sweet, but we have to start questioning the consequence of them:

  • What it is they entrench?
  • What do they avoid?
  • What do they hide?
  • What do they improve?
  • What do they enhance?
  • What to they leave behind?

And more importantly WHO?

  • Who it is they entrench?
  • Who do they avoid?
  • Who do they hide?
  • Who do they improve?
  • Who do they enhance?
  • Who to they leave behind?

Questioning the defaults is perhaps really interesting when applied to opt-in/opt-out scenarios. Take organ donation. It’s an area where the default has a significant effect on the outcome (It’s also one of the few occasions where I can mention the work of my brother!). Changing the default organ donation setting from opt-in to opt-out increases the number of transplants. You don’t remove or deny choice – it’s just switching the default position. It speaks to the power of The Default. It sets the agenda, it defines the space, it changes the argument and resets the tone. It’s the kind of trigger needed to move beyond the ‘gift of life’.

So perhaps we just need better defaults?

It’s important to note that the default often hide difficult and complex decisions. Those PowerPoint templates? Well they hide a huge range of design choices about fonts, line heights, placement, styles, colours, look, tone and feel. The problem is that PowerPoint hides all those decisions by not exposing you to them. There is just the default. You don’t find out about them until you actually sit down to develop your own template and you realise how messed up the system is. The Default is the choice because there are few alternatives. Customisation is a chore, or more realistically something closer to a layer in Dante’s hell, and what are consequence of changing the default?

But if you take that lack customisation into something like an LMS? Well the stakes get a lot higher. The consequences rack up quickly when you’re talking about the cost of a course and the potential impact on a life! Bad design when it comes to learning has real and definite impact. There are consequences. Big ones.

Better defaults, better modifications

I think we need to start questioning the default. Yes they’re necessary, but we need to better understand what their impact is. Simple defaults in PowerPoint effect the look and feel, but are how consequential are they? Complex defaults, like those employed in an LMS or a course design, can and do effect lives. We need to question the assumptions they make and the impacts they have.

The other area that needs considerable work are the tools that allow us to customise. At the moment they tend to suck, badly. They’re either too light weight to just too complex. This points to a design problem, one that is built on assumptions about the consequences (or inconcequences) of the default. Making customisation not only accessible, but transparent as well, is vital in enabling accountability but also encouraging learning and improvement. It provides a way for us to not just accept the default, but to move beyond it.

One way I’ve been thinking about this, particularly in the educational context is through the development of patterns and blueprints.

Patterns & Blueprints

Patterns are ways of defining components relating to structure, tone, material and activity. They are abstracted so that they do not define the entirety of a design, but make up the pieces through which it is constructed. They are multifaceted which allows them to be reconfigured in a variety of ways to suit specific applications.

Blueprints on the other hand provide a way of sharing a design. They show how various patterns fit together. They highlight areas where adjustments needs to be made but essentially what they allow is for design to be communicated and shared. They bring transparency to the process by providing insight into the design. You can see how the default has been made, what decisions have been made and what areas could be changed.

In many ways Patterns are like Lego pieces and Blueprints are the instructions.

Watching Amy Colliers videos at the end of her awesome blog post Not-yetness was an interesting way of thinking about this analogy. Blueprints can suck the creative joy out, but at the same time they provide a default. They specify the patterns required and usually in the box are multiple variations of the blueprint on the front of the box. The Blueprints provide a marketable and packagable default, but the underlying point is the Patterns they contain are able to be re-formed and re-constructed.

Remixed.

I’ve used the terminology patterns and blueprints very specifically. I don’t want to talk about templates, learning objects, learning designs, OERs, LAMS etc – because they don’t do what I think they need to do.

They lack a form that enables remix. They are like wooden blocks rather than Lego. Yes you can build similar structures, but you lack the ability for those components to be integrated. Blocks tend to sit on top rather than connect and integrate into the structure. They’re often too big and cumbersome to be shaped into exactly what you want. This leads to a compromised, rather than customised design.

What we need are ways of working that not only embrace the remix, but enhance it.

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