The Broadcast Machine

Is Twitter a broadcast platform or a place for conversation? Well, both. Yet how any person invokes Twitter will also play a role in how they understand and use the social media’s architecture. (See here)

With digital spaces and social media have come a new intersection of public and private space. The idea behind a social media platform like Twitter probably allows for a variety of ways that public and private spaces can intersect.

One way to understand this relationship is through the metaphor of a person’s front yard or front porch. Twitter is like your front yard, someone might suggest: You generally control your own space and what goes on there. You’re the host, you decorate it and set themes, you lay out the topics of conversations, and you invite or consent to let people into that space. In the intersection of public and private, it is the vertical boundaries (walls of the porch, fences of a yard) that distinguish space. Others need to “dip into” your space in order to access it, because there’s really no “out there” except a bunch of other private spaces. Between these vertical walls people have conversations that are effectively broadcasted.

This yard/porch metaphor fits in well with a broadcast understanding of how a twitter space has evolved and currently runs. The conversational and connective aspects of twitter are part of the grand vision of the platform, but in practice twitter is grounded as a broadcast service. Users tend to recognize their own space as social, outward facing, but not public.

Another way to understand the private and public relationship is with the metaphor of a house’s engawa. An engawa is an external hallway that runs around the perimeter of a Japanese house. It is distinguished by horizontal boundaries not vertical ones.

Twitter is like an engawa, someone might suggest: You control your own space, yet part 9531095739_54dda6cb1e_oof that space allows you to “dip into” the stream of society, and divert the flow of the street (as it is) into a shared space. You don’t control the nature of the water that flows in, yet you adapt around it, finding your place among the people that the current brings in. In the intersection of public and private, it is the horizontal boundaries (overhang and floor) that distinguish space. This architecture recognizes the mass of private spaces out there as a collection of something in and of itself, where the emergence of society is negotiated.

Architecturally, engawas emerged in Eastern societies because of the homogeneity of Japan. Collective cultures seek to harmonize with each other more than to establish their individuality – this makes it easier to open up your walls and allow people in. This type of space even provides a place to reinforce and confirm one’s place among society. In the West, when people open their walls to society, they often don’t like what they see and want to control or hide from it, completely.

In practice, Twitter is a broadcast platform because it grew out of the west. This isn’t to say that there aren’t conversations happening on there, but they’re happening in between vertical walls. The public nature of twitter is often nullified by the expectations that come with traversing on someone else’s turf.

Twitter’s concept contains a strong conversational potential. Yet, as much as this side of twitter is touted (and especially with design features that promote broadcast features and values) any metaphors that focus on its broadcasting values will be more apt. An individual’s own ground, even virtual ground, is often too sacred to allow the compromise.

Education and Design

Last year I enrolled in a Digital Media program at the UofC. I am always looking to upgrade my skills and knowledge informally, but decided to take a more formal plunge with my design skills (or lack of them) because of a strong belief I’ve developed in the growing relationship between design and education.

Recently I’ve been able to understand and articulate how I understand this relationship a bit more (although not completely, yet).

Over the past few years I’ve noticed design people talking about the fragmentation of their industry – design comes in so many different forms now (graphic, UX, UI, etc etc), and one of the points that design industry workers seem to be making when they bring this point up is that employers do not need to keep creating job positions based on all of these different divisions between these design areas. They need to hire people who are capable of recognizing these divisions and completing their tasks accordingly. People also need to develop accordingly.

And this makes sense to me. A project generally requires a grand vision of what that project will end up as. This isn’t always easy, or time efficient, to communicate. Why bother with a graphic designer AND a design writer and a UX designer, when one person can do that job. The more people involved, the more chances that miscommunication will occur.

This is what I’ve seen happen in education. Institutions are trying to adapt to digital environments, but they’re getting bogged down not only in the number of jobs they’re needing to create, but in the lack of knowledge about design mechanics and timelines. Online course are difficult to plan, for example, because the planners don’t speak the same language as the designers.

Ok, but why is design even important to education?

First of all, what I’ve recently realized is that the natural bridge between the larger industry of design and the larger industry of education is located between Information Design and Instructional Design. On the big poster that maps out all the fragmentations of design (or, of education) these two are right beside each other.

The other point to make is that education, more specifically online learning or digital environments (where I work), now includes an incredible amount of nuance in communication. I think you see this point made many places. We talk of digital literacies not literacy now, and even the definition of the word literacy has changed in the course of my lifetime, I would argue.

In this world where the digital message surrounds us, unlike how the printed word merely directs us, I would also say that we can now start to talk more specifically about rhetorics. Not the sense of rhetoric that is inherently negative, not the way that the word is thrown around to describe a politician dodging an important question. Rather, rhetoric in the way that Richard Lanham describes in The Electronic Word – as a way to be able to say what you want to say effectively. Design speaks to the rhetoric of a given literacy, the quality of our ability to communicate a thought with respect to that form of communication.

Educators don’t know which literacies students are going to bring with them into our classrooms. It’s increasingly difficult and unrealistic for institutions to expect learners to build their literacies specific for that particular institution. Educators need vast literacies and strong rhetorics to make edtech decisions and to create clear, effective, and apt instruction. In the least, educators are models for learners (especially so for language and culture, where I also work), making explicit the ways in which they adapt their own communication within the teacher/learner relationship.

The design skills that anyone may or may not have will be a determining factor in the ability to communicate in a digital environment, and thus determine such things like quality of courses, course design, teacher and institution communication, and for learners it will determine the quality of participation in an online class and even the degree of access to that information/instruction.

The edtech “Ban/Not Ban” Discussion is Misleading

The underlying origin of any edtech “ban/not-ban devices” question out there is the gap between what is taught in elementary and middle school, and what is expected that secondary and post secondary learners ought to know. The gap being the digital literacy skills that many people feel should be taught at a young age, similar to reading skills, study skills, and even cultural norms like “how to behave in a classroom” and the ever-vague “socialization”.

If one believes this, that elementary kids need to learn digital literacy skills, then this is a question of what needs to be included in education goals and curriculum. There is not much worth in bringing it into the ban/not-ban question, which is a useless question to ask or answer.

A flat ban on devices ignores technology’s impact (let alone many learners’ access to content and preferred literacy), and conversely a mandate that teachers must use devices because it is “best” is technology infatuation that prioritizes digital literacy as a class goal over whatever the subject matter is. Both are wrongheaded, and both fail to consider the situation.

An educator designing their course needs to look at each activity/lesson and decide whether to include modern technology or not. It may be that one day devices are useful for that activity, the next they are a distraction. Devices are often superfluous, when technologies like pen, paper, desks, and spoken word are more suitable. If educators want to teach learners “self-regulation” then they should practice and model it in their class design.

(Furthermore, and I say this because I don’t see it enough, the first question to ask when deciding about technology/device use is “What is the content?”)

Secret Consent

The Ghomeshi sexual harassment case of this past year was one where a high profile public figure in Canada was able to walk the line of legality and get away with sexual harassment.

The hinging factor of the legal case, as I gathered from just finishing reading Secret Life, is that of consent. This became clear to me towards the end of the book when the author describes his research into BDSM. In these communities, people are upfront about what they want to do and who they want to do it with, something Ghomeshi usually wasn’t. He used false pretense, surprise, and the threat of guilt to engage with women he desired, in the aggressive manner that suited him. Without consent, he utilized his power and ambiguity of action to get what he wanted.

What stands out to me was that after he jumped and attacked a woman, he would often text them something to the effect of “Oh, if you’re going to be cold now, you are going to make this awkward.” This is manipulation, shifting the responsibility of action onto the victim. He forced people to confront his sexual tastes, rather than the other way around. Manipulative people do this, they find ways to put the ball in your court and then, with clear conscience, claim that you could have acted as you please.

I can’t help notice the role of technology here (texting), that enabled Ghomeshi to maintain a presence and a dialog that ultimately signified consent (in a legal and public opinion sense), without actually getting consent. Technology provides an easy way to maintain presence, yet also provides a way to remain ambiguous – this isn’t good nor bad in itself, except that courts and legal matters need to take such new forms of communication and relationship status into account. As does public opinion.

As a side note, Secret Life is as much an exploration into journalism in Canada in 2016, as it is an account of the JG scandals. I also recently read No News is Bad News, also about journalism in Canada and published in 2016. Both books were well worth the short time it took to read them – I am on the lookout for similar reads.

Modify Temperament

“You view the world through your temperament, but if you’re intelligent you can modify that.”



This whole interview is very interesting. Someone sent to me last year, and worth a watch, for understanding some of what’s going on in the world today.

In my opinion, Peterson plays around with the idea of ‘conformity’ a bit too freely, but still useful ideas here.

The idea of anti-political correctness is a strange one. For me it seems to stem from the same conformity as blanket PC-ness, which is too often thrown around to disregard someone’s well-thought out decisions and opinions. An opinion is an opinion whether it happens to be PC or anti-PC or not. People believe in stuff.

Looking at the Moon

“Why is looking at the moon somehow perceived to be more ‘present’ than looking at your phone?”

This article (well worth the read) about phones, our attention, and all that stuff, doesn’t include the word ‘addiction’ anywhere. Nor does it include the word ‘balance’. It’s a fine article for discussing type of attention, but not about degree.

To answer the quote above: When driving a car (among other things in life) both excessive looking at a phone and looking at the moon are dangerously un-present.

The Salvation of Technology

I read a Peter Thiel quote last week that chilled me:

The only thing that matters, he said, is that politics never be allowed to interfere with technological progress, because it’s the latter, not the former, that will be humankind’s salvation. (source)

If human decision and action aren’t its own salvation, if humans have already outsourced free will to technology, then salvation is already lost.

The thing with libertarians is that I doubt very many of them would want to start from point zero – they want the change off the back of the current system, replacing voters with those at the top of the money pyramid. Thiel, a libertarian who just gave a speech at a major political party’s convention, is a billionaire in the tech industry: Of course he wants a wild-west of no regulations for his tech industry. Of course he wants an absence of government involvement – the billionaires would then fill that void.

What matters is making a beneficial society for as many people as possible, regardless of technology progress.