Neil Postman on Technology and Society

PostmanAtCarverFrom a presentation on 1998/02/07 at Calvin College, via YouTube (thanks to George Siemens for pointing this video out!)

when looking at any technology, (at least) 6 questions are important:

  1. “What is the problem to which this is the solution?”
  2. “Whose problem is it?”
  3. “Suppose we solve this problem, and solve it decisively. What new problems might be created because we have solved the problem?”
  4. “Which people, and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?”
  5. “What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies, and what is being gained and lost by such changes?”
    • (eg. “community” and “conversation” have changed meaning wrt internet)
    • “conversation” – “email isn’t a conversation, it’s just 2 guys typing messages to each other.”
    • “community” – on internet, people of similar interests. traditionally, people who do not necessarily have similar interests, but who must negotiate and accommodate their differences for the sake of social harmony.
  6. “What sort of people and institutions acquire special economic and political power because of technological change?”
    • the transformation of a technology into a medium – the exploitation of a technology – always results in a realignment of power.
    • eg. television gives power to some, while depriving others.
    • media entrepreneurs are the most radical force in culture.

“The answers one gives may have an ideological cast, but the questions [are universal].”

on openness, walled gardens, community, and ownership

1700kmI left a comment over on Andre’s great post on social media training wheels. Rereading the comment, I wanted to post it here as a fully-fledged blog entry.

We’re at a point where the exact tool selected really doesn’t matter very much anymore. Any of these communities can be built in pretty much any open source web platform. The key is that it’s open source, so it’s easily modifiable (or at least modification is _possible_), and the ownership of the software and community is located within the institution, rather than at a corporate headquarters.

That said, most of the most active communities on are closed to outsiders – walled gardens for use by the class. And I’m fine with that. The goal isn’t to publish content to the open internet. The goal is to engage students, in creation, discussion, and reflection. If they need a walled garden to do that effectively (and there are several excellent reasons for needing privacy for a community) then so be it. If they’d like to do it in the open, that’s just a checkbox on a settings page.

That option isn’t available for users of The Big Commercial LMS Platform. If it’s in an LMS, it’s closed. End of discussion. And people only gain experience in using the LMS, in farming for Maggie.