The time has come to unplug from IFTTT and pool my Lifestream somewhere other than here. Before shunting the flow, a few moments of reflection.
While the Lifestream follows course content and therefore associated themes, it is also indicative of my own thinking and research practices, combined with the influence of the ‘assignment’ on these practices. To clarify, due to the assignment requirements for feeds from diverse sources, my usual pathways through the Interwebs were diverted to Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr, sites that are less frequently part of my academic repertoire. Additionally, my usual ‘hold all’, Evernote, fed awkwardly into the lifestream, so I found myself using different ‘tools’ such as Pocket and Diigo, for articles with and without images respectively. Also, my activity on Twitter was more prolific than usual. Each of these changes in my own practices in a sense is representative of the assignment’s agency over me, which derives its power from the salience of the student role for me, but nonetheless which I am co-agent in. There were times, however, when the Lifestream was less representative of my engagement, when solitary acts went unrecorded. Inherent in ‘capturing’ learning in this way, or through learning analytics, is a tension: do we privilege the behaviours we see as most valuable or does our ability to record particular behaviours result in an undervaluing of unobserved – but valuable – behaviours?
Although the course was divided into blocks, with cybercultures including an exploration of transhumanism politics and an interrogation of what it means to be human, community cultures focusing on ethnography, participatory literacies and community policing and digital labour, and algorithmic cultures unveiling concerns around bias, and the need for accountability and transparency, a key theme also persisted throughout all three blocks. This was the blurring of boundaries and/or entanglement, whether between dualisms such as mind/body and human/machine, between digital technologies and social practices or between human and non-human agency.
Exploring the blurring of the human/machine dualism in cybercultures involved both acknowledging the increased plasticity and hyperreality of the body enabled by technology (Williams & Bendelow, 1998), and recognising that the body has always been a site of cultural activity and quest for social distinction (Bourdieu, 1984). As such, while the materiality of the posthuman body is constructed (Hayles, 1999 / e-reserve PDF), it always has been – but now digital technologies are also co-creators of culture.
Similarly, in community cultures the influence of technological infrastructure (coupled with human agency such as pedagogical intent) on dialogue between participants became apparent. This is not to say that technology determines social practice, but rather that the two are co-constituent, each exerting pressure, along with the practices of commerce.
Algorithms too co-create, through a complex entanglement of human and non-human agency (Matias, 2017). At this point, the challenge seems to be to maintain and clarify human agency, both at an individual level, and at a societal level so that human values are not subsumed by myths of algorithmic objectivity and service to commercial gain.
Of course, these are simplifications, lacking many of the links to education that were evident in the Lifestream. However, perhaps what is needed in considering the relationship between digital education and culture is an understanding of the same entanglement and co-constituency – and a similar effort to deconstruct myths amid questions of agency and value, and predatory commercial interests.
Thanks Jeremy, James and peers – a tremendous 12 weeks indeed!