Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds. Here are the best finds of 2018.
“Susan Sontag was asked what she had learned from the Holocaust, and she said that 10% of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10% is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80% could be moved in either direction” —Kurt Vonnegut, via @holdengraber
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Victor E. Frankl, via @euan
“As the preliterate confronts the literate in the postliterate arena, as new information patterns inundate and uproot the old, mental breakdowns of varying degrees – including the collective nervous breakdowns of whole societies unable to resolve their crises of identity – will become very common.” —Marshall McLuhan (1969)
@StuartMcMillan — “The only thing you need to feel extremely smart is a lack of curiosity. The perpetually curious will always think they’re dumb.”
@mmay3r — “The internet doesn’t fracture truth, it reveals the many competing truths that always existed but were flattened by centralized broadcast technology.”
@lukewsavage — “Billionaires like Bezos and Musk are obsessed with space travel because it helps them maintain the illusion that they’re technological prometheans at the vanguard of civilizational progress, rather than greedy plutocrats who happen to own expensive bits of paper.”
@MazzucatoM — “David Ricardo was in 1821 talking about effect of mechanization on jobs and wages. But as long as profits were reinvested in the economy, new jobs appeared. That stopped with maximisation of shareholder value. Blame financialization & bad governance, not robots!”
“We cannot study everything, all the time, which is why there are names of departments over the doors to buildings and corridors.
However, the B-school is an even more extreme case. It is constituted through separating commercial life from the rest of life, but then undergoes a further specialisation. The business school assumes capitalism, corporations and managers as the default form of organisation, and everything else as history, anomaly, exception, alternative. In terms of curriculum and research, everything else is peripheral.”
When we embrace innovative, hybrid educational models like the one we’re attempting to build at Westminster, we are relinquishing control, allowing students, projects, clients and teamwork dynamics to mold the learning process. We are, essentially, developing the system that Paulo Friere ostensibly had in mind when he argued that students “will not gain … liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it.” We’re essentially liberating students to discover how learning works in a very uncontrolled, unpredictable environment. We’re not “teaching” anymore, at least not in the “banking-model” format where students are receptacles and teachers are simply filling them with knowledge; rather, we’re mentoring. We’re not creating lesson plans and assignment descriptions and we’re not in control of the end result. We’re merely a guide, helping people learn how to learn.
The student results seriously suggest models like these may be better for learning. As faculty members in traditional institutions, though, we have to ask ourselves: Is it worth moving away from the path of least resistance? And, if we don’t adapt, will we be left behind?
Sensemaking is matter of identity: it is who we understand ourselves to be in relation to the world around us.
Sensemaking is retrospective: we shape experience into meaningful patterns according to our memory of experience …
Sensemaking is a continuous flow; it is ongoing, because the world, our interactions with the world, and our understandings of the world are constantly changing …
Sensemaking builds on extracted cues that we apprehend from sense and perception …
Sensemaking is less a matter of accuracy and completeness than plausibility and sufficiency …
“Could smartphone addiction be hyper-social, not anti-social? … Humans evolved to be a uniquely social species and require constant input from others to seek a guide for culturally appropriate behavior. This is also a way for them to find meaning, goals, and a sense of identity … The researchers found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.”
“We are in the midst of a moment in time when many people are emphasizing how important it is for people to think seriously about history. So let us think about the history of technology. And let us think about the Luddites not as caricatures, but as real people.
The Luddites were not ‘anti-technology’. They were skilled craft workers who believed that the new machinery being deployed by factory owners would impoverish, disempower, and immiserate them. They were right. They didn’t want ‘zero technology’, they wanted to feed their families. If they had their way we wouldn’t be living in a world with ‘no technology’, we’d be living in a world where communities have a say in the technological decisions that will impact them.”
@cennydd — “I’m trying to avoid the term ‘AI’. It mythologises tech as a new species, a self-directed moral agent outside our control. But, of course, these technologies are absolutely within our control. They’re products of our code, decisions, and policies. Their ethics are our ethics.”
@suitpossum — “The conflict is not ‘AI vs. Humans’. The conflict is ‘Humans who control AI infrastructures vs. Humans who don’t”
@joi — “AI makes us more powerful. It doesn’t make us wiser.”
@SimonDeDeo — “Machine learning is an amazing accomplishment of engineering. But it’s not science. Not even close. It’s just 1990, scaled up. It has given us *literally* no more insight than we had twenty years ago.”
“But Jeff Bezos and others who equate “Darwinism” with “ruthless competition” have it wrong. Charles Darwin, a British naturalist who was the father of evolution, never said that nature sanctioned a dog eat dog mentality. Instead he regarded sympathy as the most important and distinctive human adaptation.
While Darwin launched a brilliant idea, many aspects of evolution were worked out in future centuries. One of those is what nature teaches us about how groups work best. Contrary to Amazon endorsed practices, it is not through dog eat dog actions but cooperation.”
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.” The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself. Appeals to abstract human rights are meaningless unless there are effective institutions to guarantee these rights. The most fundamental right is the “right to have rights.”
“It is also a mistake to think that it is only in countries with weak institutions and immature political systems that thieves and goons can reach the most important positions. What we are seeing today in the United States and in many European countries that have long democratic traditions simply shows that no nation is immune to the rise of a kakistocracy. Internet searches for this word, derived from ancient Greek, have seen a huge boom since Donald Trump got to the White House.
Like all good illusionists, the kleptocrats know how to distract us from looking at their misdeeds and the kakistocrats know how to distract us from their ineptitude. They do it by talking to us about ideology and attacking those of their rivals. While we watch and play our part in these ideological circuses, they steal. Or tinker with government policies they don’t really understand.”
Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy by Siva Vaidhyanathan – review
“Although Facebook has become a leviathan, that simply means that it can only be tamed by another leviathan, in this case, the state. Vaidhyanathan argues that the key places to start are privacy, data protection, antitrust and competition law. Facebook is now too big and should be broken up: there’s no reason why it should be allowed to own Instagram and WhatsApp, for example. Regulators should be crawling over the hidden auctions it runs for advertisers. All uses of its services for political campaigns should be inspected by regulators and it should be held editorially responsible for all the content published on its site.”
“We need to put a high priority on not only learning, but unlearning and relearning as well. We need to give people the tools to understand and create the future for themselves and their communities. And we need to define the future as much more than technological change, teaching the next generation the skills of sense-making, meshing, adaption, resilience and transformation.”
“To believe that our beliefs are permanent truths which encompass reality is a sad arrogance. To let go of that belief is to find safety.” —Ursula K Le Guin (1929-2018)
A reminder of how women fighting for the right to vote in the UK, about 100 years ago, were treated and portrayed: Anti-suffragette Postcards
@andrealeonxyz — “A government destroyed by tyranny rebuilt under a glass dome so that the whole world could look into it — here’s a good ideal to be inspired: risen from the ashes, an entire city once ruled by fascists now invaded by artists, anarchists … and transparency.” [Reichstag, Berlin]