I found this comparison by Robin Wilton extremely thought-provoking. It’s correct as a statement about why we should treat these skills as fundamental to education. However it glosses over a number of differences and we should be cautious about the comparison:
While there are corporate interests involved in reading, writing and arithmetic they exercise less power in society at large than big tech
Connected to this is the fact that these corporate interests in no way control the infrastructure of reading, writing and arithmetic whereas big tech does, at least in a collective sense
The harms children face in their future use of reading, writing and arithmetic have no connection to the firms who produce instruments for these purposes, as opposed to big tech which is itself a source of the privacy harms it seeks to educate children about
"socialising children into digital agency" is a great phrase. It's the digital equivalent of "reading, writing and arithmetic", and needs to be every bit as fundamental to our concept of 21st century education. https://t.co/R2ii2iUnLX
This is the memorable phrase which James Williams uses on pg 114 of Stand Out of Our Light to describe proposals that platforms find technical solutions to the problem of ‘fake news’. It punchily conveys the ironic predicament that treating problems of ‘fakeness’ technically, as engineering challenges to be addressed by better calibrating information flow, kicks the can down the road. The only way to do this is to infer standards of reliability from user behaviour when it is the inability of those users to generate binding standards which generates the problem in the first place. Finding technical solutions to ‘fake news’ inevitably operationalises ‘fakeness’ in precisely the consensual terms that prophets of post-truth fulminate against.
A faith in dialogue pervades the academy, sometimes knowingly framed in terms of the potential of dialogue if only we could get it right. This seems obviously misplaced to me and I’d suggest two examples to justify this:
Online dialogue often gets worse with time rather than improving. Misunderstandings multiply, sides get taken and participants polarise. Some dialogues need to be cut short and others shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Specialised dialogues often get exclusionary with time, trading a collective focus for public marginality. An arcane vocabulary develops to manage interaction, enabling epistem gains while undermining attempts to translate insights into public action.
Stafford Beer was a leading figure in management cybernetics whose life and work spans a period of intellectual inquiry which draws in the leading figures from the origin of cybernetics through to practical interventions in organisations as diverse as British steel, Warburtons, the Canadian national health system and the Chilean economy under Salvadore Allende. Beer’s work is both polymathic and practical – he was an artist and poet who created machines, wrote childrens’ books and devised new graphical modelling techniques. The work gives us a way of addressing fundamental and ambitious questions about education: How do education systems work? What is teaching? What is conversation? What is the relationship between consciousness and learning?
In this session I will demonstrate the core principles of his approach to cybernetic modelling, from the concepts of “variety management”, “transduction” and “viable systems” to his later experiments with organisational decision-making which he called “syntegration” (documented in his 1994 book “Beyond Dispute”). This will be a practical session where participants will be invited to draw diagrams and explore his ideas using sound, pictures, multimedia and conversation.
There’s an interesting piece by Alastair Creelman in Elm Magazine on platform literacy and the collaborations which will be necessary to develop it as an agenda. While transnational initiatives have their value, their efficacy is likely to be dependent upon their mediation by professional stakeholders:
There are excellent guidelines and initiatives from the EU Commission aimed at raising awareness of media literacy issues and digital literacies in general but these need to be implemented at national level and downwards. Teachers need to work with other professions such as journalists, publishers, media specialists, librarians, researchers and civil servants to offer a wide range of training resources and arrange workshops, meetings and lectures focusing on media literacy.
Building the space for these collaborations is important work. But it is costly and requires resources, creating a temptation to accept support from wherever it can be found. However with tech firms increasingly effective in shaping the implementation of digital citizenship, even if a much broader conversation continues around it, the risk is that these spaces are captured to institutionalise an anaemic, individualised and instrumental citizenship devoid of platform literacy. The collaborations between professional groups described by Alastair Creelman could function as an important bulwark against this agenda and it is important that they resist co-option, even if it comes in the shiny and appealing guise of a friendly tech company bearing gifts.
This glorious passage by the composer Nico Muhly, reflecting on the different ways in which listeners can engage with the same piece of music, works just as well to describe the possibilities opened up by other forms of cultural design:
What is key for me about creating this sort of emotional and sonic architecture is the possibility of listeners having simultaneous but radically different experiences. Picture a relatively famous church somewhere in Northern Europe: you’ll find tourists there, ticking it off a long list of important sites, being vaguely underwhelmed by the frescoes. You’ll have a local worshipper, lighting a candle for a long deceased relative, you’ll have a verger going about his weekly maintenance, you’ll have a couple whose lifelong fantasy was to see this space in the springtime, you’ll have a Dutch art historian with a spooky and potentially kinky relationship with 16th-century depictions of the Annunciation. The building’s architecture allows each of these simultaneous experiences, and no one of them is more ‘correct’ or well informed or meaningful than the others. With music, I want each listener to feel an intensity inside the music, and I only want to provide a few suggestions about where to look for it.
Agency is always underdetermined by architecture. If designers have the ambition of dictating responses to their work, it will produce unintended consequences as people evade and retreat from their diktats. My hunch is that the underlying logic of the structure and agency question is sound but it needs to be adapted for participatory cultural forms such as these.