2011 reflections

It’s time to leave this blog for a while. As I planned when I started just over one year ago, this has been a place for me to gather together my thoughts about education, libraries and digital literacies. A space to save links to interesting articles and connect with my personal learning network. As I hoped it would, it expanded to include the liberal arts generally, the internet and social media, content curation and even some book art. It’s moved along with the issues of the year and my field. It’s been a great place for intellectual exercise and reflection.

James Bradley says it all beautifully in his post a new type of conversation

It’s also been a source of stress! There’s so much information out there and my ‘read it later’ list of bookmarks was always weighing heavily on my mind. The blog is a cumbersome tool when compared with some of the more immediate content curation tools out there. It’s a dilemma of sorts. The blog provides a space to muse and reflect, ‘scoopit’ might provide a more efficient way to store and share all of those great articles in a more timely way. Carr and Shirky are battling it out in my head!

So it’s time for a rest. Maybe I’ll come back or perhaps I’ll try something new in 2012.

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brainpickings: maria popova

There’s no better example of curation done as as well as Maria Popova does it on her site BrainPickings

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.

In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas

I’ve collected some great interview transcripts and video with maria below

The art of curation: an interview with Maria Popova from BrainPickings

Networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity

Accessibility vs. access: how the rhetoric of ‘rare’ is changing in the age of information abundance

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more on curation

So we think we know what curation is. We’re all talking about it as if we do. We’re all looking for effective and efficient ways of managing information overload. Steve Wheeler provides a good overview in Taming the tide: digital content curation. We all subscribe to Shirky’s ‘It isn’t information overload, it is filter failure.’ But there are different forms of content curation. Romain Goday identifies 5 different approaches

1. The expert approach – ‘curators.’ Where a subject or industry specialist curates in a customised way for a specific target audience. (We library people seem to like using scoop.it as our preferred tool for this).

2. The crowd approach – ‘popularity’ ranking. Where the number of ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ and tweets determine the relevance of an item. This one is open to manipulation though.

3. The user-behaviour approach – ‘personalisation.’ Montoring online browsing behaviour over time  and filtering results lists accordingly

4. Relationships approach – ‘social graph’ using tools like twitter and facebook to filter what a user and his/her connections share as ‘trusted’ and relevant information

5. Patterns approach – ’emergence’ new systems are being developed to recognise patterns emerging over the web

Most of us appear to have a problem with the aggregator model. Much has been written about the pitfalls of the automated approach where our browsing patterns return us only more of the same and never anything new or challenging. Machines using algorithms, no matter how sophisticated are unable to provide context and meaning. As Jeff Turner writes in Curation as story: the importance of human filters the best curation is ‘social curation’.

Have I told a story, or have I simply collected a bunch of links? Good content curation uses the human filter to add value. Good curators know their subject and are able to see patterns emerging in the story. They are able to provide meaning and context.

In Content curation: are you a fire hose or a focussing lens? (really the title says it all!) Beth Kanter quotes Seth Godin

…either be better at pump and dump than anyone else, get your numbers into the millions, outmass those that choose to use mass and always dance at the edge of spam (in which the number of those you offend or turn off forever keep increasing)… or relentlessly focus. Prune your message and your list and build a reputation that’s worth owning and an audience that cares. Only one of these strategies builds an asset of value.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in our library and teaching roles we’ve been curating forever – in practice if not in name (well I like to think so, those of us who are doing our job properly at least). As Joyce Seitzinger demonstrated in her Converge11 presentation, we do this in our course design phase and our delivery and facilitation. In ‘What sort of curator are you?’ Joyce identifies the hoarders who collect everything indiscriminately, don’t organise, don’t share and risk ‘bloat’. We’ve all worked with one of those. We’ve also worked with the selfish ‘scrooge’ and the colleague that shares all sorts of rubbish all of the time.

If you want to be able to curate well then you have to have a focus. Define your topic or field, set the parameters. Be strict with yourself and exercise some discipline. You can’t curate everything out there – your job is to find the best that’s out there, give it context and meaning and be alert for the patterns that are constantly emerging. Then share it!

Look at the tools available to make curating not just more efficient but more beautiful too. Like Joyce, I use my iPad for this and love the way I can gather all of my favourite streams in FlipBoard and Pulse for slick and streamlined viewing. I love the journey, the treasure hunt.

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‘why chomsky is wrong about twitter’

It’s taken me too long to post this article by Nathen Jurgenson (Salon, October 24, 2011). Why chomsky is wrong about twitter

As I’ve referenced Chomsky more than once in this blog I think it’s important to keep up with his more recent comments. Early in 2011, Chomsky said in a couple of interviews that he thought platforms of communication like twitter were ‘superficial and shallow,’ that they ‘eroded normal human relations’ and that they were ‘not medium[s] of serious interchange.’

Jurgenson gives an extensive list of examples to illustrate why and how this is not the case

Social media is like radio: It all depends on how you tune it … Chomsky, a politically progressive linguist, should know better than to dismiss new forms of language-production that he does not understand as ‘shallow’ … This argument, whether voiced by him or others, risks reducing those who primarily communicate in this way as an ‘other’… We might ask Chomsky today, when digital communications are disqualified as less deep, who benefits? 

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how the internet gets inside us

Adam Gopnik’s article ‘How the internet gets inside us’ has been waiting in my ‘read it later’ box for a while now. It’s an excellent summary piece on books, technology and ‘how the internet changes the way we think’.

Gopnik identifies three types of thinking about change: the ‘Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers’. The never-betters are the techno-utopians, the better-nevers are the sentimentalists who believe the ways of the past are superior and the ever-wasers don’t quite believe what the fuss is all about. Aren’t we always dealing with change? Isn’t that what modernity is all about? Film didn’t kill radio; television didn’t kill film; video, then dvd, then streaming hasn’t killed film or television and ebooks are unlikely to mean the end of printed books.

Clay Shirky and his idea of ‘cognitive surplus’ is provided as the first example of the ‘never-betters’ who see technology as democracy at work, heralding in a new age of equitable access to information. (See previous links in this blog archive). Gopnik challenges the naivety of this view

But all the media of modern consciousness—from the printing press to radio and the movies—were used just as readily by authoritarian reactionaries, and then by modern totalitarians, to reduce liberty and enforce conformity as they ever were by libertarians to expand it…The Internet may make for more freedom a hundred years from now, but there’s no historical law that says it has to.

He discusses the other type of never-betters as those relying on psychology and neuroscience. But he reminds us that ‘cognitive entanglement’ can be as frustrating as it is expansive; and that the hive mind doesn’t necessarily pay a whole lot of attention to the facts. See the above quote for how the hive mind can be manipulated too (with references to Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as obvious examples).

Not surprisingly, Nicholas Carr ‘The Shallows’ is the first example provided of a ‘better-never’. (Again see links in previous posts on this blog). Carr is worried that we will lose our ability to think deeply and reflectively. That our brains will be changed, rewired and the poorer for it. Other ‘better-nevers’ focus on the damage new technologies and constant distraction are having on both our social relationships and our inner lives.

when people struggle to describe the state that the Internet puts them in they arrive at a remarkably familiar picture of disassociation and fragmentation. Life was once whole, continuous, stable; now it is fragmented, multi-part, shimmering around us …

Gopnik goes on to say

The odd thing is that this complaint, though deeply felt by our contemporary Better-Nevers, is identical to Baudelaire’s perception about modern Paris in 1855, or Walter Benjamin’s about Berlin in 1930, or Marshall McLuhan’s in the face of three-channel television (and Canadian television, at that) in 1965

So, finally the ‘ever-wasers’. Gopnik cites the Harvard historian Ann Blair and her book ‘Too much to know: managing scholarly information before the modern age.’ According to Blair ‘information overload’ existed well before the Gutenberg press, before index lists and filing rules, before the card catalogue ‘the reader consulting a card catalogue in a library was living a revolution as momentous, and as disorienting, as our own. The book index was the search engine of its era, and needed to be explained at length to puzzled researchers.’

For me, the really important point of this article comes at the very end and provides a lot to think about.

What we live in is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self. The things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind—sexual obsessions and conspiracy theories, paranoid fixations and fetishes—are now out there … things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own … Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting…the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.

Everything once inside is outside, a click away; much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solitude. And so the peacefulness, the serenity that we feel away from the Internet, and which all the Better-Nevers rightly testify to, has less to do with being no longer harried by others than with being less oppressed by the force of your own inner life. Shut off your computer, and your self stops raging quite as much or quite as loud.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Gopnik leaves us with some solace and a reminder of our own power

Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.

Another nice summary from Aleks Krotoski in the Guardian (December 18, 2011)
Untangling the web: attention

… new technologies get to the very heart of us. How we adapt to the new thing reminds us of our limitations as human beings… Over the last year I’ve insisted again and again that the web is not doing anything to us; that it merely presents us with a mirror that challenges us to face ourselves. The only way we can untangle ourselves from the web is to pay attention to this, and to reflect on what it is, in the 21st century, we do to ourselves and to one another.

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the digital immigrants debate continues

Marc Prensky’s 2001 paper ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’ and Don Tapscott’s books ‘Growing up digital’ (1997) and ‘Grown up digital (2008) are generally seen as the two works that began this debate about the generational digital divide. The argument continues but there is a growing body of evidence that this is clearly no longer a tenable argument. Prensky himself has revised his view in his more recent writings.

In The fallacy of digital immigrants Dan Pontefract links to some of the more recent studies.

Steve Wheeler posted the following comment on twitter earlier this year ‘there are no digital natives. there is no net generation. we are all in this together. that is all’ and posted a blog ‘the natives are revolting’ where he discusses the implications of this kind of antagonistic thinking. He also includes some excellent current research material.

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some people feel that there’s a brutality in the attempt to force chaos into some form of order; that the need to control is a primitive one based on fear. there is an appeal in the idea that we can be brave and loose enough to embrace the messy totality of life.

but the ‘curator’ sees it differently. the curator doesn’t simply organise a collection but cares for it, values it, protects it. the curator sees beauty in the patterns that are formed, the synchronicities, synergies, the connectedness of things.

melville dewey may seem anachronistic today, a control freak with autistic tendencies, but he was looking for the relationships between things and perhaps this is an intrinsically human endeavour.  information without context doesn’t equal knowledge, understanding or wisdom and this makes me reflect on the current literature about how the brain is being affected by the enormous amount of online content available. sharky’s ‘age of distraction’ and carr’s skimming of the ‘shallows’ and the anxieties around our continued ability to dive deep into reflective thinking.

i’m a bit over it all really. along with all the theories about the online brain is the continuing fascination we have with ourselves, with each other and how our brains work. there’s no shortage of literature being published about the neuroscience of how we think and how we’re wired.

there’s so much out there that i’m reminded of just what librarians can do. if they’re valued. if people understand what ‘curation’ really means. neil gaiman, an advocate for public libraries often uses the metaphor of the past – where the librarian once journeyed into the desert of information to find the treasure, they now hack their way through the jungle of online content to find the treasure amongst the crap and misinformation.

some excellent articles on curation and libraries:

maria popova: in a world of informational abundance, content curation is a new form of authorship  as we share and remix information through our social networks we are as much creators as consumers. but where is the line for authorship and intellectual property in this new environment?

david lee king asks ‘what’s a content curator?’ To satisfy the people’s hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online. Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating. To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward. The people who choose to take on this role will be known as Content Curators… king asks are librarians already doing this or are others (like maria popova) doing it better?

The point of a library has always been to organise information so that it can be found. Social networking allows everyone’s inner librarian to shine. catherine moffatt ‘the world is my library and we are all librarians now’ on the meanjin blog spike june 8, 2011

content curation also neatly connects what librarians and educators do. many of us blog in much the same way as i do and we recognise ourselves as content curators. as an educator i spend much more of my time researching, gathering and annotating the best of what’s out there for my students than i do writing or creating original material.

heidi cool summarises it well in her blog content curation: learning from others and sharing their knowledge. when we choose to curate content we learn in the process. we gather, evaluate and reflect on the collections we create and create a forum for sharing and discussion which value adds.

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