robertogreco + safiyanoble   1

Frontier notes on metaphors: the digital as landscape and playground - Long View on Education
"I am concerned with the broader class of metaphors that suggest the Internet is an inert and open place for us to roam. Scott McLeod often uses the metaphor of a ‘landscape’: “One of schools’ primary tasks is to help students master the dominant information landscape of their time.”

McLeod’s central metaphor – mastering the information landscape – fits into a larger historical narrative that depicts the Internet as a commons in the sense of “communally-held space, one which it is specifically inappropriate for any single individual or subset of the community (including governments) to own or control.” Adriane Lapointe continues, “The internet is compared to a landscape which can be used in various ways by a wide range of people for whatever purpose they please, so long as their actions do not interfere with the actions of others.”

I suspect that the landscape metaphor resonates with people because it captures how they feel the Internet should work. Sarah T. Roberts argues that we are tempted to imagine the digital as “valueless, politically neutral and as being without material consequences.” However, the digital information landscape is an artifact shaped by capitalism, the US military, and corporate power. It’s a landscape that actively tracks and targets us, buys and sells our information. And it’s mastered only by the corporations, CEOs and venture capitalists.

Be brave? I have no idea what it would mean to teach students how to ‘master’ the digital landscape. The idea of ‘mastering’ recalls the popular frontier and pioneer metaphors that have fallen out of fashion since 1990s as the Internet became ubiquitous, as Jan Rune Holmevik notes. There is of course a longer history of the “frontiers of knowledge” metaphor going back to Francis Bacon and passing through Vannevar Bush, and thinking this way has become, according to Gregory Ulmer, “ubiquitous, a reflex, a habit of mind that shapes much of our thinking about inquiry” – and one that needs to be rethought if we take the postcolonial movement seriously.

While we might worry about being alert online, we aren’t exposed to enough stories about the physical and material implications of the digital. It’s far too easy to think that the online landscape exists only on our screens, never intersecting with the physical landscape in which we live. Yet, the Washington Post reports that in order to pave the way for new data centers, “the Prince William County neighborhood [in Virginia] of mostly elderly African American homeowners is being threatened by plans for a 38-acre computer data center that will be built nearby. The project requires the installation of 100-foot-high towers carrying 230,000-volt power lines through their land. The State Corporation Commission authorized Dominion Virginia Power in late June to seize land through eminent domain to make room for the towers.” In this case, the digital is transforming the physical landscape with hostile indifference to the people that live there.

Our students cannot be digitally literate citizens if they don’t know stories about the material implications about the digital. Cathy O’Neil has developed an apt metaphor for algorithms and data – Weapons of Math Destruction – which have the potential to destroy lives because they feed on systemic biases. In her book, O’Neil explains that while attorneys cannot cite the neighborhood people live in as a reason to deny prisoners parole, it is permissible to package that judgment into an algorithm that generates a prediction of recidivism."



"When I talk to students about the implications of their searches being tracked, I have no easy answers for them. How can youth use the net for empowerment when there’s always the possibility that their queries will count against them? Yes, we can use google to ask frank questions about our sexuality, diet, and body – or any of the other ways we worry about being ‘normal’ – but when we do so, we do not wander a non-invasive landscape. And there few cues that we need to be alert or smart.

Our starting point should not be the guiding metaphors of the digital as a playground where we need to practice safety or a landscape that we can master, but Shoshana Zuboff’s analysis of surveillance capitalism: “The game is selling access to the real-time flow of your daily life –your reality—in order to directly influence and modify your behavior for profit. This is the gateway to a new universe of monetization opportunities: restaurants who want to be your destination. Service vendors who want to fix your brake pads. Shops who will lure you like the fabled Sirens.”



So what do we teach students? I think that Chris Gilliard provides the right pedagogical insight to end on:
Students are often surprised (and even angered) to learn the degree to which they are digitally redlined, surveilled, and profiled on the web and to find out that educational systems are looking to replicate many of those worst practices in the name of “efficiency,” “engagement,” or “improved outcomes.” Students don’t know any other web—or, for that matter, have any notion of a web that would be different from the one we have now. Many teachers have at least heard about a web that didn’t spy on users, a web that was (theoretically at least) about connecting not through platforms but through interfaces where individuals had a significant amount of choice in saying how the web looked and what was shared. A big part of the teaching that I do is to tell students: “It’s not supposed to be like this” or “It doesn’t have to be like this.”
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banjamindoxtdator  2017  landscapes  playgrounds  georgelakoff  markjohnson  treborscolz  digitalcitizenship  internet  web  online  mckenziewark  privacy  security  labor  playbor  daphnedragona  gamification  uber  work  scottmcleod  adrianelapointe  sarahroberts  janruneholmevik  vannevabush  gregoryulmer  francisbacon  chrisgilliard  pedagogy  criticalthinking  shoshanazuboff  surveillance  surveillancecapitalism  safiyanoble  google  googleglass  cathyo'neil  algorithms  data  bigdata  redlining  postcolonialism  race  racism  criticaltheory  criticalpedagogy  bias 
july 2017 by robertogreco

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