Monthly Archives: October 2014

The platform of web belongs to the people

After watching the documentary “Aaron Swartz Internet’s own boy” it seemed to me that the people in high power positions and in charge of law lag behind on the current internet culture. And it is not only internet culture, it is the whole atmosphere in society. For a while the interest of young people in politics and society was relatively low. As a young person it did not seem important at all to me. But today citizen activism is increasing in the form of organized protests and petitions online. Leaking of information and revealing government secrets in the public domain of the web, brought political activism to the living rooms and laptops of everyone.

It doesn’t matter if I think it is right or wrong to reveal those secrets. The world is changing drastically. Take for example the TV industry. Netflix will continue to affect the viewing habits of people. Even You Tube is making waves with community produced material and devoted following.Some highly successful innovators and entertainers with marketable products choose not to move their products to TV. Music business has also changed from selling full albums to dealing in single hit songs.

This new environment is sometimes unpredictable. To keep the web functioning and to keep the online community open, we need to understand how the web works. And hackers are experts in this. Framing all hacking as a negative and criminal action closes of valuable sources for learning. And the positive hacking needs to be open culture for everyone.

Information technology related fields are hugely male dominated and the visible hacker culture is saturated with powerful male operators. This got me interested in the women, who are experts and have the skills and drive to hack the web and the new technology platforms. My “make” for this week’s connected courses is a collection of texts and videos on women and hacking.

Web as a basic human right should have a built in responsibility of curation

Is web and access to web a basic human right like freedom from torture or the right to a fair trial? People seem to think so.  And my home country Finland was the first country to include it in the law in 2009. It does make a lot of sense when we consider the basic human right of freedom of speech. A special difference is the requirement of technology to achieve this right to be part of the web.

The screen capture above from BBC news is lovely, even if out of date, depiction of the spread of the internet. It shows how there is inequality in achievement of this human right. Joshua Goldstein addresses this gap in his blog post earlier this year. He referred to The Affordability Report by Alliance for Affordable Internet he co authored while writing about the access trap related to internet. The following quote really surprised me:

[ the majority of people for whom broadband is unaffordable live not in the poorest countries, but in larger (lower) middle-income countries with high income inequality]

To somewhat separate the issue of internet accessibility from raw country wide economics to internal economics and balances of the society, opens up discussion of inequality as a contributor to lack of human rights. If access to web is a human right, is the participation in the web communities a human right also?

This leads to us having a global civic duty to contribute and take part in the creation and curating on the web. And as a follow up of this we have a responsibility to curate with integrity. As journalists of our global human knowledge base , the web, we need to have integrity and kindness as Kim Jaxon underlined in this week’s Connected Courses webinar.

This is where the “nuggets” from larger texts or products come in. Delving into specific phrases of someone’s text and deriving more and/or different meaning out of the words is a form of curating and adding to the human knowledge and archive of the human experience. To do this well, increases connectedness and makes the web more interesting and informative place. Case in point for me was a “nugget” made by a fellow Connected Courses contributor. This little contribution by Brooke Lester turned out a large wake-up call and eye opener for me. It showed the massive potential connectedness of our contributions on the web.

The mentality of quality over quantity applies to web contributions and along with kindness in our actions could steer the web to a truly collaborative innovation space.

Nugget: Illusion of well-oiled machines and predictable serenity

We live in a world that works well if the pieces are stable and have predictable effects on one another. We think of complex institutions and organizations as being like well-oiled machines that work reliably and almost serenely so long as their subordinate pieces perform their designated tasks. –2002 David Weinberger “Small pieces loosely joined” preface

How world doesn't work - WORLD WORKS IF ALL IT'S LITTLE PARTS ARE STABLE AND PREDICTABLE LET ME GIVE YOU A WORLD FULL OF NO  Grumpy CatThis passage from Weinberg’s “Small pieces loosely joined” preface rubs me personally the wrong way. Our world is not predictable with stable pieces. And it would work awfully if it was.

This world is absolutely built on mistakes and cock-ups. It’s whole existence relies on the little things and big things that are inherently unstable and behave like drug addicts in a corn maze. There was never a time when all the pieces perfectly fit together. Your DNA is a fair example of this. Guess how evolution works? Mutations, mistakes in the genome, are the epitome of unpredictability.  Working “well” equals to serene nothingness and we are in fact entirely based on some well timed “oops..” and poorly managed biological processes. lungfish

And any organization depicted working serenely and perfectly is an illusion their marketing department want’s to project. Burrowing from Sean Plott’s duck metaphor: Secretly the whole operation is like a duck. On the surface of the pond the majestic animal glides forward. Under the water one of the legs is broken and farts power the forward motion. If everything worked perfectly, there would be nothing new invented again.

The beauty of the web is the incompleteness of it. It is never ready, there are parts that don’t work, unnecessary things cluttering servers, and people work on these problems in complete lack of structure and with non-standardized backgrounds. And together they make a magnificent creature that is a picture of our world: a bit of oops…, some wow!, and a bunch of fumbling people. And to me the web is a platypus still evolving to new directions due to a bit of a cock-up someone made. Let’s embrace the failures and mistakes as they are at the core of learning and evolving.



Can I really protect learners online? Or should they do it for themselves?

After reading Jonathan Worth’s “does my data show in this” and listening to the IT security expert Ben talk about our data being used for less charitable purposes by companies and individuals, I freaked out for a good while. How much responsibility am I really taking on when moving my class online? What is the real extent of my responsibility on student online behavior in the scope of the class?

I keep wondering if the prompts I could give for blogs, or the products of projects, like videos, are a safe way for the learners to express their enthusiasm or interest online. At first, I though my topic of immunology is quite safe to academically explore and apply to larger society problems without harming the learners. Then the worst case scenario popped to my mind as I was trying to figure out a Threat and Risk Assessment Matrix for a potential online student.

A learner from a family or social group strongly against modern medicine. A person who lives in an area where medications are worth ones life, or life of someone else. Learner who misunderstands key issues in their posts or videos and still wants to be a doctor. Suddenly the stakes are much higher. Would the online material be read by disapproving relatives, who start shunning the learner, who is now viewed as rebel and trouble maker? Will someone think the under privileged person has the medications they are talking about, and proceeds to violently rob them? Will the future doctor be denied a job, because 14 years ago they did not know how vaccination worked?

The truth is that I don’t know. Somehow allowing children to use internet and make permanent marks of themselves without any supervision, is not something all parents frown upon. It seems like allowing a 13-year-old to get a tattoo. Some are smart about it and leave a small mark. Sadly the few who go in with both feet and without their sense, can end up with a rude word on their forehead.

Just like teaching manners for offline world, manners for online world need to be emphasized. I find teacher’s responsibility increases in online world compared to the in-class teaching as anything learners produce is permanent on some level. The guardians and parents are in key position, as internet usage starts earlier than I ever expected in ones life. Especially when the personal dangers to individual learners can’t be fully known by teachers, it becomes important to increase awareness of the dangers at home and in the society at large, in addition to schools and universities.

Personally I lean towards creating a positive online presence and being very aware of the content we create, opposed to closing myself off from social media for example. However I can understand how one could perceive this as reckless behavior. To make everyone feel welcome in my classes, I need to find ways to keep students anonymous to an extent. Also spending time on online security in the beginning should pay off in the long run. Just mentioning, that posts online are forever and be smart, is not enough. We need proper examples and “right-here-right-now” advice on the technicalities of online security.

I would be very interested to hear how teachers can effectively make students aware of the dangers without it sounding like preaching…. Maybe some nifty activity could drive the point home most efficiently? Figuring this out is just too important for me to ignore.