Fill in the the gap: iPropaganda, iProprietary, iPropofol, whatever.

Unlike most technologists I’m really not a device guy, I don’t have an iPhone (not because I don’t want one, but I just can’t afford it) and I don’t have three 22″ cinema displays. Why would I? I’m an International Web Worker of the World, I labor for an ideal of openness and sharing. I believe that at its core technology can be used to help us enable people to cooperate and share on a scale never before seen, and I think when this becomes an issue of higher and higher costs, and more and more proprietary lock-in, the further away we are from the power and promise of technology to augment human intellect. And to be honest, I know very little about both the iPhone and even less about the iPad, so this post isn’t really about either of them, though Andy Rush nails the idea of these devices in this post: they are devices geared towards consumption and the design of which make creation that much more difficult. That’s a very interesting statement, when you think about what that means for the web. And Mike Caulfield does an excellent job in this post talking about how the hype around the iPad for Newspapers and Journals might be grafted on education:

I think it’s quite likely the reason that mobile learning is consistently overhyped, despite its obvious defects, is that implicit in the image of a student watching a lecture on his phone in a bus is the idea of higher education as a distributor of content, rather than as a community hub. It’s a way of going forward technically while doubling down on the old paradigm.

I agree with this, and the idea of distribution of content for consumers who have that much less stake in the creation is the old paradigm we are talking about more specifically.

But it’s Brian Lamb’s brief, but evocative, mention of the future threats to open education in this post that have me continually questioning devices like the iPhone and iPad:

I see a number of other trends that strike me as far more threatening to the shared values of self-described open educators (and diverse as the movement is, I do think there are shared values, however broad) than what open really means. Over the next week or so, I intend to write about a few of these threats… Like the profoundly undemocratic process that is working to establish a shockingly awful global copyright scheme… I’ve also been brooding about the diminishment of the qualities that made Web 2.0 so genuinely interesting and innovative (I’m thinking of what Jonathan Zittrain describes as the generative web), endangered by the return of corporate-driven platform-based computing (hello mobile web) and a disturbingly passive and self-absorbed online culture. [My emphasis, which may just as well have been everything]

What we are seeing right now is “the return of the corporate-driven-platform-based computing” that is essentially killing the web, and endangering the open URL. And we all love it or hate it for what seems like all the wrong reasons: the device, not the under girding ideas of openness, freedom, and affordability.

I’ve been following Josh Kim’s blog for a while now, and I like much of what he says on there, but I don’t know what to do with quotes like this from his most recent post:

Nothing about a tool as wonderful as the iPad will lower the cost of constructing or delivering education. We will need to invest in buying iPads, developing apps for iPads, and experimenting with new pedagogies and training around iPads.

Are we really there yet? Have we decided to abdicate our Kingdom to the Gonerils and Regans of the commercial world for these “wonderful” devices we’ve never used? We must be careful to give away the kingdom of innovation too easily and quickly, for nothing comes of nothing, and lest we want to remain in the hovel of corporate-driven-platforms we need to realize and promote the open source solutions that allow us all to imagine the web as a “community hub” (to quote Mike Caulfield) for sharing and creating rather than a subscription to consume.

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12 Responses to iProp

  1. cljennings says:

    Amen, and preach on brother.

    Another point I take from Andy Rush’s post (thanks for pointing us to it) where he suggests patience and consideration before breathless adoption/purchase whilst mesmerized by all that is bright and shiny:

    “Wait! Step away from your keyboard and slow the hell down! … pick it up, play with it, and see if you like it, or don’t like it. Here’s some more advice. Make up your mind when you are better informed. Make a decision about whether it is worth it or not, …! Take your time. Read reviews. Ask yourself if it’s a device (or a technology for your course/classroom/teaching/students… my addition) that does what you want…”

    Isn’t that an important idea to transfer to ideas of technology adoption in higher education in general?

  2. Kimon Keramidas says:

    The problem with the consumption vs. creation model is that much of our creation is actually being moved to the web and away from applications that require a traditional PC. One thing Jobs emphasized and that some sites like GigaOm are reiterating is that this tool has the capacity to change the way we think about that web because it is meant to emphasize the power of the web as a platform. Everything done on this blog can be done on the iPad and relatively easily because once installed WordPress is totally managed through a web interface.

    So, in a way isn’t that enabling a certain sense of openness through a stable tool whose design and functionality actually encourages ways of rethinking how we use the web as a platform? Yes there are still issues with closed platforms and the App store model, but open source worlds are still a little too chaotic and high barrier of entry for the everyday user. It might just be that this kind of appliance allows for lowering the barrier of entry in web creation.

    Or it could be Newton 2.0

  3. Cole says:

    The ed tech side of me wants to unpack the thing and look at it as a teaching and learning tool, while the traveling administrator side of me wants to lighten my overall load while being mobile, and the personal side of me just wants to sit on my couch and hang out on the web with it. I’m not sure the iPad will inspire any of that to actually come true, but its worth a shot at understanding it.

    I was honestly surprised there wasn’t a push to release some of the creation tools in the iLife suite along with the device — it seems perfect for editing pictures (iPhoto), creating podcasts/music (GarageBand), or editing video (iMovie) … I’d add iWeb, but that whole thing is such a pile of steaming … never mind. I know there are apps that do these things, but this device seems to scream “use me to make digital stuff and push it out into the World!” I just think that is a missed perspective at Apple — they are a consumer company bent on selling digital representations of the stuff lots of people consume — TV, Movies, Music, and now Books. What they may be missing is something we see in education — that our audiences *are* emergent producers on a really large scale. Sure they consume, but let’s get real, they (for the most part) don’t buy that stuff, they “acquire” it.

    BTW, I still live mostly on the non-corporate web every single day — blogs and community spaces are where most of my bandwidth goes. I really don’t buy that we are somehow letting the suites take over the spaces we live. The day the Bava gets a corporate sponsor or signs a deal with HGTV (like Dooce) I’ll take that back. But for now I see nothing but growth in the notion of openness in education and that kicks ass. How something like the iPad plays into that is beyond me at the moment, but that is why we’ll test the hell out of them and hand them out to people.

  4. Steven Egan says:

    I like the general idea of the tool, but that may come from growing up watching Star Trek and Star Wars with things like datapads in them. Which brings up the question of, “why would I use that tool for the job?” It’s like a tablet for web-surfing. It also runs one “app” at a time, which screams confined linear thought to me. That, however, is what takes it from a couple thousand dollars to a few hundred dollars.

    The iPhone is one thing, but taking away the phone part and making it a tablet doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I’d rather have the legal pad size from the sci-fi shows for portable work, because it can then be used, and stored, more easily while actually moving.

    The real potential I see in such devices is based on using better content frameworks. Some places have down loadable content for what’s going on in a location. Imagine a calendar of events, classes and so on being used at a university or college. A little effort and you could get all the info on your classes and what’s happening on campus, assuming the info is there. Then there is finding out the history behind things like statues, monuments and buildings. In games this is called information on demand. This facilitates a little learning.

    To take the idea farther you need to have an easily explorable set of information via connections, searches and more than a single device. In that case the device merely facilitates using the framework to access and use the content. Possible uses of the content depends on the framework and legalities. Properly constructed the framework could allow, encourage and facilitate active use, reuse, remixing and sharing of open content. The App Store is not such a framework.

  5. Brad says:

    Yes, Apple is more and more in the business of selling mass marketed media to consumers. Apple’s closed ecosystem is a shit sandwich, yes.

    But ultimately, I see this new device as as another way to get online. Maybe a way to get online in situations that one normally wouldn’t be online. Is this good or bad? I don’t know, but I like being online, so its a positive for me, for now.

    It is increasing opportunities for digital interaction.

    I will say that the iPhone is an amazing content creation device for where I stand. I don’t know if I’d know the joy of taking a picture, editing it, annotating it, and publishing it, all fluidly, like breathing, if not for Apple.

    I probably will be using the iPad to write blog posts and edit various media and post them to the world. We’ll see.

  6. Rachel Smith says:

    Wow, am I conflicted about this. On the one hand, Apple locks up content — music, movies, and now books — and you need to use their software and pay to get it in the right format, even if you already own a copy, and that’s just a whole pile of Evil Empire. On the other hand, I really, really want an iPad just from seeing the movie. It doesn’t make phone calls? Okay. My iPhone does, and really, that’s not what I use it for the most as it is. I can’t make movies with it? Okay, I can live with that. What I *can* do with it is sit in a tiny little seat on an airplane and create documents, watch movies, and (soon) browse the web without having to worry about whether the person in front of me is reclining or not. And the touch thing is just so seductive.

    But that’s all very personal, me-stuff. As for the question of whether it will transform education, I don’t know. I do remember setting up the first “flexible classroom” at Stanford in the early 90’s, when we had a cart full of equipment that a lot of people couldn’t see the point of using in a classroom. They were called laptops, and (to some) it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to take off because they were too expensive/small/underpowered/you name it. That classroom had one of the first wireless networks, too, and there were plenty of people who didn’t see the point in that, either. The students had mixed opinions, too, just like the faculty. But a couple of innovative teachers found interesting ways to use the room and the network, and it caught on. The whole thing could just as easily have bombed, and maybe the iPad will be a big awkward flash in the pan, but maybe not. I like that we can experiment with stuff like this and find out.

    I certainly hope it’s not a herald of the death of open content, though. That would totally suck.

  7. Seth says:

    D’Arcy pretty much summed up my feelings over at Brian’s blog. There’s no outcry that iPod Classic or shuffles are “consumption” devices. The Kindle took some flak for its lack of openness, but never as a consumptive device.

    I’m not sure that every device needs to be connected to the cloud or other devices. I do agree that we should use any device with eyes wide open towards lock-in.I hear your concerns about the appification of the web, but in some ways apps are more straightforward to the average person that URLs plus bookmarking. I do find myself thinking of:


    Lastly, while I’m being annoying, it always feels like Apple-hate posts simply feeds into part of the hype machine.

  8. Steven Egan says:

    “in some ways apps are more straightforward to the average person”

    Apps are straightforward in the same way memorizing and teaching are, but just because average people are like that doesn’t make it a good thing. It also doesn’t make it a good, effective solution.

    Take for instance the average idea for a good resource. You search once, or maybe twice, and get the result you were seeking. There is almost no thought involved, as with most apps and memorizing. Where as a good resource in a learning setting would have the learner asking questions about what kind of resource might be best for them, experimenting to see which ones work well for them and having them consciously choose and seek for such resources. The reason is that it requires thinking; critical, problem solving thinking. The average person wants the results of critical thinking without doing it.

    It’s a pet peeve of mine, please don’t take it personally.

  9. Pingback: iPad y educación: más consumo, más propiedad. | El caparazon

  10. Pingback: Ipad : La mediación deseada y las mediaciones oportunistas- Moebius

  11. Seth says:

    And I would counter that just because a solution is technically superior doesn’t mean it’s the one that gets adopted. Firefox could have made their own rendering engine from scratch and it may have been superior, but chose to use Gecko because it works. x86 architecture is at least 20 years old and superior solutions could be available. But PC manufacturers choose to use x86 because it’s good enough. Betamax vs. VHS. The list goes on…

    I’m not suggesting we settle for sub-optimal solutions, but if apps are edging out traditional URLs, then we as instructional technologists need to ask why and what it would take to show the benefits of URLs out in the open.

    I’m not trying to argue against openness, but when Apple has success with closed, we should learn from that, not simply label it as “consumptive” and ignore it.

  12. Reverend says:

    @Seth, Steve, Rachel, Bard, Cole, Kimon, CJ,

    I’m not trying to argue against openness, but when Apple has success with closed, we should learn from that, not simply label it as “consumptive” and ignore it.

    I agree with that entirely, and I also think that the corporate-driven web is designing the future, and like VHS vs Betamax, etc., it may not be perfect, but it is what we are going to get. I understand that the iPad may be the second coming, but I don;t understand the device becoming the discourse as the iPad has recently, if only in an explosion in fanboy/girl hell. I would love to play with an iPad, and if the stars aligned and the device was a fraction of what people suggest it is going to do for education, I’d probably buy one personally. That said, I can’t help but see the iPad as beautifully closed platform for textbook publishers and the like you can read here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703338504575041630390346178.html

    Providing a less than radical way to cosnume the “new web” through tried and true and expensive textbooks. What’s more, can you bitTorrent on the iPad or iPhone? Can you P2P more generally? It seems odd to me that these two devices as well as the Android, Web YV, etc. are increasingly splintering the web as a commodity that we not only have to pay for, but expect to pay for. And this really brings me to the whole subscription/network/ISP logic of these devices (iPHone exclusive to AT&T,e tc.) as a veritcally integrated package of consumption that is far bigger than the device (or devices) themselves, but the current expectations and level of discourse around the idea of open as they relate to access. The app-store approach is not our friend, as @Steven notes, it is a way of simplifying a process that in the exchange robs you of certain powers, rights, and possibilities. That in many ways is Apple in a nut shell to me, and I don;t blame them, they are a company premised on making money. What I do find out is how the discourse aroudn these tools seems almost immediately relinquished in service to the tool itself. I don;t buy that logic, and I think that is what we have seen with the iPhone, and will continue to see with these devices, despite the larger, obvious fact that the web is becoming more and more expensive to access and difficult to hack—and those two, simple things suggest it as less than an ideal platform for education, even if it turns out I’d love one of my own.

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