Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower

Gehl, R.W. (2013). What’s on your mind? Social media monopolies and noopower. First Monday. 18(3).

On noopower1 through marketing and repetition extended into ubiquitous social media:

Operating within the larger political economy of advertising–supported media, it is not surprising that Facebook, Google, and Twitter mirror marketing’s penchant for experimentation and repetition. Software engineers working for these firms pore over data about what actions users most commonly take — that is, what is most often repeated within the architectures of the sites. These engineers then constantly tweak their interfaces, APIs, and underlying software to reinforce these actions and to produce (they hope) new ones. The tiny changes in the Google homepage, for example, are akin to ripples on the surface of a body of water caused by motion deep underneath, as software engineers seek to increase the attention and productivity of users of these sites.


Real–time data collection on links clicked and videos watched provide marketers with the data they need to experiment with different messages, images, sounds, and narrative structures, allowing them to tailor messages to target publics, and then this process is repeated, ad nauseam, in a cybernetic loop. Behavioral tracking of users allows marketers to repeat messages across heterogeneous Web sites as users visit them, as well as make sales pitches via mobile devices as users travel through space. The messages that result in sales are repeated; those that do not are archived (perhaps they will be useful later). Liking, “+1”ing, or retweeting an ad enters users into a contest to win a trip to the theme park built around the movie that was based on the video game currently being advertised, a game in which the main character must use social media to build a following to solve a crime. All of this is, of course, a marketer’s dream: the observation, experimentation upon, and ultimate modulation of the thoughts of billions, the chance to increase what they call (in some of the most frightening language imaginable) “brand consciousness” over other forms of consciousness and subjectivity. It is the reduction of the scope of thought to a particular civic activity. It is the production of the flexible and always–willing global consumer as the real abstraction of our time. Consumption über alles.


Thus, to counter the reductive noopower operating in and through the social media monopolies, activists and technologists must create systems that allow for radical thought and heterogeneous uses, for differences that make a difference. The alternatives to social media monopolies must be built with protocols, interfaces, and databases all designed to promote new political thinking — noopolitical thinking — and to resist reduction of thought to repeated marketing messages of all varieties. We all can agree that this is probably impossible, but we always must keep a better future on our minds as we work with what we have on our minds.

  1. “power over minds, power over thoughts” []

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?

The potential for thinking through new re–combinations, new ways to draw up code and language into a new media politics are suggestive. But I want finally to return to the question this article began with: more or less? This text has been framed by a belief that social media monopolies ought to be disrupted — and in the name of at least two of the things they are axiomatically understood to promote (social justice, solidarity as a form of community) and do not. It has been argued that this disruption might be attempted through a toolset — silence, disruption of language, and the exploitation of language’s capacity for polysemy (the metaphor and the lie) — that is not often considered as apt for such a task. My conclusion, and here I return to salute Ivan Illich, is that these tools can be deployed to produce other kinds of more convivial engagements — a better commons — than our apparently ‘social’ media enable. Above all, I have wished to take seriously the idea that communication density, and increasing communicational volume, does not — in and of itself — indicate more understanding, freedom, openness, or ‘good’. To make this case demands also taking seriously the idea of a media politics that begins with silence.

Bassett, C. (2013). Science, delirium, lies?. First Monday [Online]. 18(3).

on note-taking on an iPad

I’ve been doing most of my work on an iPad for a couple of months now, and have finally come up with a workflow that fits how I do things. I had initially been typing notes directly into Evernote, which is awesome and extremely useful, but the flow of notes felt entirely too linear. I tend to wander a bit, and come back to things later. Typing notes into a document felt too constraining.

So, I went hunting for apps that would replace my traditional moleskine notebooks. I’ve got a stack of notebooks at home, and have been extremely happy with how I work with them. Except they’re not searchable, and I can’t carry them all around with me, so I don’t have access to everything but the most recent set of notes in the current notebook.

How to have the best parts of freeform note-taking, while being able to easily search, index, and share content? I wound up buying a lot of notebook apps, trying to find the one that works best for me.


I was sure Penultimate would do the trick, but it didn’t feel right. Then, I nearly settled on Note Taker HD, but the way the ink worked didn’t feel natural. The scrawl-to-text feature was interesting, but was a bit of a pain to actually use. I was really hoping Onenote would work out, but it’s text-only, with no sketching or ink. WTF? That’s the strongest part of it, on the Windows side of things…

Then, talking with a prof, and she recommended Noteshelf. Great. Another app to buy. So, of course, I did. And it’s really, really nice. This isn’t a review of the app. Google “noteshelf iPad” to find a bunch of those. But the app totally feels right. It feels like a digital version of a trusty moleskine notebook. Except it’s searchable, and tagable, and can send pages to Evernote. Very cool stuff.

I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks… (I’m using an iPad mark one, so don’t have a camera built in – the fancy new godpads with cameras let you insert a photo without needing to go through iCloud etc…)


Yes. I know my chicken scrawl is illegible. But I can read it, and it feels better than typing…

I had picked up a cheap Pogo Sketch stylus to use. It felt like writing with a crayon, though. I did some quick googling and found the Wacom Bamboo stylus. $30 for a metal pen to use on an iPad? I thought that was insane, but I bought one anyway. Wow. Feels like writing with a good pen. Totally worth the money.

So, now I have a really good notebook app, integrated with Evernote so I can access my notes anywhere, and a decent pen to make the whole process just feel right. Nice. Now, if only I hadn’t had to waste so much money buying the other notebook apps until I found Noteshelf…

Carpenter & McLuhan. (1956). The New Languages.

Carpenter, E. & McLuhan, M. (1956) [The new languages]( Chicago Review. 10(1) pp. 46-52.

on the format of newspapers, and the effect on perception:

>The position and size of articles on the front page is determined by interest and importance, not content. Unrelated reports… are juxtaposed; time and space are destroyed and the *here* and *now* are presented as a single Gestalt. … Such a format lends itself to simultaneity, not chronology or lineality. Items abstracted from a total situation are not arranged in causal sequence, but presented in association, as raw experience.

on communication channels:

>Thus each communication channel codifies reality differently and thereby influences, to a surprising degree, the content of the message communicated.

**DN:** both concepts apply nicely to educational technology, and to online discussion. How does the format of the online discussion platform shape the presentation, perception, and shape of the message(s) communicated?

Notes: Coulthard, M. (1974). Approaches to the Analysis of Classroom Interaction

Coulthard, M. (1974). [Approaches to the analysis of classroom interaction]( Educational Review. 26(3). pp 229 — 240.

On directing discourse:

>Participants with equal rights and status, as in everyday conversation, negotiate in very subtle and complex ways for the right to speak, to control the direction of the discourse and to introduce new topics. We therefore determined to reduce the number of variables by choosing a situation in which one of the participants has an acknowledged right to decide who will speak, when they will speak, what the topic of the discourse will be, and the general lines along which it will progress. The classroom was an ideal situation.

on linguistic analysis vs. educational analysis:

>For instance, Gallagher and Ashner (1963)1 and Taba et al (1964)2 both focus on thinking, defined as ‘an active transaction between the individual and the demands of his environment, which is neither fully controlled by environmental stimulation, nor wholly independent of some mediating interaction’. Their categories are attempts to analyse one of the purposes of the interaction, but are several stages removed from the linguistic data and cannot be directly related to it.

on linguistic description of classroom discourse:

>Verbal interaction inside the classroom differs markedly from desultory conversation in that its main purpose is to instruct and inform and one would expect this difference to be reflected in the way in which the discourse progresses. One of the functions of the teacher is to choose the topic, to decide how the topic will be sub- divided into smaller units and to cope with digressions and mis- understandings.

on patterns of interaction in a face-to-face classroom:

>We expected eliciting exchanges to consist of a Teacher question followed by Pupil reply, T-P, T-P, T-P, but this was not the case— the structure is rather T-P-T, T-P-T, T-P-T. In other words, the teacher almost always has the last word, and has two turns to speak for every one pupil turn. This, of course, partly explains the consistent finding that teachers talk, on average, for two thirds of the talking time. The teacher asks a question, the pupil answers it and the teacher provides evaluative feedback before asking another question.

**DN:** does this pattern show up online? Is it different, based on the environment/platform?

  1. Gallagher, J. J. & Aschner, M . J. (1963), ‘A preliminary report on analyses
    of classroom interaction’ Merrill-Palmer Quarterly,9, 1963. []
  2. Taba, H., Levine, S. & Elzey, F. F. (1964), Thinking in Elementary School Children. Report, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare Co-operative Research Project No. 1574. San Francisco State College. []

on note taking

At [CeLC 2010](, there [was a session on various bits of technologies](, and how McLuhan’s 4 laws of media apply to them – what does the technology enhance, retrieve, obsolesce, and reverse? One of the presenters ended up talking about how the ability of profs to post their lectures online – whether through the .ppt files, podcasting, or some other format – made the act of note taking by students obsolete.

This struck me at the time as a gross oversimplification. *Note taking is not primarily about manual duplication of a set of resources produced by a teacher*. It’s an active process of sensemaking and internalization. Of visualizing the processes of thinking. There is no part of the valuable process of note taking that can be obsolesced by mere content being posted online.

![my notes from the session]( “My notes from the session”)

I’d bet it’s likely that there’s a version of the conference presentation online somewhere. But I took notes to record my own version, annotated as I thought about it. In an analog paper notebook.

Note taking is a personal thing – one part process (the act of writing/drawing/sketching/diagramming as visual thinking) – and one part product (the notes and notebook as an artifact that can be carried, scanned, referred to, reviewed, annotated, carried around, lost, etc…). Note taking is **not** something that can be replaced by hitting ⌘P and killing a few trees. The printed teachers-resource is no more a set of active students notes than a book is a classroom.

I’ve got a stack of old notebooks at home – sketch pads, hardbound blank notebooks, lab notebooks (with graph and lined paper), moleskines, and this blog. The kinds of notes I take differs based on what I’m doing – the notebook I used when working Downtown building a corporate LMS was [full of detailed sketches of interfaces and database schema](, while my current one is mostly [loosely structured text](

The point being, the notes are inherently personal. If they were produced by anyone else, even with MUCH higher quality and detail, they would be essentially meaningless to me. As my notes are likely meaningless to anyone else.

Notes on Hara et al. Content analysis of online discussion in an applied educational psychology course

Hara, N., Bonk, C.J., & Angeli, C. (2000). Content analysis of online discussion in an applied educational psychology course. Instructional science. 28(2). pp. 115-152

The study looked at a graduate-level psychology course that used online discussion as a core graded activity. The researchers looked at:

  1. student participation rates
  2. electronic participation patterns (what form of interaction takes place when led by students? does it change over time?)
  3. social cues within the messages (“it’s my birthday.” etc…)
  4. cognitive & metacognitive components of student messages
  5. depth of processing – surface or deep – within message posts

While we were ultimately interested in how a community of learning can be built using online discussion, this study was more specifically focused on the social and cognitive processes exhibited in the electronic transcripts as well as the interactivity patterns among the students.

Content analysis was used to analyze the online discussion – “this particular study is more concerned with analysis and categorization of text than with the process of communication or specific speech acts, as in discourse analysis, it primarily relies on content analysis methodology.”

As indicated, Henri (1992)1 proposes an analytical framework to categorize five dimensions of the learning process evident in electronic messages: student participation, interaction patterns, social cues, cognitive skills and depth of processing, and metacognitive skills and knowledge.

By combining Henri’s criteria related to message interactivity (i.e., explicit, implicit, and independent commenting) and Howell-Richardson and Mellar’s visual representation of message interaction, we created weekly conference activity graphs illustrating the associations between online messages. Quantitative data, such as the number and length of student messages, were also collected.

DN: This combination of methods meant researchers could focus on content analysis while also looking at interaction patterns. Straight discourse analysis would have abstracted the content away. I need to think about how to set this up. I think discourse analysis (speech acts, interaction types) would get at what I’m looking for, but maybe a layer of content analysis is needed too…

Since any message could conceivably contain several ideas, the base “Unit” of the analysis was not a message, but a paragraph.

Quantitative data

  • researchers looked at server logs to see frequency of posts, total number of posts, and weekly posts/activity.

Qualitative data:

  • interaction patterns in the computer-mediated computer conferencing were mapped out. (explicit interaction, implicit interaction, independent statement)
  • social cues apparent in the FirstClass dialogue were coded. (social cues defined as “statement or part of a statement not related to formal content of subject matter.”)
  • both the cognitive and metacognitive skills embedded in these electronic conversa- tions were analyzed to better understand the mental processes involved in the discussions. (using a framework based on Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • each message was evaluated for the depth of processing, surface or deep.


  • student-centred – students dominated the discussions, with relatively little contribution from instructor
  • most students only posted the one entry required per week, but they were long and substantive posts.
  • several unique patterns of interaction emerged:
    1. the second week had “starter-centered” interaction;
    2. the fourth week had “scattered” interaction, in part, because no one assumed the role of the starter in the discussions that took place that week;
    3. the eighth week had “synergistic” interaction (i.e., it had a cohesive feel with the interaction of the participants creating a combined effect that perhaps was greater than the sum of the individual efforts); and
    4. the tenth week had “explicit” interaction.
  • social cue findings: “In this graduate level course, the num- ber of social cues decreased as the semester progressed. Moreover, student messages gradually became less formal. These findings might be attributed to the fact that students felt more comfortable with each other as the semester continued (Kang, 1998).”2
  • cognitive skill findings: “in this particular research project, most of the messages were fairly deep in terms of information processing. Of the four weeks of detailed analysis, 33 percent of student messages were at the surface level, 55 percent were at an in-depth level of processing, and an additional 12 percent contained aspects of both surface and deep processing.”


“It appears that by structuring electronic learning activity, students will have more time to reflect on course content and make in-depth cognitive and social contributions to a college class than would be possible in a traditional classroom setting.”

“Not only did students share knowledge, but content analyses indicated that students were processing course information at a fairly high cognitive level. Social cues took a back seat to student judgment, inferencing, and clarification.”

  1.  Henri, F. (1992). Computer conferencing and content analysis. In A.R. Kaye, ed., Collaborative Learning Through Computer Conferencing: The Najaden Papers, pp. 115–136. New York: Springer. []
  2.  Kang, I. (1998). The use of computer-mediated communication: Electronic collaboration and interactivity. In C.J. Bonk & K.S. King, eds, Electronic Collaborators: Learner-centered Technologies for Literacy, Apprenticeship, and Discourse, pp. 315–337. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. []

Postman – Teaching as a Subversive Activity

I’m working through Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by Neil Postman. I hadn’t read it before, and am seriously kicking myself for that. Some quick notes and quotes from the first couple of chapters. Keep in mind that this book was written in 1968, published in 1969, and reads as though it was crafted in 2008.

3 problems that require schools to remake themselves into training centers for subversion:

Communications Revolution or Media Change:

  • “A lot of things have happened in this century, and most of them plug into walls.”
  • “A change in an environment is rarely only additive or linear… What you have is a totally new environment requiring a whole new repertoire of survival strategies.”
  • “When you plug something into a wall, someone is getting plugged into  you. Which means you need new patterns of defense, perception, understanding, evaluation. You need a new kind of education.”
  • “As the number of messages increases, the amount of information carried decreases. We have more media to communicate fewer significant ideas.”

Change Revolution:

  • “Change isn’t new – what’s new is the degree of change… Change changed.”
  • “Change occurs so rapidly that each of us in the course of our lives has continuously to work out a set of values, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that are viable, or seem viable, to each of us personally. And just when we have identified a workable system, it turns out to be irrelevant because so much has changed while we were doing it.”
  • “The trouble is that most teachers have the idea that they are in some other sort of business. Some believe, for example, that they are in the ‘information dissemination’ business.”
  • “While (students) have to live with TV, film, the LP record, communication satellites, and the laser beam, their teachers are still talking as if the only medium on the scene is Gutenberg’s printing press.”
  • “While (students) have to understand psychology and psychedelics, anthropology and anthropomorphism, birth control and biochemistry, their teachers are teaching ‘subjects’ that mostly don’t exist anymore.”
  • “While (students) need to find new roles for themselves as social, political, and religious organisms, their teachers are acting almost entirely as shills for corporate interests, shaping them up to be functionaries in one bureaucracy or another.”

Future Shock:

  • “Future shock occurs when you are confronted by the fact that the world you were educated to believe in doesn’t exist.”
  • “We just may not survive another generation of inadvertent entropy helpers.”

I’ll have lots more notes as I work through the book – not sure I’ll post everything here though, as I may just distill it down into more concise posts…

Open Education Course: week 2 reading

Notes for week 2 of David Wiley’s Intro to Open Education course at Utah State University, on Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

I think I’m definitely falling down on the academic rigour of my responses – I should be providing a much deeper response, rather than just barfing out some thoughts and questions. I’ll try to pick it up for week 3.

Continue reading “Open Education Course: week 2 reading”