stepping in

In the book, Only Humans Need Apply (2016), the authors identify five ways that people can work with machines. They call it ‘stepping’. We are seeing an increasing need to do what they call ‘stepping in’ or using machines [and software] to augment work. In GPT-3 through a glass darkly I used the McLuhans’ media tetrad to examine this form of machine learning, which is all over the media today.


  • Extends each voice & mimics creativity
  • Obsolesces copy-writing and essays so that human insight becomes a luxury
  • Retrieves the polymaths of the European Renaissance so that the best writers must be multi-talented to earn a living
  • Reverses into mass deception and provides answers without real questions behind themsee quote below

We may be in a ‘golden age’ of AI, as many have claimed. But we are also in a golden age of grifters and Potemkin inventions and aphoristic nincompoops posing as techno-oracles. —Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 2022-12-01


arming ourselves

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a recent issue on misinformation and disinformation in Canada. Here are some of the highlights.

Disinformation: New tools, same poison

Before it was called public relations, it was called propaganda. Many of the people who built the modern PR industry got their start in the Committee on Public Information, the propaganda arm of the American government, which aimed to sell the deeply unpopular First World War to the American public. Among other tactics, the CPI pioneered the use of what we would now recognize as “influencers” in a program called the “four-minute men” in which they recruited community leaders to show up to parties, silent film screenings, and community events to give short speeches in favour of the war … While the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses,” as Edward Bernays put it, used to be the confines of a small number of powerful individuals, that is no longer the case. Such tactics—which have always been used to foment violence, as seen in their origins in WWI—are now widely accessible through tech companies … From John D. Rockefeller to Donald Trump, disinformation has always been a tool the powerful use to protect themselves. The tactics may have changed, but the poison remains the same. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

Canada can’t be complacent about threats to our democracy


the tragedy of stories

What is the Tragedy of the Commons?

In economics and in an ecological context, the tragedy of the commons is a situation in which individual users, who have open access to a resource unhampered by shared social structures or formal rules that govern access and use, act independently according to their own self-interest and, contrary to the common good of all users, cause depletion of the resource through their uncoordinated action in case there are too many users related to the available resources. —Wikipedia

But the idea of the tragedy of the commons was disproved by Elinor Ostrom even before it was published by Garrett Hardin in 1968.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions. —The miracle of the commons


the fifth discipline redux

Harvard Business Review described The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years. In 2017 I reviewed mastery and models and showed how they still pertain to organizations 30 years later. I concluded that the challenge for learning professionals is to help organizations become learning organizations. It is also to master the new literacies of the network era and promote critical thinking, for ourselves and others.

Questioning existing hierarchies is necessary to create the organizations of the future where power and authority are shared, based on mutual trust. The dominant organizational models need to become network-centric and learning-centric.

“Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. As such, it is an essential cornerstone of the learning organization — the learning organization’s spiritual foundation.” ―Peter Senge (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization


there is a crack in everything

As the pandemic emerged in 2020 I sought credible information and advice first from institutions and authorities and later from a network of expertise — encouraged to do-your-own-research — in view of growing misinformation and disinformation, even from authorities like the CDC and WHO. I am not the only person to turn to a networked solution — Twitter pandemic list — for my sensemaking in this pandemic.

The People’s CDC is a networked alternative source of credible information that bypasses the corridors of institutional power. (more…)

mastodon musings

On the last Friday of each month I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds. Since 2009 many of these finds have come via Twitter. Given the current state of chaos on that platform — whither Twitter — more of my finds will be coming from Mastodon, as all are today. Tomorrow, 31 December, marks 15 years on Twitter for me, and it may be my last anniversary.

“One of my favorite Engelbart sayings might relate to the ‘Mastodon is too confusing to learn’ claim. Paraphrasing, he said that if ease of use was the ultimate aim for a tool, the bicycle would never have evolved beyond the tricycle.”@HRheingold

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.” @DuneQuotes [a bot] (more…)

start planting

Social learning is a regular topic on this blog and I gave a presentation on the power of social learning earlier this year. The following quotes show how learning from and with each other is a critical part of human and societal development.

“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” —Albert Bandura 1977

“As part of a social network, we transcend ourselves, for good or ill, and become a part of something much larger. We are connected.” —Katherine Giuffre 2010 (more…)

platform collapse

The robber barons of the 21st century are the platform owners. They have combined the power of network effects with a 20th century corporate capitalist, winner-takes-all approach. Amazon is choking the book publishing industry, Google is dominating advertising, and telecommunications companies are using their control of the pipes to directly compete with service providers. Now Uber is going after the taxi and car rental industries, getting to be larger than established rental car brands, with none of the overhead. All of these companies provide initially good services to customers. But over time their monopolistic tendencies kill competition and the entire ecosystem of innovation.

I wrote the above paragraph is 2014, not mentioning Twitter, which until recently was where journalists, institutions, and governments shared what was happening and fed the algorithms that showed what was trending. In some ways Twitter was the pulse of the world and helped drive the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and many other causes. It was the main source of visitors to this blog when I deleted Google Analytics several years ago, as a way to ignore vanity metrics. (more…)

learning & innovating networks

Innovation comes from the edge, almost never from the centre, I wrote in moving to the edges (2014). But I noted that our inherent —  human — need for a sense of belonging can keep us in the centre and detract us from thinking critically and questioning the assumptions of our existing structures. While some organizations may have the software networks in place for knowledge sharing to and from the edges, most do not give time and space for deep thinking, as I mentioned in my last post on meaningful work. This certainly slows any insights from the edges getting to the centre.

Deep thinking often comes from those periods when we are not distracted by our to-do lists or running from meeting to meeting. Adam Kahane remarked that, “almost everything I’ve learned is through the disciplined examination of my experience” as well as an approach of, looking for disconfirming data, as Charles Darwin did”. This is not possible with a continuously overflowing inbox. My colleague and friend Jay Cross understood this.

“Visualize the workflow of a physical job: produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce.

Now visualize the workflow of a creative knowledge worker: nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, flash of brilliance, nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Jay Cross

‘Nothing’ time is for deep thinking. (more…)

GPT-3 through a glass darkly

I have been using the tetrad (four sides) derived from Marshall & Eric McLuhan’s Laws of Media for several decades. I find it useful for examining emerging technologies, beyond the hype. For example, according to Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology at the University of Toronto, the Laws of Media state that every new medium (or technology in the broader sense of the word):

• extends a human property (the car extends the foot);

• obsolesces the previous medium by turning it into a sport or an form of art (the automobile turns horses and carriages into sports);

• retrieves a much older medium that was obsolesced before (the automobile brings back the shining armour of the chevalier);

• flips or reverses its properties into the opposite effect when pushed to its limits (the automobile, when there are too many of them, create traffic jams, that is total paralysis)

Here is what that tetrad could look like. (more…)