Is there a pure, early stage of the internet that can defeat fake news? This looks way too optimistic to me. #mscedc

I like this piece as a closure to our opening ‘Cyberculture’ block. Written by Jimmy Wales, the starter of Wikipedia, it underplays ‘fake news’ in a too-simple binary, an oil-and-water distinction set against “reliable information”.

News is always political, always complex. This piece acknowledges the complexity of the web, but overplays the simplistic agency of “we, as consumers and institutions” – and underplays the complexity of ‘news’.

For instance, the two YouTube videos I feature on an earlier post both begin with a picture of Donna Haraway with a dog. At least, they tell me they do. But I’ve never met DH – how can I tell this is her, and not simply a picture one person has used, and another copied?

My example here is deliberately minor. It’s intended to show the multi-threaded complexity behind what makes up ‘fake news’. Or, in educational terms, ‘erroneous learning’, or learning based on fake data. I’m not sure how, as a ‘consumer’, I could check everything like this.

Can one trust cloud sourcing? To a degree. But not completely. Wikipedia is part-solution, part-problem. ‘Openness’ and ‘transparency’ only work if: (a) people are looking (as opposed to simply, rapidly and unreflectively consuming); and (b) can see – both in the sense of transparency and understanding, and, also, a suitable degree of scepticism. Although I’d hate to try and define what would be a suitable degree in a fast-changing, multi-headed digital sphere.

In conclusion, the call for the (re)turn to open spaces on the Internet looks Canute-like, looks nostalgic, and looks over-optimistic given where we now are. It reminds me of Knox’s three periods within his historiography, and their resourcefulness for those wanting to construct narratives.

Critical narratives can’t just fall back on to what used to work, however. I fear Jimmy Wales has missed the boat here. Educationalists, too, need to avoid uncritical nostalgia for what used to work, perhaps in their youth. We will see the complex opportunities, and complex nuances, perhaps a little more clearly, as we move on into ‘Community Cultures’.



Looking at YouTube short summaries of Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’. Anyone found any particularly good ones? #mscedc

While I look at films on YouTube, I’ve never thought about it as a teaching platform, but looking for films on Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ has led me to change my mind.

I’ve watched a couple of such films today, this:


and this:


I’m not naturally multimodal, but I’ve appreciated the combination (and, sometimes, conscious interaction ) between visuals and spoken word. Also, at c.5-6 minutes, they’re very watchable, and help crystallise someone’s thoughts around a complex, layered and engaging text. I can imagine ‘setting’ such a film as a learning exercise, either to watch and critique, or to design and make.

What would hinder me from making one? I typically dislike the comments under YouTube films – here, in at least one instance, it’s pretty troll-like. I guess I don’t need to look. Primarily, I wonder about (a) where I’d get the images from, and (b) whether and what copyright issues this might involve.

What I especially like, after watching these, is the different way making such a film would make me look at a written text. It makes me think visually about how I’d communicate something. For the church ministers of the future I help teach and train – and for me – this is a valuable skill. I think I’m a convert…



Trying to focus on Haraway on the Hangout + Tweet @ same time. Lifestreaming = busy at the mo! Sherry Turkle = right re. distraction #mscedc

This Tweet is a sideways comment on the notion of curating a Lifestream, which was discussed in this morning’s Google Hangout.

Does one break off an inherently dynamic Lifestream in order to provide it with “metadata” (an ugly-sounding word, to my ear), or just go with the flow of it? Both courses of action have impacts for interaction with digital cultures and with this course. It’s a dynamic thing to seek a middle ground, to be both participant and observer. And, also it’s sort of distracting from both poles, simultaneously, at least as ideals, but also as practical goals.

Also, it’s a cumulative question: does a Lifestream get left with possibly superfluous posts, week by week, thinking they might become useful and lively in later stages of the course (what is this ‘community cultures’ and ‘algorithmic cultures’ stuff, for instance, from the point of view of this stage in the course)? Or does one try and keep it tidy, and get rid of the clutter, if not once a week, at least before it drops too far off the dashboard’s first screen-view and back somewhere downstream? After all, when, in the busy nature of ‘things’, am I likely to come back and reconsider the earlier stuff, as well as visiting everyone else’s sites, too?

I’m both reminded of ethnographic work undertaken in an earlier, pre-digital age. But it seems a lot more frantic, frenetic, and endless than it did then. So many more feedback loops in this particular system of meaning. Context collapse, and the absence of boundaries. 24/7, digital cultures, always plural, never stop.

I seem to remember Sherry Turkle saying something about that. And it’s got to have some sort of impact on education, and we’re going to need some way to equip ourselves and other learners for it. This is a fascinating-if-exhausting experience / experiment in that.



Apparently, this man is “stealing the clothes of the creationists”. But weren’t Adam and Eve naked, any way? #mscedc

From Bacteria to Bach and Back by Daniel C Dennett review – consciousness explained?

This caught my eye as interesting for our theme of sentience. I read more book reviews online than I manage to read books, and I appreciated this one as coming across as a fair reaction to a book I’m unlikely to manage to read.

“Consciousness is a system property, and is not reducible”, This seems to be a common issue running through our readings (e.g. Miller (2011: 211) and Hayles (1999: 2, 8-10) regarding feedback loops and reflexivity): whether it means systems can acquire consciousness seems a different question.

The review continues, regarding Dennett: “he takes issue with those hard-line molecular biologists, notably DNA pioneer Francis Crick, who seek to locate consciousness in particular ensembles of neurons in specific brain regions. Such ensembles, Dennett argues, are mini-robots, competent in their functions, but only their interactions within the totality of the brain enable comprehension, and with it the “user illusion” that we all share, of being a person in charge of these processes. I like the competence/comprehension distinction, though I doubt if Dennett thought he was merely an illusion when he wrote this book, any more than I believe I am when reading it.” This strikes me as a reasonable reservation to bring to this debate.

In Friday’s Google Hangout (3 February) Jeremy said “biology changes in a different time to technology”. This is mirrored in this reviewer’s comment: “for humans, slow biological evolution has been superseded by fast cultural evolution”. Time, and different cycles and rhythms of it, seems key in understanding or misunderstanding digital cultures. I sense such differences reinstate the importance of fleshliness for human sentience, at this for the foreseeable future, short of great step-changed technological advances, if they are possible, but with many scenarios and debates along the way.



Fascinating re. Amazon’s internal-organisation evolution. Parallel implications for education institutions? #mscedc

Is Amazon the cyborg business model? In this piece from today’s Guardian, I wonder if it is. And what it says to educational institutions.

Amazon Web Services: the secret to the online retailer’s future success

The article is wide-ranging, but I’m struck by this section:

“In effect, Bezos was asking Amazon to stop behaving like one singular company, and start behaving like hundreds of mini companies all bound together through one shared CEO. That command was the beginning of Amazon Web Services, which officially launched in July 2002.”

I’m no business guru, but I’m struck by the seemingly deliberate nurturing of internal inefficiencies (at one scale of analysis) in order to achieve a higher level of efficiency (on another scale of analysis).

What does this suggest for educational institutions? I can only guess and imagine. Here’s one thought. Back to the article, regarding how Amazon’s move looked from the outside: “Some spotted this transformation as it happened, but drew the wrong conclusions.” Such commentators would have urged outsourcing, and focusing on Amazon’s seemingly key product. But (and, admittedly, history is written after the even) Amazon got away with something else, both riding and aiding the developing evolution of the internet. The article’s section entitled ‘Cloud on the Horizon’ is especially suggestive here.

How about, then, an educational institution adopting a similar strategy to Amazon’s, in order to foster in-house networking potential? I imagine it would have to be a remarkably big institution, a global player with courage to play such a game. Perhaps, in their own way, the ancient collegiate universities such as Oxford and Cambridge have been playing this for centuries, and Amazon is a late entrant into the form.

But, as the article notes, “Internet services are notoriously hard to pull off at scale”. Amazon seems have won a comparative advantage, for the time being at least. What this all highlights for me is that, in digital technology and in education, scale is a significantly potent and political part of what works, and how. I’m looking forward to probing that more, as this course unfolds.



The digital revolution is over. Finito. Nothing to see. Pack up + go home, Last one out, the lights, please. #mscedc

Tongue firmly in cheek in the above Tweet, regarding a rather dichotomous article in today’s Guardian:

We’re over the digital revolution. This is the age of experience.

It’s curious piece. I’m searching it in vain for a dialectical moment, a clever turn, and I’m not seeing it. Simon Jenkins writes: “Many, I sense, have become exhausted by the sheer relentlessness of the digital revolution, by its endless boasts and by dark clouds on the horizon.”

Perhaps, but there is no safe flight to the suburbs, nor back to nature. The Anthropocene is here. Everywhere. And, back in parallels of old, neither Ruskin nor Wordsworth really managed to escape. Appealing to a “resurgence of retro technology” seems thin fare.

Towards the end, Jenkins states:

“Digitisation has taken us past “peak stuff”. We are now heading for “post-digital”, the age of experience. It is one that employs new technology as the servant, not the master, of what is desired – as was rightly predicted by the first computing genius, Ada Lovelace, back in the 19th century. It is the new “economy of live”, from Ticketmaster to Tinder.”

Clever words, but too neat. Clearly-defined epochs are fictions after the event. And I’m not at all clear what the unexplained reference to Ada Lovelace is intended to (ap)prove.

In “the new ‘economy of live'”, I can’t clearly see the stage, there are too many phones held aloft in front of me. Never mind, I’ll watch it on YouTube tomorrow, from a dozen different angles but none of them mine. The future is more likely augmented by technology, not leaving it behind. That’s how it’s been up until now. That’s how we get retro, after all.

I can’t escape Bayne (2015) in all this.

Among other problematic words, there ‘digitalisation’. A simple, singular, encapsulator, something ‘other’, and easily manageable. But it’s not the end of history, nor of geography, nor of the world. The digital lives on, grows on, grows in, sinks in, bursts out, breaks out, in a myriad of inter-weaving forms. There is no experience without digital, there is no digital without experience?Discuss!



@fleurhills has significant implications for tech-infused productions of knowledge + their assessment in ed. #mscedc

I caught sight of this on the #msdedc Twitter feed, just after listening to Eduardo Miranda, about whom I reflected in my previous two Lifestream posts. @fleurhills points to a new ‘Wired’ article by Josh Tabish:

The Copyright Barons Are Coming. Now’s the Time to Stop Them

‘The Copyright Barons are Coming. Now’s the Time to Stop Them’.

The title summarises the argument. Big business, aka the Copyright Alliance, are appealing to President Trump for a tightening of US Copyright Law. It’s an appeal to defend producers, against piracy, via a proposed system of notice-and-staydown, a ‘filter-everything’ approach. The appeal is pictured as digital walls on the internet, likened to the proposed wall along the US-Mexican border.

The politics and economics of digital cultures here cohere with its reporting of news. The article speaks of “controversial new powers” (are such things ever uncontroversial?) and declares that “These rules would make it harder for everyday internet users to share content online”. In many ways, the reference to ‘barons’ in the title is a telling one: it’s hard for the feudal peasant, living life in their little village within the worldwide web, to know how to interpret such wars and rumours of wars.

But what connection with Eduardo Miranda, and with education? First, this Wired article connected with the problematic nature of ‘composition’ within his work. Composition in real time: yes; in real space: possibly; but by whom, and is that even the right question? Who would claim copyright over such cyborgian artefacts? Indeed, as the Wired article indirectly bears witness, can law keep up with practice, and what happens when it cannot?

Second, the connection with education. Copyright and ownership connect with possession of knowledge: how ‘I’ hold it. Possession of knowledge in many spheres of education is intimately bound with assessment, but in complex and unsettling ways. Cyborg production, or even collaborative work, is not easily ‘assessed’. Many would argue assessment is wrong, unnecessary, even unhelpful for learning. But those who seek assessment in collaborative, even cyborg, spheres face complex issues, issues within which they themselves are bound. The question of copyright keeping up with technology is framed as two separate elements and, as such, is misplaced for critical analysis. The two infuse. Similarly, assessment and the digital is a pluriform relationship with many affordances, constraints, contradictions and unknowns, possibilities and potentials.

It’s an unsettling time to be living, and law and regulation might often struggle with it.



Eduardo Miranda: music for, and by, the cyborg? Part 2: ‘Activating Memory’. and #mscedc

A second look at Eduardo Miranda, for what he is producing in musical terms, and how it informs our understanding of digital cultures as a lens for education.
Here, I’m focusing on his composition ‘Activating Memory’, although, as we will see, it’s not straightforward to call it ‘his’ composition. If the previous posting on his interaction with a biocomputer realigned his subjectivity in one direction, this work does so in another. It’s a composition involving a string quartet, and four BCMI (brain computer-music interfacing performers. It involves a new kind of scoring, a digital score. Have a listen and a watch here:

And, for an explanatory documentary, see here:

As the second film makes clear, within The Paramusical Ensemble, the four BCMI performers are disabled by Locked-In Syndrome, MS, or MND. But they are en-abled by the technology and the collaboration with each other and the string quartet. Through their monitored brain signals, they select both the riffs which the string quartet play, and even the dynamics for the performance. Two quartets, spontaneously, collaboratively, “composing in real time”. And, of the performers, it’s the BCMI performers who are actively leading the collaboration.
There are some wonderful metaphors for digital education in this documentary and the performance inspiring it. I love the performer’s smile as the audience applaud (4:20), Also, the commentary that they are here part of a group, not just in a group (4:30): a great sense of performative collaboration, an expression of self and state of mind, which medical staff can then use in working with the patient (6:40).
If anything, it’s a jarring moment, to hear the performers referred to as patients, and there is a generative mixing of medical and musical clothing visible among those supporting and involved in the performance. It’s wonderful at 7:30 to ‘hear’ (again, technologically-enabled) the voices of the BCMI performers describing their experience of performing.
The technology unlocks the agency of both quartets: for some of the BCMI performers, it re-connects them with a previous part of their life (2:00), reminding me of the learning-as-connecting aspects from previous MSc courses I’ve taken. Learning needs to be supported: people need emotional support as they come into the BCMI side of the performance. Family and friends are part of the performance as audience. And the rhetoric of “bringing to life again” and of “their untapped capability” has wonderful resonances with education.


Eduardo Miranda: music for, and by, the cyborg? Part 1: ‘Biocomputer Music’. and #mscedc

This week, being encouraged to use music to explore the themes of this course, I initially tracked back to a Proms Concert I attended last summer, where the programme included the world premiere for Torus, a concerto for orchestra by Emily Howard.

This proved disappointing for the course: although she studied mathematics and computer science at Oxford University prior to turning to composing, areas which inform her compositions, these influences did not seem to extend into the digital sphere. But a search via led me to discover Eduardo Miranda, who heads up the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR) at Plymouth University.

I’d never heard of him before today, but his works capture well, and illuminate clearly, a number of themes arising in the is course. Here, I consider Biocomputer music: a composition for piano and biocomputer:

In it, on first hearing pianist and computer seem to answer, dance with, perhaps fight one another. Other-worldly, or this worldly? What is going on? Something different, for sure. This documentary helped explain:

Miranda is engaging a piano with a biocomputer, generating (0:44) “new musical systems… new paradigms”.
He goes on to explain what a biocomputer is, and its integrated circuitry sounds like classic cyborg life in action. Slime augmented with silicon chips might not do it justice, but that’s my sense of it.  Miranda calls it (4:50) “a programmable living organism” which gives him “a completely different way of interacting with the system”. How cyborgistic is that – and, also, what does it ‘do’ to ‘him’ as a human subject?
Miranda and the biocomputer interact via the piano and an iPad, the biocomputer using electromagnets to trigger the piano strings, to produce sound. It generates a new kind of composition, via an iPad between the pianist and the biocomputer. As he says, (4:00) this “distorts the identity of the piano, because what you hear is a sound produced by the piano, but it’s not a piano sound, as we know it. The piano assumes a double personality here, and this creates an interesting tension which I’m exploring in the composition.”
This is fascinating as a lens on education. Again, as so often, Bain (2015) comes into view: the technology is not simply ‘enhancing’ the piano, it’s changing it. And the cyborg elements (there are at least two here) are acute.