Victorian post-Cyberpunk

I think the popular perception that we’re a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing t­echnoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while.

William Gibson, interviewed by the Paris Review

It’s interesting to look back and see the development of technology, and see how reaction mirrors to modern day attitudes – we see a lot of hand wringing about social skills (kids these days don’t have any!) and writing skills. What we often fail to notice is that a lot of these criticisms were also laid at the feet of television, radio, recorded music, books and other technologies. This is a constant refrain from those critical of media in general, and usually amounts to nothing. The criticisms of violence on television dating back to the 50’s? Well it turns out that exposure to violent imagery can make one more aggressive, but humans are complex creatures and to draw cause and effect type conclusions are not useful and usually are misleading. So does that mean that 50 years of “violent” programming the sum total is a resounding “meh”? Who is to say that increased aggressive behaviour is a direct response to the widening social gap and promise of  “you’ll be lucky to be as well off as your parents” that the current and subsequent generations will live under? The will to survive is a primal one after all.

So it’s interesting to note when people predict whether a new technology will make another one obsolete (radio, television, land line telephones) it rarely happens – the same occurs with social issues. There will be some decline in social graces, but for the most part, people will behave, co-operate when it benefits them (and sometimes when it doesn’t) and things won’t change that much. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing isn’t it?



Questions for 2011

So, as we approach the end of a year, we start to see the predictions, wrap-ups and trends for the next few years as well as the year that has passed. Seeing as I almost always end my blog posts with a question – here’s five questions for the year 2011.

1. What makes anyone think that the video games push (mostly by the iOS platform devices, but Xbox, Playstation and Wii) has anything to do with formal education? Trying to harness gaming to teach formal concept is like riding a chicken. Useless (for both you and the chicken). People play games to escape what they don’t like about their own life – much like why people watch TV, use the Internet or whatever other hobby one might have. They don’t necessarily want to have learning forced on them in their own homes. That isn’t to say that educational games can’t be good (although they mostly are dreck), or shouldn’t be attempted. They shouldn’t be expected to fill more than a niche.

2. Why haven’t educational institutions really pushed for a mobile learning environment? It seems like logical growth from the LMS, and there’s a lot of affordances that can enhance learning. Situated, just-in-time learning has a greater impact for learning than plain old quizzes in the LMS. Why haven’t the engineering departments demand more Geo-location devices? Why haven’t literacy skills groups put forth the same sort of effort that the BBC World Service has in Bangladesh? That sort of ingenuity could help the impoverished and undereducated in Canada (and in Hamilton). One of the biggest hurdles the urban poor have is literacy skills. Why is no one doing this locally? Moreover, why are our LMS’s so pisspoor as a mobile website.

3. Will the consolidation of the web conferencing tools that education typically use (Wimba and Elluminate) mean that new companies with new models will arise? We’ve locally seen a couple of contenders – BigBlueButton is easy to use and has most of the features one would want, as well as SabaCentra for Northern Ontario – but will most institutions just cave in and use Blackboard Connect? It seems like that may be the case.

4. Wither edupunk? Much like punk rock did after the halcyon days of 1977, the widespread punk phenomenon died out and either got co-opted into new wave or went further underground, got harder and faster, became hardcore and rather dogmatic by 1984. Since then, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the genre, except that the music has gotten uglier and more punishing (and less like music). Edupunk seems to have hit that moment where people either pass the moment or become more underground. I have hope that much like punk music in 2010 (which has been a weak year for new releases – on vinyl no less – in the genre), edupunk will be a vibrant, thriving option in 2043.

5. What will Pearson as a publishing giant and accredited University mean? Well, it’ll give the hucksters at University of Phoenix and Full Sail a run for their money. I’m not saying those institutions are bad per se, I’m sure a quality education can be had there. I’m not sure that an educational institution should have profit as it’s motivation.