Monday AM, and a piece about ‘the right to disconnect’: Where does online community blur into oppression? #mscedc

Monday morning, and back to the office. A timely article from the Guardian:

It’s quite a complex and interwoven opinion piece, and it’s not easy reading in it’s projections, either. The ‘right to disconnect’ is judged to be “misleading at best”, on several grounds. First, it will come at a cost – to those who disconnect – in higher premiums and as markets monetise disconnection itself. Second, we are producing data in our seemingly leisure uses, e.g. in social media use, and we can’t so easily disconnect from that – the article raises some sharp assessments as to how ‘enslaved’ we might be to social media. Third, significant employment sectors, aka the ‘gig economy’, engendered by digital connection, effectively and structurally disallow connection for those dependent on such work.

The article ends thus:

“To be truly meaningful, the right to disconnect needs to be tied to a much broader, radical vision of how a data-rich society can retain some basic elements of equality and justice. In the absence of such a vision, this right will only protect those who are already well-off, forcing the rest to seek solutions – like mindfulness apps – in the marketplace.”

How big a vision, how radical a vision, how broad a vision, and where on earth is it? Over the weekend, I dipped back into the agrarian essays of Wendall Berry (on paper, too; such are the joys of disconnecting). A million miles from the gig economy. For Berry, the size of the economy thus needed is nothing less than the kingdom of God. (Here is an online version of what I read on paper: the opening lines make Berry’s point.) It would be complex, and costly, and might mean selling all else for the pearl of great price. But perhaps a lone and possibly strange voice from a Kentucky hillside has something useful to say to us. If only we could disconnect and listen…



Lifestream summary, week five

This mid-week within the ‘Community Cultures’ block has seen a move towards looking at MOOCs, surrounding the mini-ethnography exercise. I’ve largely kept that exercise off the Lifestream, focussing on surrounding perspectives partly inspired by lateral thinking off the set reading. Posts on ‘cloakroom communities’ and an ethnography of digital journalism are indicative of this.

Also, I’ve sought to probe different aspects of identity, seeing this as grounded in, and grounding, issues of community. This week’s Google Hangout helped in this thread, and a couple of posts span off from it. I see this as connecting back to questions raised by posthumanism earlier in the stream. In many ways the issue is far less foregrounded in this present block on the course, but is still very much of critical importance.

The ethics behind MOOCs (and within them) is another theme prominent in this week’s Lifestream. Babbaley’s comparison of MOOCs and the fast-food industry was very stimulating. I’ve yet to add metadata to one post, but that will connect in with other readings, also. Kozinets and Hine have also been formative backdrops for the Lifestream this week.

I also feel there have been disconnected threads running through this week’s Lifestream: it’s hard to neatly wrap up the posts in one theme. This, though, I think is itself indicative of community cultures – especially if they are (wittingly or unwittingly, and for a variety of motives and outcomes) constructed online as separate silos, sometimes interacting with one another, but trending towards Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘liquid’ modernity. Perhaps I’ll be able to find creative or greater cohesion next week. Perhaps not.


Same digital ethnography presented in different modalities: compared with Insightful #mscedc

I found this parallel while preparing an assignment for the ‘Research Methods’ course, and thought it worth including here. The two links within this Tweet refer to two representations of the same online ethnography (and associated semi-structured interviews and other qualitative analyses) undertaken by Bonnie Stewart. One is a formal academic paper, the other a set of slides from a presentation.

Academic papers are, for me, familiar fare. The slidedeck was the true find. And it has been illuminating to look through nearly a dozen of Stewart’s Slideshare presentations, and see how she uses the same slides in different orders, in different contexts, and sometimes with different interpretations attached to them.

An added bonus is discovering Slideshare. This looks like a wealth of diverse presentations, diverse in both content and modes.

I’ve not had much experience in using visuals to communicate findings, and Stewart’s slidedecks have helped me see what is possible in this format. At the same time, it’s widened my aperture about how to present online ethnographies. Great to come across, and to learn from.

And, a grounded reminder of this (thanks, James…), especially c. 2:50 mins in:



Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘cloakroom communities’ ( 2nd ZB comment down) – can MOOCs ever be more than that? #mscedc

During yesterday’s Google hangout, I mentioned in the text conversation Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘cloakroom communities’. A quick Google search (aren’t they always? Perhaps not…) pulled up this couple of paragraphs from an interview with Bauman that helpfully summarises the idea:

To see it in print, have a look at Bauman (2010) Consuming Life (Polity, Cambridge), pp.111-112.

I’m thinking that MOOCs are likely to remain cloakroom communities, for three reasons. First, MOOCs are typically an instant assemblage of people, with thin connections often without much ‘scaffolding’ for community within course design.  In Stewart’s terms, from the set reading, “a sea of unknown names or faces” (p. 235). Second, MOOCs are typically short-lived assemblages, without cumulative build between courses. Third, as Stewart indicates in the set reading, destabilising the teacher-led learning model facilitates learner-led strategies (pp. 235-236). This might not be linear, towards a course-defined telos. Dipping in and out will enhance the cloakroom-community quality of MOOCs.

I wonder if there’s any literature out there, comparing MOOCs and cloakroom communities?

[As a further aside, for my own context in ministerial education, the ‘cloakroom community’ metaphor has been examined by several bloggers, e.g. here and here.]

[Additionally, I’m looking  at Jernej Prodnik’s uses of ‘cloakroom community’ for analysing online contexts, e.g. in (accessed only on Google Books) ‘Post-Fordist Communities and Cyberspace: A Critical Approach’ in Cybercultures: Mediations of Community, Culture, Politics eds. Harris Breslow and Aris Mousoutzanis (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), pp.75-100. ]



Great Google Hangout this AM. Re. masks, and real identity – does Dirk need a blue tick on his Twitter feed? #mscedc

We had a very enjoyable Google Hangout session this morning. Among other things, we discussed online identity, sparked by our initial MOOC experiences, helped by Dirk wearing a mask from time to time. I don’t think Dirk is wearing the mask in this screen shot:

Shame. But his experiment made me conscious of some of the complex meanings-creations we engage in online. Reports of the recent adoption by Twitter of a blue tick for ‘real’ accounts (as opposed to ‘fake’ ones) for whose having a “great, high-quality account” that is of “public interest” are only the tip of an iceberg of how we create identities for others online.

One of the great things about Google Hangouts is that one gets to ‘see’ and hear ‘someone’. Their backdrop suddenly gives a realm of data for placing them. Are they in an office (lots of books? or white-board in the wall?), at home (living room? loft extension?). Or, in Myles’ case – or so it seemed – in a tent, at an agricultural show? It’s partial information, for sure, but a stack more to relate with than on MOOC, even with disclosure set to the max. And relating is, inevitably, going to be better – at least in the potential offered by richer data.

At the same time, I think the whole identity-construction thing on the Hangout is a fiction, at least in the etymological sense of the word: it’s something made. We’re making meaning. In 1983 Benedict Anderson write a seminal work on nationalism called ‘Imagined Communities’. What with nationalism, so with online communities. We’re imagining it into being. That doesn’t mean it’s less real than national identities. But nor is it less contested, either potentially or – sadly – sometimes in reality. ‘Flaming’ and ‘trolling’ have their parallels in national conflicts.

But, thankfully, none of that yesterday. But, back to Dirk’s mask. As I mentioned, it’s Dirk’s real face that plays tricks on my identity construction for me. He reminds me of a dear friend of mine, who I rarely meet these days, and it’s hard not to have some context collapse (to draw on boyd’s term) and impose some personality similarities on to Dirk. Sorry, Dirk, I’ll keep trying to relate with you as you. Also, Dirk, if you are like Mark (hey, only two letters difference in the name…), in my book that would be a wonderful thing. Fiction-ing again! And, in case you’re wondering, here – perhaps for the first time (these things can only happen online) – are Mark and Dirk together:


Now, looking at the two, you might not think the likeness is completely uncanny. But it doesn’t need to be. (And, perhaps, do a Google images search for the latter, and there are some better likenesses out there.) It’s the meaning construction we bring to the party which makes the party.

And that, if not making an irony of the blue tick (see above), at least highlights its limitations. Fictions are out there, and in us. It’s what we do with them, and how we adjudicate them (particularly within ourselves) that matters.



Be careful what you vote for: Your digital footprint will last, and it can be hard to ‘unlike’ afterwards… #mscedc

Meanwhile, in church news:

This article from the Daily Telegraph merges well the digital and the non-digital.

First, the article itself draws on blogs and Twitter feeds for its information, a taken-for-granted interaction in the traditional press, but a remarkably recent one – or is it? I’d be interested to know.

Second, the issue of human voting using digital voting devices sits neatly and uneasily across the cyborg debate. Alongside the ‘I am not a robot’ checks, do we also need ‘I am not committing human error’ checks? Or does the cyborg interface inherently throw up curve-balls from time to time. Certainly gone are the days of two doors to pass through, one for ‘yes’ and one for ‘no’, had something embodied about it. And, as the Old Book says, ‘Enter in through the narrow gate….’ (Matthew 7:13-14). Perhaps a bit more of that, this week, would have served the Church of England well.



Insightful new article on producing digital and print news. Ethnography of journalism within such context. #mscedc

I caught sight of this article on a contents feed from the journal’s publisher:


Reading it, I’m struck by the following:

(1) It helpfully suggests two limitations in a political-economy approach to its topic (pp.81-82). One, the role of technology, is probably bread-and-butter on EDC. The other, an underplaying of the agency of journalists, is perhaps more telling for developing a critical understanding of digital cultures. We’re right to ask if we take sufficient account of human agency.

(2) It uses ethnographic approaches to examine journalism in a particular setting, here a Brazilian newsroom. This fits well with the present stage of EDC. I’m struck by the journalists’ daily pressures of managing information flow, and the description of their role as ‘boundary work’ (p.85). Agency is foregrounded well here. Also, on pp.88-89, the processes of ‘stitching’ the news together, for a finished artefact is insightful, especially in the context (pp.87-88) of a shifting meaning of what constitutes ‘news’. Producing both digital and print forms influences the production of each.

(3) The discussion highlights (pp.91-92) “Studying the changing nature of newsroom culture is vital for understanding not only the production of knowledge in the context of media convergence, but also the shifting balance between politics, economy and the media in the online era.” Parallels with education, and its equivalents to ‘newsroom’ sites are multiple. The article ends thus: the “newsroom is a fascinating battleground where the
clashes over Brazil’s political economy play out in big and small ways every day.” So too, education.



Capitalism 2.0 / Web 2.0. Utopia mixes with market. New article with 3 key pts re. part’n, n’wk, & trans’fm: #mscedc

This article appeared on a contents alert email from the  journal’s publishers:

There are limits to the ‘2.0’ paralleling of Capitalism and the Web. Capitalism might well be on manifestation 5.0, or 5.9, or 6.2. The figures are flexible, but the comparison nevertheless casts helpful light.

The three key points are:

  • ‘Participation – ‘You’re the Star” (pp.6-8). Constructing “the individual user as active, playful, and involved, engaging in the creation, remixing, and modification of online content.” (p.6) with the corollary that boundaries blur between production and consumption (p.8).
  • ‘Network – ‘We Think” (pp.8-10). “Individual participation in and of itself has radical potential, but only if combined and accumulated in productive ways” (p.8), whereby “participation is not an end in itself but rather part of new business models that draw individual inputs into a web of connectivity” and “Participation and networked collaboration… become mutually reinforcing” (p.9).
  • ‘Transformation – ‘Capitalism 2.0” (pp.10-12). On this basis, “the rise of online participation and its aggregation via networks augur the emergence of basic transformations in business and society at large, or even a ‘new mode of production’” (p.10). This might be ‘wikinomics’ (p.10), or some other shift from ‘industrial capitalism’ to a ‘social economy’ marked as ‘Capitalism 2.0’.

As said above, the parallel has its limits, because whereas the Web can shift relatively rapidly as a technological phenomenon, capitalism as a system, multi-scaled and multi-sited, is much more unevenly and slowly transformed. Governances do not shift smoothly and overnight. But therein lie the perils and potentials of digital cultures.

The article’s location in management studies has pertinence for education, given that education is itself typically a managed profession. Also, just as this article looks at Web 2.0 manifestoes, so too Edinburgh has its own Manifesto for teaching online. It, too, undergoes periodic reiterations. Such is the illuminative and anticipatory nature of manifestoes.

As the Edinburgh Manifesto has noted, and spurred discussion about, ‘openness’ is a contested and managed term. This article helps highlight that discussion, helpfully reframing it within management studies.




Prob. more algorithmic cultures, but see re. London Transport tracking passenger movements via mobile phones #mscedc

This post is about a report from Gizmodo regarding a recent Transport for London (TfL) trial of tracking tube passengers via their mobile phones. Gizmodo gained the information via rights under the Freedom of Information Act. I encountered the report via the ‘Londonist’ Twitter feed, which was commenting on it. I find it fascinating on a number of fronts.

Most directly for this stage of EDC, I find the TfL project insteresting for its approach to consent: have your wifi switched on, and you’re drawn into the research. The last section of Gizmodo’s report, on ‘Customer Attitudes to Tracking’, is interesting. It quotes from parallel research into the exercise commissioned by TfL:

“For example, it revealed that customers are much more okay about sharing data when they feel that they are making an “informed decision”, and that many people are “apprehensive” about mobile tracking, because it is so new. The sharing of location data in particular is “viewed differently” to other private information too.

“It is clear that communicating the technology and raising awareness of its use will be critical in driving acceptance of TfL using it”, the research notes. Apparently once people understand the benefits, they are much more accepting of it.”

Passengers were informed by posters, it seems, (if they saw them in the rush and crush of their journey):

Ironic: for more details, you need to be online, which means you’re being monitored…

Beyond that, I’m fascinated by what data is drawn, and the potential uses identified for it.

The report talks about scope for system-initiated individualised passenger refunds in the case of over-crowding, and the potential for more precisely defined market-potential for advertising within different parts of a tube station, measured by relative footfall. I’m curious about how this redefines tube station ‘spaces’, for users and managers alike. At what point, say, does safety and market saturation via sustaining footfall within a lucrative part of the station come into potential conflict? ‘Knowing’ this kind of data changes how places are seen, managed, and encountered.

Some of the mapping is fascinating, too. The map of Victoria tube station showing the routes and timings it takes to traverse the station will be very helpful for anyone seeking to complete the Tube Challenge. And the canny commuter might be interested, too.

Educationally, are classrooms and educational institutions really that different to tube stations? Sites of network, exchange, information and flow. The parallels are suggestive.