The future election takes off: finishing _Infomocracy_

And so we come to the end of Malka Older’s Infomocracy (all posts here).  All kinds of things happen in the novel’s second half, so if you haven’t read those chapters yet, be warned that here be spoilers.

Older, InformocracyOverall, I really enjoyed this novel.  It’s a very rich vision of a complex and transformed political world.  I’m also enjoying following the #Infomocracy Twitter hashtag.

For this post I’ll begin as ever with a quick plot summary, notes on the book’s world, then lit prof observations.  If you’d like to read previous posts and discussion, they’re right here.

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

1: The Plot 

The global election happens, but Information goes down, and skulduggery occurs, with all sides scrambling for advantage and/or democracy, and the election hacked and revised.  Mishima becomes even more of an action hero, Ken slides into working for a new employer, and Domaine gets in trouble.  A new Supermajority appears.

2: The Future World

So far Information has sounded like a mix of Google and Facebook plus all social media.  It also reminds me now of Wikipedia, with its massive amounts of human work, and their governance structure: “Information prides itself on its flat, consensus-based organization with no single person at the top of the hierarchy”… plus some emergent bureaucracy (315).

More political parties/governments: AfricanUnity (196), AlThani (must be drawn from this Qatari ruling house) (210).  We learn that SecureNation is “made up almost entirely of military personnel and their families” (261).

Interesting political details: the microdemocracy is still only 20 years old, meaning governments can target older voters who remember the previous world (ours) of nations and war (280). Powerful point about political transformation.  Felons can vote, even from jail (309) – how unAmerican.  We also learn that the transition from nations to centenals involved threats of nuclear war (333).

Climate change is doing its work: “The main Information hub for New York City is in the heart of the Bronx, which seemed inconvenient for many years until seawater started to eat away at the edges of Manhattan” (242).  The Maldive Islands are now known as “the Adapted Maldives” (268).

election-tokyo_tetsuo-shimizu

More technology: a healing pad applied to wounds which “rebuild[s] muscle” (201).  Crows are part of public transit (223), and we learn that they “are designed to fly at the lowest altitude possible that enables a straight line between the origin and destination” (230).   There is the Lumper, a device which “permanently disable[s] all metal firearms within its effective radius”, which seems to have disarmed the world in a huge way and maybe made the infomocracy happen (231).  Some teakettles are nuclear powered (284).

People can run diagnostics on their minds, yielding rich infographics about their personality (258).  Interesting security idea, a physical display: “complicated iridescent armbands that are nearl[ly] impossible to forge” (238).

We see people creatively use older technologies, or improvise new ones, when the internet goes down.  The Liberty centenals have their own local networks accessed by their own hardware (298).  Plus the retro telegraph (213)!

Design: people shape conference rooms to encourage certain behaviors, using a music of lighting, music, scent, and wind effects (245-6).  Interactive fiction has developed (333).  Food culture is interesting, largely vegetarian, plus a touch of insects for protein (335). Continue reading

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A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology

devil_gags9999In the dark and satirical spirit of Ambrose Bierce, I offer the first draft of a Devil’s Dictionary for educational technology terms.  May it entertain, and all be forgiven.

App, n.  An elegant way to avoid the World Wide Web.

Blended learning, n.  The practice of combining digital and analog teaching.  Also referred to as “teaching”, “learning”, and “the real world”.

Blogging, v.  The practice of writing to and interacting with an audience through an easy to use, automatically archiving tool.  A curiosity, which might be significant if every anyone used it.  Can be neatly buried by the LMS.

Competency-based education (CBE), n.  A tentative recognition that learning might occur outside of academia.  Obviously dangerous, and preferably reserved for the lower classes.

Digital native, n.  Student worker.

Engagement, n. That which everyone talks about but really does not know what it means. (thanks to Elena)

FERPA, n.  An excellent euphemism for the English word “no.” (See also “HIPAA”)

Gaming, n.  A massive cultural artifact shared by a huge swath of the human race, perhaps the most advanced integration of multimedia and storytelling, capable of teaching in fascinating ways.  Let us never speak of it again.

HIPAA, n.  A powerful synonym for the English phrase “no way”.  (See also “FERPA”)

Infographic, n.  An easy way to avoid reading and writing.

Interactive whiteboard, n.  A stylish but expensive alternative to paintings and wall hangings.

Lifelong learning, n.  An institution’s strategy for extracting money from alumni.  Also known as “development”.

LMS, n. 1) A document management system, whereby a faculty member can transfer a single document to his or her students.  Curiously overpowered for this purpose, nevertheless universally deployed.

2) A good way to avoid legal notices about copyright.

3)  The graveyard of pedagogical intentions.  A sump for IT budgets.

Luddite, n.  Someone who doesn’t study history, yet wants to inaccurately claim to be militantly anti-technology in one area when simultaneously relying heavily on technology in every other aspect of their lives.

Mobile, n.  1) Formerly The Great Peril, now known as That Which Must Be Shunned.  To be enabled with campus wifi, but dreaded in actual use, especially in classrooms.

2) A technology widely used by blacks, latinos, and poor people.  Someday we could think about starting to strategize about beginning to respond to this fact.

MOOC, n..  A high-profile and expensive way to put content on the World Wide Web.

Etymology is obscure; may draw on Massive Open Online Cult or Massively Open Otherworldly Course,  Can only be discussed as an American invention.

Open Education Resources, n.  A flexible and low cost way for students to access and produce content, while engaging faculty creativity and providing multiple class options.  Faculty are unaware of it.  Further study at some point in the future could be considered.

RIAA, n.  A friendly and major stakeholder in campus technology decision-making.

Shadow IT department, n.  A mysterious alliance that does a lot of work on campus.  It seems to include little start-up companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and others.

World Wide Web, n.  A strange new technology, the reality of which can be fended off or ignored through the LMS, proprietary databases, non-linking mobile apps, and judicious use of login requirements.

Are there other terms we should add to this luciferean lexicon?

(devil photo by gags9999)

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What should we ask Google’s education evangelist tomorrow?


Jaime Casap
This Thursday I’m excited to host a terrific guest on the Future Trends Forum. He’s Google’s education evangelist, Jaime Casap.

Jaime focuses on the links between social justice, technology, access, and education.  In addition to those issues, I plan on asking about some topics familiar to Forum participants, including open education, generational differences, and automation, for starters.

Please RSVP beforehand, or just click here on Thursday at 2 pm EST.

To find more information about the Future Trends Forum, including notes and recordings of previous sessions, click here: https://bryanalexander.org/the-future-trends-forum/ .

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Two more science fiction technologies became real this week

Sometimes the twenty-first century feels like science fiction.  Let me share two stories from this week that show previously speculative technologies entering everyday life.

First, the United States Department of Transportation issued regulatory guidelines for autonomous cars.  That means the US government is supporting the deployment of self-driving vehicles. The White House described it thusly:

the Administration is announcing a new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy to help facilitate the responsible introduction of automated vehicles to make transportation safer, cleaner, more accessible, and more efficient.

The president even published an op-ed about this in a Pittsburgh newspaper.

As one article put it, “The DOT is not neutral toward AVs. It wants to get them on the road soon. That’s a big deal.”  Same article summarizes a chunk of the regulations with this infographic:

autonomous-car-scale_vox

Regulations aren’t very sexy, and that’s precisely the point.  Once a technology has entered the deeply nerdy world of overlapping governmental regulations, you can take that as a sign the thing has become very real indeed.

Second, in hunting the New York/New Jersey bomber(s), the New York City police department sent out an alert… to nearly everyone in the city with a smartphone, at the same time.  A Facebook friend describes being on a subway when the message arrived, and everyone in the car’s phones going off simultaneously, emitting the same tone.

cellphone-alert-nyc

As the Times observed,

The “wanted” message sent Monday appeared to be the first widespread attempt to transform the citizens of a major American city into a vigilant and nearly omnipresent eye for the authorities. It added new meaning to the notion of “see something, say something,” even as it raised some concern that innocent people could be mistakenly targeted.

While this sounds like something from cyberpunk fiction, it might already be out of date, like some of cyberpunk fiction.  538 points out that the alert lacks an image, and hence could lead to witch hunting.  It was also a broadcast without the ability to track readership, and lacked both non-English versions and identifying marks.

Self-driving cars and crowdsourcing surveillance through nearly ubiquitous handheld computers – some days the twenty-first century actually feels like the future.

…should I keep posting these advanced technology notes?  Here are some previous examples.

(thanks to Lloyd Walker for nearly all of the DOT information; thanks to Greg Diment for the 538 link)

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American tv “news” networks look blearily at the mirror and swear to change, for real this time

Media coverage of the 2016 American presidential campaign has become so terrible that even tv “news” people are starting to question themselves.  They worry that the relentless pursuit of ratings has led them to abandon journalistic principle, and maybe even enabled one of the worst nominees ever emitted by a modern political party.  Journalists from other media are chiming in with criticism and concern.

Hang on – that was in March.   We’re doing it again now.

(Has tv “news” coverage improved over the intervening six months?  The many ways one can answer “heck no” are best left as an exercise for the reader.)

Now it’s mid-September, the presidential race is in overdrive, and once again media types seem to have realized that tv “news” coverage is abominable.  Maybe this is becoming a regular thing now, a cyclical breast-beating without a shred of meaningful action.

Why this current cycle of self-recrimination?  Perhaps it was the release of this Gallup poll, showing American trust in journalists to have dropped to the “lowest level in Gallup polling history”.

Gallup polling on Americans' attitudes towards news media

Note that 8 point drop just over the past election year.

It’s more likely that this week’s round of public flagellation responds to two other triggering incidents, Matt Lauer‘s recent interviews with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and Friday’s semi-birther press conference.  In both cases tv “news” critters shamelessly admired Trump, or just gave him a free pass.

As Greg Sargent delightfully put it,

Greg Sargent: "Donald Trump once again urinates on the cable nets, and once again they hold out cups to catch the precious fluids."

Greg Sargent: “Donald Trump once again urinates on the cable nets, and once again they hold out cups to catch the precious fluids.”

One Washington Post columnist called out the tv networks., this time in response to that especially idiotic Trump press conference.  “Donald Trump said ‘Jump,’ and TV news said ‘How high?'”  Margaret Sullivan goes on to cite Dan Gillmor, who

on Twitter called this episode “universal sewer dwelling” for cable news. By phone afterward, he said that “no journalist with a shred of integrity would have covered it.”

Saying the press got played, he said, is an understatement.

Gillmor is on fire about this topic, with a series of fierce tweets and at least one solid article.  (I also like the way he’s adopted my practice about putting quotes around tv “news”) Continue reading

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As the election starts to go off the rails: reading _Infomocracy_

A major election sees chaos creeping in, and a sense of mingled panic and dread is in the air.  Of course I’m talking about the near future of Infomocracy, as our reading continues.

Older, InformocracyRight now I’m halfway in. With this post I’ll share notes covering the text since my previous post.  Once again I’ll offer a plot summary, then observations about the world, followed by lit prof-style notes.

Before I start, let me share a news item.  While reading and preparing notes for this section of the novel, I enjoyed seeing some news items in that light. For example, Politico is launching a for-pay service for political data:

The project, called DataPoint, made its official debut yesterday, offering searchable, sortable, downloadable infographics that explain the worlds of policy, healthcare, current events, money and the elections.

1: The Plot So Far

We continue to follow our three main characters.  Two start a relationship with each other. In this section of the novel several major political debate occur, with leading governments’ candidates presenting.  Yoriko becomes a more important character.  A major earthquake strikes.  Political assassinations are attempted.

2: The World Builds

Overall, I’m pleased at how global and non-US-Euro the plot is so far.  That includes the presence of untranslated words from non-English languages (126, 137).

Information runs the debates (84).  People can display their medical information publicly, including birth control and disease data (94).  Information really relies on people doing work, rather than AI (for example, 112).

Politics: We learn about more governments: AllFor1 (83); ChouKawaii “a single-centenal government specializing in fanfic and cute characters” (108); Anarchy, “the radical antielection group” (168). The splendidly named Reginald Baste represents YouGov (152). We learn more about the mantle tunnels, which could link Tokyo with Taipei (88) or Paris with Dakar (149).  Domaine accuses Information of exploiting child labor (144).

Economics: people would like for startups to succeed, but entrenched companies just keep winning (87).

History: the North Korea we now know “fell” at some point, amidst “missile strikes” (108).

Technology: people can run software offline for privacy (82).  There is a “new blood glitter that subtly highlights the veins beneath the skin, apparently the latest craze of the uberrich” (89).  3d printers still exist (94).  There are “nuclear-powered water heaters and food-cookers” (97), along with self-heating jackets (114).  Speaking of clothing, people can design clothing ideas, then request bids from designers (132).  Security can ask for users to identify themselves in “both audio and visual” media (121).  People can see other people using digital information based on their eye movements (158).

We still don’t know what a crow is, although it seems like a plane/helicopter/balloon mix.  Related to it is the tsubame, which is even more lightly described, but the name means “barn swallow” in Japanese (138).  Is it a smaller plane?

3: A Lit Prof Ponders

Some very nice sentences, like: “Knowing that her [Mishima’s] desire for isolation is unusual has made her sensitive to the social acceptability of acting on it.” (124)

Mishima lives up to her name as a magnetic, leading character, with action hero traits.

The centenal system is under strain, but does respond well to the earthquake.

Things are building up toward the election.

What do you make of it so far?

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Considering one spectacular black swan for education

How would educators respond in case of one black swan event: the internet going down?

I don’t mean when a local provider has issues, or if one’s institution is based in a rural area, or when a campus goes offline for a half day.  I’m referring to the possibility of the internet itself crashing at a regional or national level, and for more than a few hours.

Remember, black swans are, by definition, unlikely events that, when they occur, have enormous impact.

Why am I thinking of this particular swan?  Leading security guru Bruce Schneier just scared the hell out of many of us with this post.  “Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services… [T]his is happening. And people should know. ”

post apocalypse by 70023venus2009

Schneier’s article is obscure and lacking in details for several reasons (protecting clients and vulnerabilities), but the idea is there.  Some actor is pressing hard on the internet’s roots.  Read more for speculations.

Let me apply this to education.  What would happen in schools if suddenly, say, North America could no longer access the Web?  Assume this is a broad attack, so people can’t rely on cell phone coverage, or move to nearby locations (coffee shop, home, public library) for fallback access.

I’m only thinking of the web here, not the internet as a whole, as if DNS servers went down.

What is life like in colleges, universities, libraries, and museums? I asked Twitter, and responses were pretty basic:

Todd Conaway tweets

If students, faculty, and staff can’t access their learning management system, or enterprise data, or scholarly articles through JSTOR, or social media, or YouTube, how does an institution react?

Imagine if the problem is a little bigger.  The attack could take out the internet as well as the web, knocking off email.  Or perhaps the attack also hits electrical power supply, either by cyberwar or electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  If the attack was launched by a state actor (i.e., China), it could well be accompanied by other technological, economic, or geopolitical stresses.

What contingencies do we now have in place?

NB: remember that this is a black swan, an unlikely event.  Don’t get too spooked.  Yet.

(photo by 70023venus2009/)

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