Where have all the iconoclasts gone?

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Or how do we escape the ‘experts‘ in the echo chamber? Inspired by @jeffjarvis, whose recent post on TEDxNYed: This is bullshit got me thinking about this whole ‘expertise‘ thing again.

Iconoclasts are the people who tear down the idols of faith. Traditionally this has been a religious activity, but the growth of a secular society has seen the development of secular idols of faith. And social computing has already developed many of the trappings of a religion, with its own priesthood and idols.

But one of the big learnings of recent times is that experts don’t always have all the answers and that we can learn a great deal from engaging in sharing of knowledge for general benefit.

Admittedly, in some cases, only an expert will do. Some examples: if I’m having brain surgery a group of opinionated and gifted amateurs is not who I want on the case; nor do I want my accountant or lawyer to be inexpert.

But in the case of emerging applications for social computing there are not really any experts. There are people who know enough to give a perspective of the technology, the affordances of that technology, and possibilities inherent in it. But once that is out of the way there is a lot more value in shared discourse than in monologue.

I often facilitate sessions with educators and we discuss how social computing is changing the landscape for both teachers and students. And I always come away from those sessions humbled by the amount that I learn.  Not because these people know more.  Rather it is because they are inquiring and asking questions.  It is in the questions and attempts at solving real world problems that we uncover new approaches.

Real people sharing experiences, prompting new ideas and the connecting of dots drives experimentation and adoption of new ideas and new ways of doing things in social computing.  This is no clearer than in the various coffee mornings (e.g. NSCM) around Sydney, where people sit and talk over coffee.  They share ideas and experience and many come away energised and buzzing with new ideas to try.

But missing from the equation in social computing (or what some people call social media or new media) are the people who are willing to identify the secular sacred cows and call bullshit.

Too many of us are sitting at the feet of the experts (or gurus, ninjas, rockstars, gods and goddesses) waiting for them to deliver the answers from on high (possibly on the new HP tablets if not stone tablets).

Perhaps it’s time for some more social media iconoclasts?

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Random acts of kindness

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I’ve been reflecting on the people who’ve influenced my life. The ones who have shaped my thoughts and helped me to work out what kind of person I am and who I want to be.  There’s a lot of them.

They range from family members, to friends and colleagues.  Many of them never even realised what they were doing.  They did not realise that their casual conversations and encounters with me were shaping my life.

It’s a big responsibility when one considers that even casual daily interactions are shaping other people’s lives in similar ways.  Thus the creation of the future really is in our hands. 

It is there in simple everyday things that we say and the actions that we do.  Our actions and words help to shape other people’s future development.

And, for those who believe that words cannot hurt people, there is some research that indicates that the feelings of pain recollection are stronger for social pain than physical pain. It does seem that words and acts of social exclusion can wound.

I’d like to thank all the people who have been kind, truthful and encouraging to me over the years. You have helped me to become a better and kinder person.

In a strange way I’m also grateful to those who were cruel, unkind and vicious – you’ve also taught me a great deal. From you I have mostly learned what I do not want to be.

What are you doing today to create loving and peaceful futures?

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The importance of role models who look like us

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On Wednesday evening I attended the retirement dinner for a mathematics teacher whom I’ve known and respected for many years.  I will not mention him by name as he’s a very shy and private individual.

This gentleman and his wife migrated to Australia over twenty years ago from Malaysia to work as teachers and to bring up their family here.  In many ways it is the classic migrant success story.  Their children and grandchildren are growing up in the multicultural Australian way that blends diverse cultures.

It was a lovely celebration of a professional life that had a positive impact on many young people.  Many of the attendees stood and recounted their memories of their life with him at the school.

However, one story in particular stood out for me.  A young mathematics teacher stood to tell of his days as a student in classes with this gentleman.  He noted that, apart from being a great maths teacher, this gentleman had inspired him as an example of what a man should aspire to be.

Further, the young teacher noted that when the time came for him to decide upon a career, it was this gentleman who also inspired his decision to become a teacher.

What is interesting about this story is that the young man is an Australian of Asian heritage. And he noted the impact of having a male role model who looked like him – of Asian heritage – in helping him to decide to become a teacher.

This story made me think of all those people who say to me – why do we need role models who are ‘women’ or ‘ethinic’ – i.e. why aren’t white male role models sufficient?

It is very simple. We need to see people who look like us doing things to help us to see the possibilities for us.

In this case a young man looked about to see which role models he could find, and he found a good one.  Now we have one more good role model for young men. And a young man has dedicated his life to teaching our young people as a result.

Now that’s what I call a virtuous cycle 🙂

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Digital citizens need real world knowledge too

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It was fascinating to be at the inaugural Digital Citizens event in Sydney last week – the topic was: Private Parts: Personality and Disclosure – Finding a Balance in the Digital Space.

There was a great line up on the panel with visiting US lawyer and social media specialist Adrian Dayton (Social Media for Lawyers), Sam North (Ogilvy PR), Damian Damjanovski (BMF), and Renai LeMay (Delimiter), all wrangled expertly by the moderator Bronwen Clune (Strategeist).

It was a very thought provoking session with the panel and audience discussion. And the big takeway for me is that social media and its practitioners need to accept that we live within a particular social and legal context.

No matter how much we ‘social media’ types decry how poorly the law is setup to deal with what we do everyday, that is the situation we must deal with. The law moves much more slowly than changes in technology, and, upon consideration, maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

For example, Damian Damjanovski argued: “A lot of people out there use it as a personal communications method. There are lots of people with no more than 70 followers . When did we get to the point that this is suddenly publishing and should be treated as such?”

The fact is ordinary people are doing something that was once privileged – publishing. We are publishing content in many places now in the same ways that publishers (who have lawyers vetting much of their content) have for years.

Now that everywoman and everyman is a publisher we need to understand the rights and obligations that come with publication. We are no longer having a chat about something over dinner or at the pub with a bunch of mates. We are posting content (pretty much) for perpetuity and complaining when there are legal ramifications associated with that act.

It all made me think that perhaps a good topic for another Digital Citizens session would be about the legal issues associated with the act of publication on the web? Since, while Adrian Dayton was great, it would have been handy to have Australian lawyer on the panel.

A brief write-up of the event is also available on mUmBRELLA

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Hero or monster it all comes down to choices

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This is a very thought provoking TED talk from Philip Zimbardo. He’s famous for the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment.

Think about how you would react in certain situations (e.g. Abu Ghraib) – how easy it is to act in ways you might regret later? Hero or villain it all comes down to choices.

The other interesting thing to consider is how the growth in communications devices and information sharing technologies makes hiding evil acts so much harder nowadays. The revelations from Abu Ghraib are an excellent example.

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Cupcake Camp Sydney goes animal

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w00t! Cupcake Camp Sydney is on!

Date: Friday 28 August 2009

Time: 5.30 pm – 7.30 pm

Venue: CBS Interactive Sydney

We are running this as part of the RSPCA Cupcake Day fundraiser – if you are a cupcake maker you can go to the RSPCA site & sign up to receive a cupcake kit.

Register (opens a Google Docs form)
Sponsors Needed
If you’d like to help out as a sponsor please let us know – we need some prizes for the fabulous cupcakes & their bakers, & a food or drink sponsor would be nice too.

What is a CupcakeCamp?
CupcakeCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and eat cupcakes in an open environment. It is based on similar principles as other unconferences such as BarCamps and you can find some more information here.

In this instance we are also going to try and raise some funds to help out the RSPCA as well as enjoy each other’s company and a cupcake or several.

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On our way to a networked society.

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In an earlier generation all computer networks were for business or the military. That is, they were point-to-point connections between large organisations and were vastly expensive to setup and run. But the invention of TCP/IP and the modern internet changed all that. Now networks are between ordinary people using simple and easy to operate equipment (like their mobile phones or netbooks).

And now as we move from the society of the book into a networked society there are some important influences working to shape the future.

Amplification is important in that it enables ordinary people’s opinions to have reach via social networks (like Twitter or Facebook). In the past I could stand in Sydney amongst my friends at the pub and complain about a bookstore moving certain kinds of books to a dark corner in the back of the store. And nobody but the people at the pub, or perhaps a few of their friends, heard about it. But when Amazon recently did the same thing with gay and lesbian books, social networks around the world went crazy with the news. Suddenly an ordinary person can have the same kind of reach which was previously possible only through mass media.

Amplification is working together with each of the other items under discussion here. Each item amplifies and is amplified by the others. This is systems theory in action, with feedback loops driving change. Thus, with the recent Amazon problem, mainstream broadcast media picked up the issue from the social networks, amplified it, and fed it back into the social networks.

Many people misunderstand the nature of communities that are developing now. Simply because the communities that are growing are mediated by technology does mean that are not genuine communities. I am fascinated by the number of groups of people who’ve met online via Twitter and have subsequently formed real life relationships, such as attending trivia nights together, attending music festivals, or various kinds of tweetups. For example: STUB, MTUB, PTUB, BTUB, CTUB demonstrate this kind of crossover of online relationships into daily life (here’s some pictures of a recent tweetup in Sydney).

There are also some ‘laws’ that are useful in thinking about the development of a networked society. That is not to take these as legislative imperatives but rather as heuristics to inform our thinking.

Metcalfe’s Law is helpful, not because it is necessarily directly applicable as originally proposed back in 1980. It is helpful because it gets us thinking about how networks create new relationships, and how those relationships can amplify the power of the network. Metcalfe was considering small hardware networks and posited that “the value of a network increases proportionately with the square of the number of its devices”. The principle that a network (even a social one) can grow exponentially depends upon a number of variables. These variables would include things like actions taken or affinities developed or destroyed by members of the network, since unlike devices, people can act of their own volition. These social networks create feedback loops and amplify both positive and negative effects across the primary network, and even reach out into other loosely connected networks.

Gilmore’s Law is also very useful in thinking about the growth of a networked society. The funny thing is that people often mistake modern networks as being only about the technology. But this is not the sum total of our modern networks. Instead a network’s value is in the real human beings with substantive relationships. The technology merely mediates the relationship. Since it is about relationships between people, blockages in the network that impact upon those relationships are perceived as an organic threat. People don’t like to have their relationships interrupted. And when there is some kind of blockage in the technology that mediates those relationships then the people will find ways to route around it. Thus even political interference in the network will merely be interpreted as damage to relationship management channels.

The degree of connectedness available to us in a networked society is far higher than at any time since most of us lived in small villages. And, more than anything else, the networked society seems to be like a village. But more on that another time.

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