Whatever happened between “Me” and “You”?
It was easy to understand our relationship in the beginning. It was what I like to think of as “a giant romance of primitive life and unfettered love” - a "Me Tarzan, you Jane" kind of thing.
Me: (pointing to herself) Consumer.
You: (he points at her) Consumer.
Me: And you? (she points at him) You?
You: (stabbing himself proudly in the chest) Producer, Producer.
Me: (emphasizing his correct response) Producer.
You: (poking back and forth each time) Consumer. Producer. Consumer. Producer...
With apologies to Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932)
I gave you money for the goods and services you produced - “Me Consumer, you Producer.”
We still have “a giant romance of primitive life and unfettered love” but now instead of Me: (pointing to herself) Consumer….You: (stabbing himself proudly in the chest) Producer, Producer… there is a Me (producer) You (consumer) kind of thing going on.
Web 2.0 means I produce my own content and you, well you (and the other wannabe manipulators of the cloud) become the consumer. You don’t care about the quality or integrity of what I produce it is enough that I broadcast content, for by taking control of the distribution channels, and using the information I produce, you profit. You are Google, Apple, Amazon … and the rest.
It is a simple relationship where you leverage off my activity. And the more I/me can produce the more profit you generate – so you work hard to make production easy and attractive for me and the students I teach.
"The more links we click, pages we view, and transactions we make, the more intelligence the Web makes, the more economic value it gains, and the more profit it throws off." Carr 2008 cited in Lovink 2010.
In the educational world I inhabit the “me” do not question your generosity, we do not pause to ask why you shower us with so many applications and services. We love you big time – we love your work – we love what you do. In the guise of e-learning we not only use your production tools, feed your clouds, and encourage our students to do likewise, we also worship what you provide.
Watching the activities of edu-bloggers and self proclaimed elearning experts online it is a little like watching the ouroboros consuming its own tail. In a strange act of self-worship we use your production tools to worship your production tools. In a testimony of our faith in you we create edu_blog posts on “Ten best XXX apps for educators”, we enshrine your apps in purpose built displays and descriptions in edu_wikis, and we upload video to explain how to use your apps and production tools.
In the educational world we are your fevered but reverent producers. You, well you must know where you stand in this relationship.
Web 2.0 has three distinguishing features: it is easy to use; it facilitates the social element; and users can upload their own content in whatever form, be it pictures, videos or text. It is all about providing users with free publishing and production platforms. The focus on how to make a profit from free user−generated content came in response to the dotcom crash. Geert Lovink MyBrain.net The colonization of real−time and other trends in Web 2.0
Web 2.0 has changed more than our me you relationship – Web 2.0 has changed me. I am no longer the same me – I am no longer a privileged node in a network – I am no longer in charge – my me is blurred – With Web 2.0 I am a me that is part of a centralised infrastructure that is you – and you identify me and profit from, every click I/me make –
With Web 2.0 I am a “controlled and manipulated” me.
With Web 2.0 I am a “commodified” me.
Being commodified is an odd sensation – it makes me wonder about the temporal me.
Am I more me at some times than others? And if so when am I most me?
This feels like a vampiric question or even a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde thing.
With Web 2.0 it seems I am me in the present more than I am me in the past. The information I am encouraged to produce focuses on knowing me in real time not me in any past time.
You - the controller of the centralised infrastructure – the clouds and the data streams – have an insatiable appetite for “the real-time data” me. And this valuing of the real time data me privileges the present.
The pacemaker of the real−time Internet is "microblogging", but we can also think of the social networking sites and their urge to pull as many real−time data out of its users as possible: "What are you doing?" Give us your self−shot. "What's on your mind?" Expose your impulses. Frantically updated blogs are part of this inclination, as are frequently updated news sites. The driving technology behind this is the constant evolution of RSS feeds, which makes it possible to get instant updates of what's happening elsewhere on the web. The proliferation of mobile phones plays a significant background role in "mobilizing" your computer, social network, video and photo camera, audio devices, and eventually also your TV. The miniaturization of hardware combined with wireless connectivity makes it possible for technology to become an invisible part of everyday life. Web 2.0 applications respond to this trend and attempt to extract value out of every situation we find ourselves in. The Machine constantly wants to know what we think, what choices we make, where we go, who we talk to. Geert Lovink MyBrain.net The colonization of real−time and other trends in Web 2.0 2010 http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2010-03-18-lovink-en.html
Asking “when am I me?” makes me realise that as a real-time me, I am an uncomplicated me, a me trapped in the present. This me is a product of a Simon Schama like “machine driven universe”. You know me by my most recent keyboard interactions with the screen
"For if the entire history of landscape in the West is indeed just a mindless race toward a machine-driven universe, uncomplicated by myth, metaphor, and allegory, where measurement, not memory, is the absolute arbiter of value, where our ingenuity is our tragedy, then we are indeed trapped in the engine of our self-destruction." Simon Schama Landscape and Memory Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995 http://www.amazon.com/Landscape-Memory-Simon-Schama/dp/0679735127
Who is the real-time me?
The real-time me is the real “real-time me”. There is no place anymore for an alternative me; no space for the virtual “real-time me”. The “controllers of the cloud”, the “new overlords of the distribution channels”, want the real “real time me”. They have no time for an alternative me – the Artichoke me, they want only the real me. The new relationship between me and you values the old order, the existing power hierarchies’ of gender, race and position.
We constantly login, create profiles in order to present our "selves" on the global market place of employment, friendship and love. We can have multiple passions but only one certified ID. Trust is the oil of global capitalism and the security state, required by both sides in any transaction or exchange. In every rite de passage, the authorities must trust us before they let both our bodies and information through. The old idea that the virtual is there to liberate you from your old self has collapsed. Geert Lovink MyBrain.net The colonization of real−time and other trends in Web 2.0 2010
And when I give you information about the real time me I give you control and power. I give you an enduring digital memory of me that acts as both a spatial and temporal panopticon.
If Orwell was right, and … “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Then by becoming a producer in your Web2.0 world I have given you control over my past, my present and my future.
And I am so excited by the ability to upload my own content and report on whatever I am thinking or doing in a real time stream of content that I neglect to interrogate the consequences. What does it mean when I give up control and power, when I become part of someone else’s content stream, when I offer all that I do and think as an enduring digital memory? What does it mean when I encourage my students to act in the same way?
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger has explored some potential responses to the challenges of this new relationship, the challenges of an enduring digital memory in “Delete. The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”.
The first four chapters of”Delete” book focus on the consequences of failing to forget. They are well argued and although this is a topical issue for many Web 2.0 commentators Mayer-Schönberger introduced insights, ideas and content that were new to me. His thinking around the role of remembering provided a far deeper analysis and critique of the topic than Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell managed to collect in their book “Total Recall – How the e-memory revolution will change everything.” Bell and Gemmell offer valorising description; in contrast Mayer-Schönberger offers critical analysis of the causes and consequence of remembering everything. How remembering everything overload me with information, information that impairs my ability to reason, information I would be better off forgetting.
Delete is by far the more interesting read.
The last two chapters of “Delete” – Chapter V “Potential responses”, and Chapter VI “Re-introducing Forgetting” best captured my attention.
Mayer-Schönberger has a useful categorisation of responses to living with an enduring digital memory. So useful in fact that I spent a happy hour creating a CMap that used his classification to explore these in the context creating enduring digital memories through student eportfolios – an enduring affection of educators and one that I have been hearing about at edu_conferences since 2002. I could equally have explored the huge amount of data schools collect on their students and their families.
Mayer-Schönberger clarifies that when we increase the amount of information about ourselves and our students in digital memory we risk:
1. Loss of control and power over the information we place online.
2. Exposing student information and data in a digital panopticon (both spatial and temporal) where selective pieces of their information and data are under surveillance to people, and for purposes and times we have little to no control over.
3. Overloading with information we are better off forgetting, information that impairs reasoning.
What I enjoyed most was his interrogation of seven suggested responses to the challenges arising from the creation of enduring digital content. My notes describing each of the categories are included below – you will have to read the chapters to fully appreciate the critique.
Responding to the challenges of an enduring digital memory
The Relationship Responses:
Three of Mayer- Schönberger’s responses are based around the individual and relationships. He explores ways in which the individual can decrease the flow of information between one person and another – between me and you. And critiques the potential success of each.
Responses framed around
1. Social Norms and Individual Self Control
Firstly an individual’s power to decrease the flow of information could arise through mechanisms of social norms and individual self control. Personal behavioural change – Mayer- Schönberger refers to this as digital abstinence. So once educators and students appreciate “the implications of abandoning forgetting when digitising information we will stop providing information to others and digital memory of these outcomes will cease to exist.
2. Formal Laws
Secondly an individual’s power to decrease the flow of information could arise through mechanisms of formal laws. These information privacy rights would afford students “with a legally recognised claim over their personal information, thereby empowering them to maintain information control on whether and how the information is shared.” This would include a Purpose Limitation Principle whereby “the recipient of the personal information can only use it for the purposes to which you consented and no others”.
Thirdly an individual’s power to decrease the flow of information could arise through mechanisms of architecture – through a Digital Privacy Rights Infrastructure. Mayer-Schönberger argues that a Digital Rights Management (DRM) infrastructure similar to that developed for information in the context of copyright (movies, music, games, digital books) is used in the context of forgetting any personal information. Your personal data is paired with meta-information about who can use it and how. Media players check this meta information and refuse to play information content if usage is not appropriately authorised. Individuals could add meta data to their personal information detailing who can use it for what purpose and for what price.
Mayer-Schönberger notes this would require laws to prevent reverse engineering, requiring surveillance to protect us from surveillance – we create a panopticon to protect us from a panopticon.
The Cognition, Decision Making and Time Responses:
Responses framed around
1. Social Norms and Individual Self Control
Here Mayer-Schönberger suggests reducing the amount of information in digital memory by mechanisms of social norms and individual self control. He suggests that Cognitive adjustment at the cultural level will let us disregard old facts and information. We will accept that people change and pay heed to only the recent online.
2. Formal Laws
The formal laws approach could be used to reduce the amount of information in digital memory if we introduce an Information Ecology that allows for deliberate regulatory constraint of “what information can be collected, stored and thus remembered by who and for how long. However, Mayer-Schönberger notes that recent trends have seen a loosening of existing constraints on information in digital memory rather than a tightening and increasing calls for transparency legislation to fight corruption both of which would compromise this response.
The technological response to limiting the amount of digital content online made me smile. It suggests a Gordon Bell like experience but with one notable difference the Gordon Bell like content collected is shared with everyone. So we limit the negatives of storing content online by increasing the amount of information in digital memory. This proposal identifies that it is not digital memory per se that is the problem – it is the selective nature of this digital memory that compromises us. “When everything is transparent surveillance loses its power.”
The Re-Introducing Forgetting Response.
Mayer-Schönberger’s proposal for re-introducing forgetting
by “making forgetting just a tiny bit easier than remembering” is elegant –
both simple and powerful in its scope.
By prompting the user to set expiration dates each time they save and
upload information and information bits - content, detail, comments - to
digital memory they confront users with the problem. I enjoyed Mayer-Schönberger’s
analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of re-introducing forgetting (for
example, it fails to address privacy concerns). When the control remains with
the producer of the content, and we shift the default back from retaining
information forever to forgetting it after different time periods we restore something
of what it is to live well with technology, we restore what it is to be human. We allow a giant romance of primitive life and unfettered love to continue.