Friday, November 4, 2011

As We May Think - And the World's Waking Up

As We May Think, first published by Vannevar Bush in The Atlantic Monthly in 1945, is a mind-blowing work of prognostication on the future potential of technology. Bush reminds me very much of Ray Kurzweil who in many ways is the futurist/technology profit of our times. It's interesting to think that Vannevar Bush's conceptualization of the Memex as a collective memory machine was in part inspired by the horrors of war. I have often thought about mankind's pattern of generational wars in this way. It's as if each successive generation loses the memories of the previous generation and feels instead the barbaric impulse for war that is endemic to our mammalian nature. This leads more or less directly to the thought that if we, as a society, had a collective memory machine then horrible apocalyptic wars, such as WWI and WWII, would not be possible, (since the current generation would remember all the terrible lessons of the previous generation, and so on).

Vannevar Bush anticipated the Internet and the World Wide Web as well as hypertrext, computers, speech recognition and Wikipedia. All have come into being with greater or lesser efficacy and usefulness for people. But have these tools given rise to a collective memory that will end all wars? These technologies have taken strides in this direction, one might argue. The world is connected in a way never before seen in human history. But we're in an experimental phase. Consider Julian Assange leaking all those top secret cables. This creates a world of open information but it also creates fissures in the fabric of world order that can be exploited--it's unclear whether such actions lead to a safer or a more dangerous world. Ray Kurzweil, our Vannevar Bush, envisions the singularity, the downloading of our brains, our merging with machines, and the world's waking up. Based on the unlikely success of Bush's ideas, have we any reason to doubt Kurzweil's?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Information Fatigue

The term “information fatigue” was first coined in the 1990s by British psychologist, David Lewis. But as history shows us, people have been complaining about information overload for thousands of years.

The topic is explored in Harvard historian, Ann Blair, in her latest book, “Too Much to Know.” Dr. Blair reveals through sources that humans have been feeling overwhelmed by the accumulation of knowledge in encoded form—as a scroll, as a handwritten codex, as a typeset book—basically since the moment these technologies created gluts of information. James Gleick traces the history of information technology and computer science in his book, “The Information,” about which he says in an interview on the Bat Segundo Show:

Gleick: …I’m hesitating to call it “problem” of information overload, of information glut — is not as new a thing as we like to think. Of course, the words are new. Information glut, information overload, information fatigue.
Correspondent: Information anxiety.
Gleick: Information anxiety. That’s right. These are all expressions of our time.

The question that really intrigues me is how to deal, as a modern human, with the double-edge sword of information ubiquity. On the one hand, this is what human beings have always craved, since the Stone Ages, when information was very hard to come by and major world-changing ideas came along only once every few thousand years. Nowadays, via the network effect, groundbreaking research is happening around the world, all the time. But on the other hand, though we live in a golden age of information availability, we don’t quite have the tools to deal with it, at least on an individual level. Personally, I think email is an example of a poorly designed and failed method of digital communications technology—simply the worst. We need information systems that truly work to enhance the individual and the society. 

The question becomes: how to have our cake and eat it too? (Or is the cake a lie?)

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Google "Sees" Me

I find this exercise very interesting because I teach a class at UW-Whitewater that I developed called Social Media Optimization and the New Web. One of the first things I ask students to do in this class is to Google themselves using a variety of modifiers, such as: Google Search your name, image search, video search, news search, add limiters such as “Wisconsin” or “Whitewater,” then try all these same techniques in Yahoo and in Bing, etc. Students are almost always weirded out by some the results they weren’t expecting. Often they’re disappointed to learn that they are the equivalent of cyber-ghosts, invisible to the web. In other words, they have no search visibility or social media influence. In building up my project, GameZombie TV, I used to search (or egosurf) “GameZombie” religiously, looking to improve the SEO and SMO of the project online. This assignment has given me the opportunity to egosurf myself, which I haven’t done in a while.

A social networking analysis of the term “Spencer Striker” returns a lot of results because I set virtually everything to public and have published content online for five years or so. I have linked tons of my social network profiles to my Google Profile which helps Google know which online identities are mine—it’s kind of like submitting your website to Google’s spider index: Google would have found it anyway, but this way there’s no ambiguity. SEO is still pretty imperfect, as I’m always totally frustrated by this image ad of a hammer that shows up when I search myself—it’s a hardware store bid on a “Spencer…Striker” hammer. Doh! And during image search, uploads to Google Plus show up as me, because they were uploaded by me, but of course they are not me—they are the subjects of the photos I have taken. This happens because Google is blind, and can only associate tagged words in an algorithmic attempt to generate relevancy. This tech will get better and better in the future and we should all keep an eye on how Google “sees” us.

Understanding Infrastructure: Dynamics, Tensions, and Design

For this week, I read the article called “Understanding Infrastructure: Dynamics, Tensions, and Design.” The article is in fact a “Report of a Workshop on “History & Theory of Infrastructure: Lessons for New Scientific Cyberinfrastructures,”” published in January of 2007 by the scholars, Paul Edwards, Steven Jackson, Geoffrey Bowker, and Cory Knobel. This report summarizes the findings of a workshop that took place in September of 2006 at the University of Michigan--a three-day National Science Foundation-funded “think tank,” so to speak, that brought together experts in social and historical studies of infrastructure development, domain scientists, information scientists, and NSF program officers. The goal was to distill “concepts, stories, metaphors, and parallels” that might help realize the NSF vision for scientific cyberinfrastructure.

To begin, this workshop and report on cyberinfrastructure is highly technical, so I will attempt to translate some of the work and findings that are directly relevant to our class, LIS 201: the Information Age, as presented by Professor Greg Downey. The authors utilize Steward Brand’s notion of the “clock of the long now” to remind us to step back and look at changes occurring before our eyes that are taking place on a slower scale than we are used to thinking about. Citing Brand, the authors argue that the development of our current cyberinfrastructure has occurred over the course of the past 200 years during which time an exponential increase in information gathering and knowledge workers on the one hand and the accompanying development of technologies to sort information on the other, has led to a “cyberinfrastructure.” Manuel Castells, a Spanish born and highly influential sociologist and communications researcher—whom Dr. Greg Downey mentioned in class—argued that the roots of contemporary “network society” are new organizational forms created in support of large corporations. While James Beniger—another scholar Professor Downey mentioned in class—described the entire period from the first Industrial Revolution to the present as an ongoing “control revolution.” As we have seen in class from such examples as the old corporate education films and Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” the control revolution describes the trend in society toward efficiency, commodification, compartmentalization, specialization, and of course control—of both information flow and how people carry out their work and lives. The authors ultimately define cyberinfrastructure as the set of organizational practices, technical infrastructure, and social norms that collectively provide for the smooth operation of science work at a distance. The cyberinfrastructure will collapse if any of those three pillars should fail.

I find this last thought particularly interesting because the very idea of a functioning modern cyberinfrastructure depends upon the implicit “buy in” or “cooperation” of the society. It reminds me of what the great biologist, E.O. Wilson once said, that if all the ants were suddenly removed from the world, our entire ecosystem and the world as we know it would collapse. The same is true of human beings’ presumed complicity with the rules, regulations, and norms that comprise our modern cyberworld—if we suddenly stopped playing by the rules, the whole house of cards would come crashing down.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Commodore 64 - and the fleetingness of cool

Love this retro video about the launch of the Commodore 64, originally broadcast in 1988.

"The Commodore 64 was the first computer for many families. This program looks at what you can do with the famous C-64. Demonstrations include The Wine Steward, Skate or Die, Strike Fleet, the Koala Pad, Master Composer, Tetris, and Berkeley Software's GEOS. Includes a visit to a Commodore Owners Users Group meeting and an interview with Max Toy President of Commodore."

It's so interesting to me because I was a kid when the 64 came out and my family bought one. I vividly remember playing lots of different games on the system--thinking at the time that the system was such a huge improvement over the Atari 2600. Of primary relevance to the study of the Information Society is the phenomenon of rapid technological advancement demonstrated by the very campiness of this video in 2011. The ideas being introduced in this machine include the use of color, a more user-friendly graphical user interface, the ability to run basic programs as well as games, and a consumer-friendly price point. All of these elements of the computer are alive and well in the current market. But the music, the production value, and the corny way in which the hosts talk about cutting-edge computer elements like the Basic programming language and floppy disks reveals to the modern observer the fleetingness of being on the cutting edge.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Goals for the Course
C&I 600: Methods of Instruction w/ Technology
Dr. Michael Thomas
Spencer Striker

Goals for C&I 600 – Methods of Instruction With Technology

General Goal

I’m terribly excited about this course. I entered the PhD program at UW-Madison in Educational Communications & Technology in order to study on the deepest level the theory and practice of designing cutting edge 21st Century Learning Environments.

ELPA Core - Prereqs

In the Fall and Spring of 2009 - 2010, I satisfied my 12 credits worth of ‘deficiencies’ in the formal study of Education, by taking four courses in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, including an excellent class, ‘Financing Postsecondary Education,’ with former UW-Madison Chancellor, John Wiley. I enjoyed immersing myself in this ELPA core while simultaneously engaging hands-on with the development of the Media Arts & Game Development program at UW-Whitewater. My studies, discussions, and reflections in ELPA directly informed and complemented the types of administrative work I tackled at UWW, including program development, marketing, conflict resolution, resources allocation, and budgeting. My administrative service to the university included helping build the Advisory Board, helping build a 21st Century multimedia lab with a $100k lab modernization fund, and executing a social media optimization marketing campaign to build a community around the program.

While I enjoyed this work, I simultaneously learned more about myself, becoming more self-aware of my intrinsic fascinations and goals. In the end, I found it a welcome relief to begin my formal studies in the area of Ed Tech, this being the area that drew me to study at UW-Madison in the first place.

Designer of 21st Century Learning Environments

To be totally honest, I have been looking for a clear definition of what I want to achieve/be in the world. My Master’s Thesis at Indiana University, GameZombie TV, has proven a pretty darn successful project, all things considered. Bragging points include: millions of video views around the world, hundreds of students positively impacted, and four Webby Awards. But I must consider where this work stands in terms of a larger agenda, a bigger mission and purpose. I always wanted to keep GZ in the university—it has always been my instinct. Though we positioned the web video studio to achieve escape velocity from the university, perhaps my unconscious yearning to keep the project connected to academia prevailed.

Now I find my propensity for hard work pushed to the max, but in a good way. My core commitments include: PhD student in Ed Tech at UW-Madison, faculty in MAGD at UWW, and Exec Producer of GameZombie TV, (which is now run simultaneously out of Wisconsin and Indiana). But in the big picture I see these three threads cleanly converging on the single purpose of becoming a leading designer of cutting edge 21st Century Learning Environments.

Expertise in the Field of ECT

The most obvious goal I have for the course is to develop my formal expertise of the field, building mastery of ECT’s key works and primary themes. Beyond this, I want to zero in on important, unanswered research questions that I can attack. I’d like to formulate a preliminary dissertation thesis as well as begin deep research of the topic and resource organization. The two topics I have most seriously considered are:

  • how multimedia technologies and immersion are affecting the way we think, work, and live
  • and the successful development and implementation of project-based digital multimedia learning environments.

Conferences, Journals, Grants, CV
Critically, I would like to begin to attend the important Ed Tech conferences around the country, read the most important journals, (and begin to develop works for publication), as well as research and develop grants, (both for my doctoral studies and my applied work at UWW). I would also like to remaster my CV—and web presence—repositioning myself as a scholar/designer of Ed Tech. I would like to do all of this while remaining sane and not damaging my body by too often neglecting sleep. I’m teaching five classes at UWW, (all of which I have personally developed), taking two classes at UW-Madison, and overseeing GameZombie in two states. I’m living and working in a liminal zone where I honestly don’t know if I can deliver the goods, but the challenge is the type of masochism that puts hair on your chest and makes you stronger, in the Nietzschean sense of the word.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Circulations In & Out of Virtual Worlds

Lesson 8: Circulations In & Out of Virtual Worlds
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker

Assignment Due: Write a reworking of the issue of “transfer” of learning in relation to MMO gaming based on these two articles:

• Malaby, T. M. (2006). Parlaying value: Capital in and beyond virtual worlds. Games & Culture, 1(2), 141-162.

• Leander, K. & Lovvorn, J. (2006). Literacy networks: Following the circulation of texts and identities in the schooling and online gaming of one youth. Cognition & Instruction. 24(3), 291-340.

Trust in Bytes

In June of 2008 Mr. and Mrs. Bungarz got married in a modest wedding in Canada, two years after they started dating in Second Life. Their synthetic world wedding was far larger and more ambitious than their real-life wedding. In the process of ‘transfer’ from the virtual realm to the real one, the young couple became subject to a different set of constraints, different rules of the world—perhaps not better or worse, just different. In 2009, Cory Doctorow launched his novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, in the world of Second Life. He created virtual copies, gave a virtual interview, and signed virtual books for fans. Doctorow is a proponent of Chris Anderson’s theory of ‘Free’—an economic theme of the new web in which giving away products and services for no direct monetary exchange facilitates the ability to make potentially more money via alternate, tertiary means. In this case, Doctorow transferred his real world social capital into cultural capital via his magnanimity and originality, transferable into prestige and indirectly transferrable into increased revenue from book sales and speaking engagements down the road—virtual or otherwise.

Every morning in the United States, there are people who wake up, eat their Cheerios, make their way to their office desk, fire up their computer, and kill people halfway around the world utilizing gaming technology, secure satellite imagery, and the latest predator drones. These remote operators of unmanned killing machines balance a fine line between the real and the virtual, transferring all their skills for detached manipulation of graphics on a screen—representing objects thousands of miles away—into real world death and destruction. After work, they drive home from the theatre of combat to their suburban homes and have dinner with their families.

People are already used to the idea of purchasing goods that we durably own but that are intangible—such as ringtones downloaded from the web or movies purchased from iTunes. In either case, we must trust that these invisible bytes for which we have exchanged our real world hard earned dough—money which is itself also a manifestation of social trust—are actually ours, irrevocably, and not subject to random seizure or deletion by Big Brother. The concept of transferring different types of value (or destruction) from the real world to the synthetic world and back again has numerous ongoing precedents and will likely accelerate and complicate in the future. Consider, for example, the coming rise of virtual sex, as prognosticated by futurist Ray Kurzweil. He believes that in twenty years people will enjoy synthetic sex better than real world sex because it will be enhanced, custom-designed, and complication-free, ie. devoid of unwanted pregnancy or the spread of infectious disease. The question of whether a virtual affair constitutes infidelity will no doubt be negotiated.

The Tao of the Don

As developed by Thomas Malaby, synthetic worlds—such as MMOs—are likely to proliferate in the coming years, becoming increasingly interchangeable with our real world via the exchange of market capital, social capital, and cultural capital. Regarding synthetic world economies, the question arises: with so little ‘overhead’ for commodities, how can market value become established? People will pay whatever they think something is worth. Value, therefore, arises organically out of human systems of agreed upon rates of exchange which in turn arise from how much people really want something and how hard it is to get, (determined by scarcity, artificial or otherwise). Consider great works of art. Is an original Van Gogh painting really worth tens of millions of dollars? Would you pay that much? Would I? But the fact is that somebody will pay that much, and therefore, that’s how much it’s worth. The value of exchange is in constant negotiation. Gold and diamonds, two of the real world’s most valuable commodities, have little intrinsic worth. Their value exists only in the imagination of the market economy, a system built on agreed upon rules, much like the World of Warcraft or Second Life.

“Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter's wedding day,” said Don Corleone, the master of using social capital as a resource, leveraging reciprocity. When the Don does you a favor, he implicitly implies a moral obligation on your part. He creates a web of indebtedness, thereby elevating his position in the tribe. We see this same behavior going on in MMOs, whereby for example an elite player may present lots of value to less experienced players, offering weapons, gold, and hard earned information, but by accepting such help, n00bs sign a social contract whereby they find themselves entering into a form of moral debt.
So, what happens to your avatar when you die? We’ve already seen this phenomenon in Facebook, where the social page of the deceased is handled according to recently designed rules. The page can only be taken down by Facebook after verification by a family member or loved one. But the bereaved maintain the option to keep the page alive, transforming it into a memorial for the dead, one that transfers the social and cultural capital of the deceased between the worlds of the living and the dead—the real and the virtual.

Engaging a Sociotechnical Array

Leander and Lovvorn draw on the Actor Network Theory and the everyday literacy practices of one youth, Brian, to illustrate how literacy practices involve the circulation of diverse ‘actants’ postulating that space-time dimension of different literacy networks have direct relevance to understanding literacy engagement, agency, and identity. For Brian, the movements and positions of texts in activity demonstrate means of interpreting literacy related to engagement, agency, and identity. Movements and position of texts in circulation demonstrate greater text/object and text/body hybridity in Star Wars Galaxies vs. during his history notes routine, including more unpredictable rhythms of engagement and cycling speeds, enabling increased hybridization.

Brian interprets a far more complex and engaging sociotechnical array when playing the SWG and he has a stronger sense of how his work on the game results in his accumulation of market, cultural and social capital--he’s constantly advancing and leveling up. In history and English class, he cannot see the end in sight. The notion of ‘getting into to college and doing well in life’ is too vague and cosmic for the young man, too ethereal. He cannot see how his history projects can be exchanged for another kind of value or capital after they have been translated to a grade. His project just goes to the bottom of the pile to die. In the world of SWG, Brian produced and shared image files, read discussion boards, chatted with other players inside and outside of the virtual world and sent bug reports to the developers. Refining and implementing the robust tools of engagement of the virtual gaming world into the classroom could cause Brian to enjoy school more and get smarter faster. For example, students could be awarded points and level up, transferring a popular and motivating game element to the real world.