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Scratching the Surface — 102. Laurel Schwulst
"Laurel Schwulst is a designer, writer, teacher, and webmaster. She runs an independent design practice in New York City and teaches in design programs at Yale and Rutgers. She previously was the creative director for The Creative Independent and a web designer at Linked By Air. In this episode, Laurel and Jarrett talk about how horses got her into graphic design, what websites can be, the potential of the peer-to-peer internet, and how writing and teaching influence her practice."

[Direct link to audio: https://soundcloud.com/scratchingthesurfacefm/102-laurel-schwulst ]
jarrettfuller  scratchingthesurface  laurelschulst  2018  interviews  design  web  online  internet  are.na  lynhejinian  mindyseu  decentralization  neilpostman  charlesweingartner  juliacameron  teachingasasubversiveactivity  teaching  education  learning  howwelearn  kameelahjananrasheed  research  archiving  cv  roombaghost  graphicdesign  websites  webdev  webdesign  p2p  beakerbrowser  decentralizedweb  dat  p2ppublishing  p2pweb  distributed 
9 weeks ago by robertogreco
Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change
refrr:https://kottke.org/?p=2
1. All technological change is a trade-off. For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.

2. The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others.

3. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. Every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.

4. Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible.

5. Media tend to become mythic. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers — they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context.
postman  neilpostman  culture  technology  mythic  listical  facebook  via:kottke  via:SivaVaidhyanathan  via:sivavaid 
august 2018 by thadk
Scratching the Surface — 85. Mindy Seu
"Mindy Seu is a designer, educator, and researcher. She is currently a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and was previously a designer at 2x4 and MoMA. She’s designed and produced archival sites for Ralph Ginzburg and Herb Lubalin’s Eros and Avant Garde magazines. In this episode, Mindy and I talk about her early career and why she decided to go to graduate school, the role of research and archives in her work, and how graphic design is just one pillar of her practice."
mindyseu  jarretfuller  design  education  archives  internet  web  online  2018  positioning  internetarchive  claireevans  brunolatour  graphicdesign  purpose  iritrogoff  networks  connections  fearlessness  decentralization  neilpostman  teaching  howweteach  institutions  structure  interviews  research  project-basedreasearch 
july 2018 by robertogreco
Michael Wesch – Unboxing Stories on Vimeo
"2015 Future of StoryTelling Summit Speaker: Michael Wesch, Cultural Anthropologist

A pioneer in digital ethnography, Dr. Michael Wesch studies how our changing media is altering human interaction. As an anthropologist in Papua New Guinea, Wesch saw firsthand how oral storytelling worked for much of human civilization: It was a group activity that rewarded participation, transformed our perceptions, and created a changing flow of stories across generations. Reading and writing replaced oral storytelling with linear, fixed stories. Upon returning from Papua New Guinea, Wesch created the 2007 viral video hit Web 2.0...The Machine Is Us/ing Us, about the Internet's effects on our culture. At FoST, he’ll explore how our evolution from a literate culture to a digital one can return us to collaborative storytelling, resulting in a more engaged, participatory, and connected society."
michaelwesch  stories  storytelling  anthropology  2015  papuanewguinea  humans  civilization  perception  connection  participation  spontaneity  immersion  religion  involvement  census  oraltradition  oral  wikipedia  society  web2.0  media  particiption  conversation  television  tv  generations  neilpostman  classideas  web  online  socialmedia  alonetogether  suburbs  history  happenings  confusion  future  josephcampbell  life  living  meaning  meaningmaking  culture  culturlanthropology  srg 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Take your time: the seven pillars of a Slow Thought manifesto | Aeon Essays
"In championing ‘slowness in human relations’, the Slow Movement appears conservative, while constructively calling for valuing local cultures, whether in food and agriculture, or in preserving slower, more biological rhythms against the ever-faster, digital and mechanically measured pace of the technocratic society that Neil Postman in 1992 called technopoly, where ‘the rate of change increases’ and technology reigns. Yet, it is preservative rather than conservative, acting as a foil against predatory multinationals in the food industry that undermine local artisans of culture, from agriculture to architecture. In its fidelity to our basic needs, above all ‘the need to belong’ locally, the Slow Movement founds a kind of contemporary commune in each locale – a convivium – responding to its time and place, while spreading organically as communities assert their particular needs for belonging and continuity against the onslaught of faceless government bureaucracy and multinational interests.

In the tradition of the Slow Movement, I hereby declare my manifesto for ‘Slow Thought’. This is the first step toward a psychiatry of the event, based on the French philosopher Alain Badiou’s central notion of the event, a new foundation for ontology – how we think of being or existence. An event is an unpredictable break in our everyday worlds that opens new possibilities. The three conditions for an event are: that something happens to us (by pure accident, no destiny, no determinism), that we name what happens, and that we remain faithful to it. In Badiou’s philosophy, we become subjects through the event. By naming it and maintaining fidelity to the event, the subject emerges as a subject to its truth. ‘Being there,’ as traditional phenomenology would have it, is not enough. My proposal for ‘evental psychiatry’ will describe both how we get stuck in our everyday worlds, and what makes change and new things possible for us."

"1. Slow Thought is marked by peripatetic Socratic walks, the face-to-face encounter of Levinas, and Bakhtin’s dialogic conversations"

"2. Slow Thought creates its own time and place"

"3. Slow Thought has no other object than itself"

"4. Slow Thought is porous"

"5. Slow Thought is playful"

"6. Slow Thought is a counter-method, rather than a method, for thinking as it relaxes, releases and liberates thought from its constraints and the trauma of tradition"

"7. Slow Thought is deliberate"
slow  slowthought  2018  life  philosophy  alainbadiou  neilpostman  time  place  conservation  preservation  guttormfløistad  cittaslow  carlopetrini  cities  food  history  urban  urbanism  mikhailbakhti  walking  emmanuellevinas  solviturambulando  walterbenjamin  play  playfulness  homoludens  johanhuizinga  milankundera  resistance  counterculture  culture  society  relaxation  leisure  artleisure  leisurearts  psychology  eichardrorty  wittgenstein  socrates  nietzsche  jacquesderrida  vincenzodinicola  joelelkes  giorgioagamben  garcíamárquez  michelfoucault  foucault  asjalacis  porosity  reflection  conviction  laurencesterne  johnmilton  edmundhusserl  jacqueslacan  dispacement  deferral  delay  possibility  anti-philosophy 
march 2018 by robertogreco
City as Classroom (1977) – McLuhan’s Last Co-authored Book | McLuhan Galaxy
[posted about this here: http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/162565662048/to-go-with-a-previous-post-from-today-and-some ]

"“City as Classroom: Understanding Language & Media” (1977) was the last book written wholly or partly by Marshall McLuhan and the only one entirely focused on education. His earlier “Report on Project in Understanding New Media” (1960), was the length of a short book, but was disseminated as an unbound stapled typescript. “City as Classroom” was co-authored by Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon (later Kawasaki), a former English student of McLuhan’s and a high school teacher in the Toronto District School Board. In this recently made available (by Bob Dobbs) audio recorded informal interview by Carl Scharfe, McLuhan talks about the initial inspiration for “City as Classroom” being Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” (1970) in which the author wrote:

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives…. Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction.” (p. 12)

Audio recording: http://fivebodied.com/archives/audio/catalog/McLuhan/MM-Hollander.mp3 [also available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX9j_3bxZU0 ]

Norm Friesen offers an acute discussion of “City as Classroom” in this excerpt from his essay “Education of the Senses: The Pedagogy of Marshall McLuhan” (2009):

McLuhan’s most detailed outline for pedagogical praxis is provided in a book deliberately designed for use in the classroom ‐‐ a co‐authored textbook developed specifically for high school students, titled The City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media. This text is almost entirely performative or praxis‐oriented. In fact, it can be said to perform, through questions, exercises and imperatives, many aspects of McLuhan’s life‐long mediatic and pedagogical enterprise. Appropriately, it begins with a direct address to its student readers:

Let us begin by wondering just what you are doing sitting there at your desk. Here [in the pages that follow] are some questions for you to explore…The questions and experiments you will find in this book are all concerned with important, relatively unexplored areas of our social environment. The research you choose to do will be important and original. (1)

The book presents dozens of “questions and experiments,” getting students to manipulate and explore a wide range of characteristics of their social environments – focusing specifically on the environments presented by the classroom, the community and also by a wide range of contemporary mediatic forms, from the magazine to video recording technologies. You can read the full essay (pdf) here: http://learningspaces.org/files/mcluhan_educating_senses.pdf

cityasclassroom_redcover

An unidentified blogger on education writes about McLuhan’s last book thus:

[McLuhan] return[ed] to notions about the classroom that he had first begun to work out a quarter of a century before in Explorations. ‘Classroom without Walls’ (Explorations 7 [1957]) argues that the electronic information explosion has been so great that ‘most learning occurs outside the classroom’ (ExC 1). This has broken the hegemony of the book as a teaching aid and challenged the monopoly on education vested in official institutions of learning. Yet most educators persist in regarding the products of the mass media as entertainment, rather than as educative. McLuhan points out, however, that many literary classics were originally regarded in the same way, and that the English language is itself a mass medium. The educational imperative is, thus, to master the new media in order to ‘assimilate them to our total cultural heritage’ (2) which would ‘provide the basic tools of perception’ as well as developing ‘judgment and discrimination with ordinary social experience’ (3). This observation is the point of departure for City as Classroom, which outlines methods for training perception through a series of exercises in properties of the media, with the goal of helping students to understand the sociocultural context in which they live. The exercises encourage students to go out into the community and observe, listen, interview, research, and think about the way in which their classroom space influences what they can and cannot know — ‘What did the designers of traditional schools intend when they put thirty or so desks in rows, facing the front of the room? Why is the blackboard at the front? why is the teacher’s desk at the front?’ (4).” (pp. 220-221) http://tinyurl.com/lzjh94g [broken, see: https://web.archive.org/web/20130104071258/http://www.macroeducation.org/mcluhan-in-space-and-the-classroom/ ]

***

“We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.” “In the future basic skills will no longer be taught in classrooms.” – McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS. p. 38."
1977  marshallmcluhan  cityasclassroom  sfsh  tcsnmy  deschooling  unschooling  2013  ivanillich  neilpostman  schools  schooling  highschool  teaching  learning  pedagogy  media  richardcavell  ericmcluhan  kathrynhutchon  education  lcproject  openstudioproject  carlscharfe  normfriesen  alexkuskis 
july 2017 by robertogreco
McLuhan in Space (and the Classroom) | Macroeducation
[posted about this here: http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/162565662048/to-go-with-a-previous-post-from-today-and-some ]

"While Richard Cavell argues in McLuhan in Space that McLuhan should be re-read as an artist, I contend that an equally plausible (and probably less original) suggestion is to re-read him as an educator. Thanks to Cavell, I have recently picked up one of McLuhan’s last books, City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media, published in 1977, three years before his death.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m nowhere near to reaching the end of McLuhan’s writings (he has 26 books to his name and countless essays and interviews), so I could hardly even call it a re-reading in my case. However, in the works that I have read, it’s plain to see that McLuhan wanted to educate. He aimed to facilitate thought and discussion about both the present and historical transitions between broadly defined eras of communication (oral, print, written, electronic). He wanted us to understand the effects of media, and he wanted us to be aware of our environments, our tools, and the interactions between them. He wanted to facilitate a path for us to find our own understanding. He wanted us to understand media; he wanted us to learn. McLuhan was a media theorist, a communications guru, a historian, an artist, and an educator.

One of his contemporaries, Neil Postman, made a name for himself primarily as an educationist (Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The End of Education) before moving into social commentary and media ecology (Amusing Ourselves to Death, Technopoly). He used many of McLuhan’s ideas and methods to analyze and discuss the classroom environment and the purpose of education.

A common theme found throughout McLuhan’s work is that as we shift into living in the global village of the electronic age, we return to our tribal roots. The conflation of space and time, and communication at the speed of light have effectively shrunk our worlds, causing us to live in proximity with our neighbours, communicating through acoustic rather than visual space. McLuhan suggested that would once again become an oral culture, relying more on the spoken word than the printed. The electronic age would retribalize us.

In McLuhan in Space (which I posted some notes and quotes from last week), UBC professor Richard Cavell analyzes McLuhan as an artist and as a spatial historian. Here Cavell describes McLuhan’s concept of retribalization:
“McLuhan had been at pains to emphasize in his own writings: that retribalization was not intended as a return to a pre-literate utopia; on the contrary, the entry into the electronic era had initiated a process fraught with terrors, as well as benefits.” (Cavell 208)

Disruption is scary. Entering a new age is frightening — full of surprises, changes, and adjustments. McLuhan wrote under the glaze of the newly invented television, when we were suddenly shifting from living in a world of print to a world of audio and moving images. He felt that we were becoming like our ancestors of the oral age, who communicated mostly through acoustic means.

But as we’ve seen, McLuhan did not quite get it right, as the internet has since emerged to usurp television (as well as cinema, radio and telephone), and it is primarily a medium of print. Or at least it used to be. In the 21st century, high-speed bandwidth also allows us to watch lots of YouTube videos, television shows, and movies on our laptops, tablets and phones. The digital age is a world of words, images (moving and not), and sounds. Computers, phones, and video games are interactive and tactile. In the 21st century, we don’t live in acoustic or visual space, we live in audiovisual space — a hybrid of media that involves all the senses.

Mass Media

Neil Postman wrote countless books decrying the potentially disastrous effects of the mass media of television, using a very McLuhanesque approach. He wrote often about the purpose of education, often opining that an important part of one’s education was to become educated about alternatives to mass media.

Here Cavell summarizes the McLuhanesque take on the function of education:
“It is thus the function of education, and even more so the arts, to point away from this mass media mythology to an ideal world.” (p. 209)

“It is thus to their environment that McLuhan suggests these students turn in their quest for an education.

McLuhan remained attached to this notion in his last book, The City as Classroom (1977; with Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon), returning to notions about the classroom that he had first begun to work out a quarter of a century before in Explorations. ‘Classroom without Walls’ (Explorations 7 [1957]) argues that the electronic information explosion has been so great that ‘most learning occurs outside the classroom’ (ExC 1). This has broken the hegemony of the book as a teaching aid and challenged the monopoly on education vested in official institutions of learning. Yet most educators persist in regarding the products of the mass media as entertainment, rather than as educative. McLuhan points out, however, that many literary classics were originally regarded in the same way, and that the English language is itself a mass medium. The educational imperative is, thus, to master the new media in order to ‘assimilate them to our total cultural heritage’ (2) which would ‘provide the basic tools of perception’ as well as developing ‘judgment and discrimination with ordinary social experience’ (3). This observation is the point of departure for City as Classroom, which outlines methods for training perception through a series of exercises in properties of the media, with the goal of helping students to understand the sociocultural context in which they live. The exercises encourage students to go out into the community and observe, listen, interview, research, and think about the way in which their classroom space influences what they can and cannot know — ‘What did the designers of traditional schools intend when they put thirty or so desks in rows, facing the front of the room? Why is the blackboard at the front? why is the teacher’s desk at the front?’ (4).” (pp. 220-221)

City as Classroom is basically a collection of questions and activities for your students. It’s a book of lesson plans, in a sense, using the surroundings and environment as the subjects to be studied. I think it’d work great with a group of senior students in a writing class.

I would love to read or hear some responses to questions such as (all from the introduction of City as Classroom):
“Do the days of your school life seem like ‘doing time’ until you are eligible for the labor market? Do you consider that real education is outside the classroom? Do you find that what you learn inside the classroom is as useful as what you learn outside the classroom?”

“Talk to your fathers (and updated for the 21st century, mothers) about the sort of work they do in the daytime. How much of their time at work is spent looking at papers and books? Do they also bring their books and papers home? How many people do you know who work day in and day out with papers and books?”

There are also activities for students to explore the history, effects, and opinions surrounding books, films, television, clocks, computers, and eleven more (for a total of 16 units).

I’m looking forward to reading it over the spring break, and hope to be able to use it in the classroom sometime soon.
1977  marshallmcluhan  cityasclassroom  sfsh  tcsnmy  deschooling  unschooling  2012  ivanillich  neilpostman  schools  schooling  highschool  teaching  learning  pedagogy  media  richardcavell  ericmcluhan  kathrynhutchon  education  lcproject  openstudioproject 
july 2017 by robertogreco
My dad predicted Trump in 1985 – it's not Orwell, he warned, it's Brave New World (Guardian, 2/2/2017)
The ascent of Donald Trump has proved Neil Postman’s argument in Amusing Ourselves to Death was right. Here’s what we can do about it
georgeorwell  1984  bravenewworld  aldoushuxley  donaldtrump  narcissism  fascism  neilpostman  amusingourselvestodeath 
february 2017 by davidkoren
Donald Trump and Neil Postman's Prescient Amusing Ourselves to Death | The Stream
“We do not value knowledge; we value talking points and tweets (that reinforce our views of course). We do not value the self-control of virtue; we value the unrelenting narcissism of uninhibited self-expression and actualization. We do not value history, and all the treasures of the human experience available for our training and growing in wisdom; we value anything new, fresh, hip and contemporary that will satisfy our moment-to-moment desires and inexhaustible supplies of boredom. We do not value substance, depth and rationality; we value whatever can be sold, marketed and peddled with glitz, glamor and pizazz. We do not value the pursuit of truth; we value the self-reinforcing echo chambers of our own creation.”
DonaldTrump  NeilPostman 
january 2017 by cbearden
Austin Kleon — John Holt, How Children Fail No matter what tests...
"What I love about Holt’s writing is how much of it comes from direct observation of life, and how little of it comes from theory. (This book began as a series of memos Holt wrote to his teaching partner.) However, while I respect these stories and direct observations from the classroom, they can also make for a slower reading experience, and I found myself skipping a lot of sections where Holt describes the specifics of trying to teach his students mathematics.

The writing in this book seemed to me to be much more frustrated and somewhat angrier than the writing in How Children Learn, and there were a few sections that made me cringe a bit from their brutal honesty. (One also needs to keep in mind the book was published in the mid-60s, so some of Holt’s descriptions, particularly one about a retarded child, were a little bit of a shock to me.)

Still, I’ve learned from Holt more than anybody else about how children learn, and there’s a lot to glean from this book. My notes, below — will try my best not to repost the themes I’ve already noted from Teaching As A Subversive Activity, which was obviously much influenced by this book.



Intelligence is a way of operating.



Humans are born intelligent, and children are natural learners.



Small children do not worry about success or failure.



Good thinkers are comfortable with uncertainty and not-knowing.



School make us unintelligent — primarily through fear.



Worst of all: we know how bad school can be, but no matter how bad it is, we still think it’s good for kids.



"Though I didn’t enjoy this book as much as How Children Learn, in the past few months, John Holt has had a tremendous impact on my thinking about how I should go about educating my kids, but more importantly, and maybe more surprisingly, he has had an enormous impact on how I think about my own work, so much of which is based on self-guided, self-directed learning. Even, and maybe especially, as someone who liked and excelled at school and is now moderately successful in my chosen career, he’s made me rethink why it is that I do what I do, re-examine some of my “teacher-pleasing” habits, why it was I “succeeded” in school in the first place, and how my “success” in my career, has been, mostly, attributable to methods and ways of operating that I didn’t learn in school, and how, in fact, a great deal of my best work was done outside of school, when I turned my back on formal education, and struck out on my own."
austinkleon  children  johnholt  learning  unschooling  howelearn  howchildrenfail  education  schools  teaching  deschooling  parenting  howweteach  self-directedlearning  self-directed  success  uncertainty  not-knowing  intelligence  fear  schooling  schooliness  process  observation  science  curiosity  questionasking  askingquestions  johntaylorgatto  neilpostman  charlesweingartner  dumbingusdown  teachingasasubversiveactivity  howchildenlearn 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Austin Kleon — Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a...
"The game is called “Let’s Pretend,” and if its name were chiseled into the front of every school building in America, we would at least have an honest announcement of what takes place there. The game is based on a series of pretenses which include: Let’s pretend that you are not what you are and that this sort of work makes a difference to your lives; let’s pretend that what bores you is important, and that the more you are bored, the more important it is; let’s pretend that there are certain things everyone must know, and that both the questions and answers about them have been fixed for all time; let’s pretend that your intellectual competence can be judged on the basis of how well you can play Let’s Pretend."



"Almost any sensible parent knows this, as does any effective top sergeant. It is not what you say to people that counts; it is what you have them do…. What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say), and what they learn to do is the classroom’s message (as McLuhan would say). Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. Mostly, they are required to believe in authorities, or at least pretend to such belief when they take tests. Mostly, they are required to remember. They are almost never required to make observations, formulate definitions, or perform any intellectual operations that go beyond repeating what someone else says is true."



"A syllabus not only prescribes what story lines you must learn…. It also prescribes the order in which your skills must be learned."



"The good teacher “regards learning as a process, not a terminal event… he assumes that one is always in the process of acquiring skills, assimilating new information, formulating or refining generalizations.”"

[See also Matt Thomas's Neil Postman posts (linked within):
https://submittedforyourperusal.com/tag/neil-postman/ ]
austinkleon  neilpostman  charleswingartner  teaching  education  teachingasasubversiveactivity  2016  1969  crapdetection  hemingway  criticalthinking  howweteach  pedagogy  learning  howwelearn  unschooling  deschooling  alanwatts  linear  linearity  nonlinear  textbooks  tests  testing  non-linear  alinear 
july 2016 by robertogreco
crap futures — constraint no.3: non-ecological thinking
"When we think of the power to focus on a particular problem and solve it, we generally think of it as a useful ability. But what if the power to focus comes at the exclusion of the larger picture? Those responsible for putting new technological products into the public domain are often guilty of thinking in very localised terms - in other words, non-ecologically. This constraint is essentially about a chronic lack of lateral thinking; of being so focused on the immediate action or problem that implications for the broader ecology are ignored.

This was pioneering ecologist Charles Elton’s advice in 1927:
When an ecologist says ‘there goes a badger’, he should include in his thoughts some definite idea of the animal’s place in the community to which it belongs, just as if he had said, ‘there goes the vicar.

More recently, the cultural critic Neil Postman described technological change as ecological (in ‘Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change’, 1998):
Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. In the year 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe. After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.

So what happens when that dye is added? There are some obvious history lessons. To return to the nature analogy, for example, there is the introduction of humans - and with them rats, pigs, dogs, and monkeys - to Mauritius in 1505. (It was the Portuguese who first landed in Mauritius, a few years after discovering our little previously uninhabited island.) Mauritius was the home of the fabled, and sadly flightless, dodo bird. The dodo had evolved to fill a niche and naturally became complacent on its peaceful island, too relaxed in a world without predators to handle the first signs of globalisation. The flightless birds were completely unprepared for the new mammals … and as a result, they didn’t last long. Interestingly, the story of the dodo is not yet over: although the bird became extinct centuries ago, a certain species of tree that depended on the dodo for its own existence is only now following its path to extinction.

In market terms, meanwhile, there is the demise of independent local shops since the 1970s - made obsolete by supermarkets, shopping malls, and big box stores. The incursion of these consumer flytraps destabilized the harmony of communities and destroyed the fragile ecosystems of the high street and city centre - ecosystems that local governments have for years now been trying to regenerate, with varying degrees of success.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons why disruption occurs. Megastores like Whole Foods and Costco are nice to have nearby (as we at Crap Futures know very well, living on a remote island without their convenience). Food is usually cheaper and everything is in one place. Likewise Uber, which provides a better, neater, cleaner, cheaper, more efficient service than the established taxi companies in many places. The old taxi companies, like the flightless birds, became complacent in their gentle habitat; the Uber dogs came along and ate them up. But it won’t end there. As Uber’s Travis Kalanick said in a recent speech: ‘We don’t want to be like the taxi guys who came before us – we embrace the future.’ Uber drivers could well be replaced by the autonomous car in the not-too-distant future - a contingency Uber is aware of and hopes to see happen under its own control.

As the complexity of human ecosystems increases, the potential disruptors are becoming more subtle.

Perhaps the best example is the mobile phone. It started as just a portable phone, then a particularly small portable phone (what Germans sensibly named a ‘handy’). At this stage it still had relatively limited potential to disrupt. But then ‘smart’ features and supporting networks were gradually added, until suddenly the mobile phone had the ability to stir up and irreparably alter huge swathes of the urban ecosystem with app-based service companies such as Uber. In the past, interactions between user and product were temporary and limited - telephone cables fixed the context, isolating and containing the effect. The ubiquity and mobility of products today means that the effects of interaction create a complexity that cannot be readily understood - implications are far harder to imagine and more far-reaching. This only means that it is increasingly important to find ways of imagining these knock-on effects before they happen.

John Steinbeck paints a beautiful image of ecological complexity in The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951), an account of the six-week specimen-hunting trip Steinbeck took in the Gulf of California with the marine biologist Ed Ricketts:
One merges into another, groups melt into ecological groups until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air. And the units nestle into the whole and are inseparable from it … all things are one thing and one thing is all things – plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

Steinbeck’s description of life in the tide pool poetically captures the complexity of scales, timeframes, and interactions that operate in a natural ecosystem - a complexity that is echoed in technological and cultural systems.

Some important questions to ask are:

How will a product be used, and by whom?

How will it interact with other (especially networked) products in the environment?

What happens when the product is moved to another habitat, possibly one it was not intended for, or to which it is not ideally suited?"
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january 2016 by robertogreco

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