Beliefs

When I was 25, I believed that the anonymity of online discussions would allow the exchange of ideas without prejudice, and raise the level of human discourse. I’d been communicating online for five or six years. The web was brand new. Most of the forums were text based. There was lots of Usenet and mailing lists. And it didn’t matter who you were or where you were from. We didn’t judge people based on skin color or physical attributes or handicaps. We couldn’t see those things. Your ideas stood on their own merits.

snakeoilI remember teaching middle school kids about this wonderful world where stereotypes and pre-judgement were relics from a more primitive time. I even did some original research around anonymity in online discussion forums. The hypothe

sis was that students were more likely to engage in deeper conversations online if their real identities were unknown to the other participants (but known to the moderator). The result was that there was no significant difference.

And the civil discourse didn’t really happen either. There were flame wars before there were trolls. Sometimes it’s fun to push someone’s buttons. It’s fun to wind up the toy and let it go. As it turns out, the lack of accountability that goes along with anonymity can bring out the worst in people. And it doesn’t take many of those people to destroy reasoned, civil discourse.


 

When I was 35, I believed that the democratization of the means of dissemination would give voice to the voiceless, and allow more perspectives to be heard. Those are big words. Let me put it more simply: everyone is a publisher. Even the relatively simple process of setting up a web site and having access to a global audience had become MUCH easier with the advent of weblogs and wikis. It really did become easy for anyone to publish anything and reach an enormous audience.

We were no longer shackled by the editors and publishers and news outlets that controlled the means of publication. I can say whatever I want (and I did). I set up news feeds and RSS links and all kinds of stuff to tune in to these alternative sources of information. Chris Anderson came up with his Long Tail idea. There’s room for everyone’s ideas on the Internet. You don’t have to figure out whether it’s worth the investment to publish something, because publishing is basically free.

But the movement away from a few broadcasters has led to misinformation, fake news, and the breakdown of such fundamental concepts as “truth” and “fact”. For every opinion, there is an equal and opposite opinion, and in the interest of fairness and equal time, we give voice to the crazy. Now, we have people who are intentionally destroying their own credibility, because they can’t be held accountable for their words if it can easily be proven that they’re lying most of the time. So we use words like “alternative fact” and “believe” a lot more than we used to, and we’ve lost touch with ideas like trustworthy and authoritative.


 

When I was 45, I believed that technology could save public education. Technology would allow differentiation and authentic assessment in ways that previous generations could only dream of. Every student would have an individualized plan, and the learning activities would be tailored by a caring, intelligent, and perspicacious teacher. Students would have some flexibility to explore topics and ideas that interest them, and they would complete projects, conduct original research, and produce deliverables that demonstrated their learning in novel ways. Along the way, they would learn to collaborate, express their creativity, and communicate effectively in a variety of media. They would apply innovative thinking strategies to take ideas and concepts from different disciplines and combine them in new ways to solve challenging real-world problems. And all of this would happen in public schools using best practices, innovative teaching strategies, and cutting edge resources that would be unmatched by the private/online/charter/alternative schools.

So we worked through all of the challenges. We put devices into all students’ hands. We built the infrastructure to make the technology work reliably and efficiently. We spent years on professional development. We talked a lot about assessment and homework and learning activities. We focused on the importance of portfolios and depth of knowledge and learning standards. And then we bought document cameras so teachers could help students complete worksheets as a class.


 

I wonder what I’ll believe when I’m 55.

 

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons.

Collateral Damage

We are all perfectionists. We want everything to be perfect before we share it. We are paralyzed by a need for perfection, and it keeps us from getting anything done.

We should be more like the big tech companies. Start with a big idea. Spend a little bit of time getting the basic idea formed. Then, release it. Get feedback on it. Refine it as you go along. Your customers will tell you what’s working and what’s not working. They will show you where the innovative and interesting pieces are, and you can devote more time and energy to that.

This guy uses the metaphor “Ready, Fire, Aim”:

To quote:

Most people know the phrase like “ready, aim, fire.” You get your gun, you figure out. You make sure it’s in the right spot, and then you fire. But I like to do “ready, fire, aim,” where it’s like I think of what it is I want to do, I put a couple hours… into it. I fire. And then after, I make adjustments.

Let’s set aside the horrific metaphor, and the irresponsibility of firing a weapon indiscriminately with the idea of maybe accidentally hitting the target. If we ever enact common sense firearms legislation, maybe one of the provisions can be that this guy can’t have a gun.

What if I’m doing this as a software designer? Using this philosophy, I write a basic application without spending very much time or thought on it. After all, doing some design and planning seems like actual work, and I don’t have the time or motivation for that. I send my half-baked application out into the world with a ton of marketing hype promising that it does the stuff I thought about but didn’t actually implement. If people start using it, they quickly notice that it sucks, and they tell me. Now, I try to patch some holes and make it a little better so it doesn’t suck so much.  I release an update, and I get more feedback, and we keep going through this cycle. The approach is to try to spend as little time and energy as possible, just enough to get people to use it without complaining so much. If there are problems with performance or security, we can just blame those on other hardware or software. If there are features that don’t work, we can just say it’s a project in active development. If there are are bugs or data gets corrupted, it must be a compatibility problem.

The result is software that barely works and has to be constantly updated. We’ll make the end user responsible for that too, and create a culture where people are afraid to not install updates. We’ll write a license agreement that disclaims any liability for the software or any damage it may cause.

I’m tired of being the collateral damage. I’m tired of beta testing everyone’s software. I’m tired of being the bad guy for not installing every update and security patch the minute it’s released. Maybe we should spend a little less trigger-happy time firing, and just a few seconds aiming first.

Video credit: Rob Dial on Youtube.

Flickred Out

I just deleted my photos from Flickr. There were 10,457 of them. They told me that I can only have 1,000, so they were going to start automatically deleting them in a couple weeks. I saved them the trouble.

7768539330_770b9098c5_zI guess I don’t really have much right to be upset. I’ve been using the service for free for the last five or six years, ever since the retooling by Yahoo in 2013 made the Pro service useless. Before that, I had been a Pro member since joining the service in 2009. I could have gone back to being a Pro member. It’s probably worth the money. But I never seriously considered it.

It’s not like this is the first online service to change their terms. I hardly even noticed when Delicious shut down. Ning went pro years ago. Wikispaces shuttered last year. Elgg…. Remember Elgg? Nah, I didn’t think so. I guess I’m that old. Web 2.0 was built by companies. Those companies, ultimately, were supposed to make money. A few of them did. Most did not. A lot of them were bought by larger companies, which themselves were bought or sold or re-organized. It’s a messy business.

So Flickr was purchased by Yahoo and then Yahoo was purchased by Verizon and reorganized into Oath and ultimately sold to SmugMug. Regardless of who owns them, though, they have to make money. There are several ways to do that. They can charge subscription fees so people can upload and store photos on their site. They can add advertising, so viewers of the site see ads. They can partner with other services, like photo printing or custom branding. And when one approach doesn’t work, they are certainly free to change their terms and revise the strategies and try to continue to exist. I don’t have a problem with that.

But the current policy, announced a couple months ago, says that the 1 TB storage limit is going away. Instead, you can have up to 1,000 photos. In my case, I was using 14 gb (1.4% of the old limit), but had 10,000 photos (1000% of the new limit). So I can start paying for a premium account, or they’ll helpfully delete my old photos for me.

That’s the part that really bothers me. Fine. If you want to limit me, don’t let me upload any more photos until I upgrade or remove some. Maybe reduce the resolution that people can download or set other restrictions on how the content can be used. Add advertising to my photo albums if you have to. But don’t delete my content. There’s something very permanent and irresponsible about that. The content is mine. I’m just letting you use it.

The old saying is if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. It’s a bargain we’ve largely agreed to in this online world. But if you’re going to delete my stuff because it’s not making enough money for you, then you can’t have it.

So I need somewhere else to put my photos online. Or maybe I don’t. Does the world really care about the photos of my kids and vacations? Probably not.

 

Photo credit: Extinguished, by Earl on (ironically) Flickr.