I enjoyed reading (December)

reading outsideI’m going to try something new on this blog. At the end of every month I’ll write a short post highlighting the things I particularly enjoyed reading. I found that simply pushing them into a Twitter or Google+ feed would tend to obfuscate them among all of the other things that I wanted to point out to people. I guess this post is a way to say, “Of all the things I read this month, these are the ones I enjoyed the most”. I’m not trying to summarise everything I read, just present a small sampling. I’ll try it out for a few months and see if I like the process.


The web we lost (Anil Dash). A look back over the past 5-10 years of social media and how things have changed, usually not for the better. In many instances, we’re actually worse off now than we were before the rise of the new social platforms. He talks about how we’re progressively losing control of our online identities, of the content we create and share (and which makes those platforms as powerful as they are), and lost sight of the values that actually led to the development of the web in the first place. Here’s a quote from the end of the article:

I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.

The first step to disabusing them of this notion is for the people creating the next generation of social applications to learn a little bit of history, to know your shit, whether that’s about Twitter’s business model or Google’s social features or anything else. We have to know what’s been tried and failed, what good ideas were simply ahead of their time, and what opportunities have been lost in the current generation of dominant social networks.

Update: Here’s a follow up post from Anil on Rebuilding the web we lost.


Mobile Learning, Non-Linearity, Meaning-Making (Michael Sean Gallagher). What I liked most about this post is the suggestion, presented below, that the true power of “mobile” is that it transforms every space into a potential learning space.

They refer to the ‘habi­tus’, the sit­u­at­ed locale of the indi­vid­ual. Yet the locale doesn’t define the learn­ing per se as the process of mobile learn­ing trans­forms the habi­tus into a learn­ing space. Tools, con­tent, and com­mu­ni­ty are recon­struct­ed to allow for meaning-making. Turn­ing the envi­ron­ment in which we hap­pen to find our­selves into an envi­ron­ment for learn­ing. Mobile tech­nol­o­gy assists in bring­ing these ele­ments into con­junc­tion, an orga­niz­ing agent in this process. But it is real­ly about the trans­for­ma­tion. From space to learn­ing space. From noise to mean­ing.


Arm Teachers? (Tom Whitby). When I first read about the suggestions to arm teachers, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, I dismissed it as ridiculous without even considering it. What I liked about this post from Tom is that instead of just dismissing the suggestion out of hand, he follows it through to some logical conclusions. I realised that his approach does far more to systematically dismantle the argument than simply rejecting it.


The demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark (Carl Sagan). Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. Few people have done as much as he did to bring a sense of wonder about the world, to the public. This book is an exploration of scientific thinking over the past few centuries, highlighting the many areas where a lack of this critical approach to the world has led to a stumbling of our species. Think of the hysteria of witch-burning, UFO abductions, racism and all the other instances where a lack of critical thought has brought so much suffering and misunderstanding about the world. This book should be required reading for everyone.


The robot teachers (Stephen Downes). Stephen argues against the idea of universities and higher education in general as a system designed to maintain division between a cultural elite and everyone else. He suggests that the solution is not to open up those institutions (i.e. MIT, Harvard, etc.) but to build a better system outside of them.

We must develop the educational system outside the traditional system because the traditional system is designed to support the position of the wealthy and powerful. Everything about it – from the limitation of access, to the employment of financial barriers, to the creation of exclusive institutions and private clubs, to the system of measuring impact and performance according to economic criteria, serves to support that model. Reforming the educational system isn’t about opening the doors of Harvard or MIT or Cambridge to everyone – it’s about making access to these institutions irrelevant. About making them an anachronism, like a symphony orchestra, or a gentleman’s club, or a whites only golf course, and replaced with something we own and build for everyone, like punk music, a skateboard park, or the public park.