As some of you know, I have been going down a hole of desperation, Marx and economics over the last few weeks. The more I read, the more I feel like a pathetic dot and as I have not been engaging in the conversational web, the online silence has been deafening.

I have kept reading. I was hopeful I could find a way through to action that did not entail finding a how-to commit internet suicide guide. May be the courageous decision is to step out altogether but if my reading of critical internet studies authors is correct, this is not what they are suggesting. Still, may be my need for drama would have been met had I filmed my online death using my digital storytelling skills.

Seriously? I have felt quite cornered in my reading and not seeing a way out that allowed me to act ethically online in light of what I was reading. Brint talks about the virtues and vices of communities,  Gourlay talks about how our heroic narrative creates heteropias of desire, that the

allegedly ‘radical’ claims of the ‘openness’ movement in education may in fact serve to reinforce rather than challenge utopic thinking, fantasies of the human, and monolithic social categories, fixity and power, and as such may be seen as indicative of a ‘heterotopia of desire’.

In 2012 (!) Jenny Mackness and others explored the ‘tyranny of open’ and raised the need to critically evaluate what we are doing. Jenny quoting George Veletsianos,

Are we are attempting to impose our values (of openness, sharing, online learning as the future of education, etc) without a critical examination of what that means for practice and for individuals who are part of social organizations?

And this week David Kernohan sums up what I observe beautifully, as he has done many times in the past,

Open Education, and indeed Education Technology more generally, exists in a perpetual “now” – or to be more precise, a perpetual near future. No matter how many times we attempt to put it into a narrative, it retains a deliberate ahistoricity that – after a while – begins to jar. Even to say that we have heard all this before has become a cliché, as there always seems to be one of those sessions at every conference.

And then I go back to my current reading. It is a bleak landscape when one’s involvement in this movement is not about building a reputation but about a belief that there is something here worth working on for the future of education.

I have been asking myself if there actually was a way to participate that did not involve either being part of the problem or leaving the problem behind for pastures new – giving up on the idea of supporting open practices as something that is simply not workable beyond a heteropia of desire.

I tried writing a post with no conversational linking, purposefully not hyperlinking at all. Just old fashioned references at the end of the post, that required searching for the specific post in a blog rather than me direct linking to a post (my first attempt to disrupt network logic – see more below). It was hard work and strange, but it did mean I was able to separate ideas from people. I am with Jeffrey Keefer when he says, speaking about open peer reviewing,

I really did not like knowing whose paper I was reviewing; felt it confused personal with the constructive.

Online we always know ‘whose paper we are reveiwing’ and this affects the dynamics in a particular direction. We confuse the personal with the constructive far too often, in our desire to build relationship.

Zen Pencils
Zen Pencils

So Mejias and others drone on about disrupting the network, parasitology, paralogy, highlighting  the double affordances, intensifying the network until it destroys itself, instantiating new models of interaction beyond the tyranny of nodes, bringing the ‘outside’ to the network as something that reminds ‘it’ that we are more than just a node counting likes and follows…I can go on. I find myself utterly interested in the ideas, yet without a clue as to what to do beyond going Walden,

GOING WALDEN The often ill-conceived decision to live without connective technologies for a period of time in order to cleanse the spirit. “While we’re in Bali,” said Harry, “what if we went totally Walden?”  M. Harris

Until this morning.

I realised that there are some very practical actions that can be taken to remind us all that the seduction of the network diagram says more about our dysfunction than it explains human life. What is more many of us are doing these things daily without bringing them to the foreground (or am I just selling out to the network again?) Here is a list of actions I plan to experiment with as a result of my reading that give me hope we can widen our perspective,

  1. I can and do bring the ‘outside’ into the network to challenge its simplifications. To paraphrase The prisoner, I am not a node! I am much more than a node: going for wee walks, taking photos and posting them, gaining reputations in the network as a result of the ‘job’ we hold down in corporeal life, going on long trips to meet our online friends face to face, sharing elements of our personal history in a blog post. These are all ways we bring the outside in, no?
  2. I can and do highlight paradox as instantiated in the network.  We explore how as the network allows us to talk to people on the other side of the world, it also allows governments to track us in ways never thought possible before. We write about open practices and are (at times) aware that as we do, we are also lecturing those who do not believe in them. We praise connectivity and collaboration above all else as we isolate those people who have a preference to work alone and in a team of one.
  3. I can be clear when I feel unfairly treated. “Without the opportunity to claim that a wrong has been committed, there is no opportunity to negotiate an attempt to correct it.” I need to think about this much more, but the claim is that consensus indicates inequality and that it is the loss of ‘meaningful otherness’. As I put this together with the online dynamic of showing disagreement only through silence, pseudo-anonimity or the the law of two feet, I am alarmed. We are a group well rehearsed in pre-validation no matter what the actions are, and this goes back to the a-historicity David speaks to in his post. When applied to human connection – this equates to humans online having no accountability for bad behaviour. We just forget and move on, relating to the text not the history of a person.
  4. I can look for ways in which the virtual is real. We do plenty of this in the shape of trying to make claims about the validity of our virtual connection. Perhaps we could do more to explore ‘other senses of real’ that do not fit a nodo-centric view? I like the idea of seeing technology embedded in our corporeal lives not the other way around. Michael Harris says  he hopes for a ‘future [where] we’ll find brave new ways to use technologies in the world, rather than using them to retreat from the world’. I like that frame. Retreat into the physical or into the virtual strikes me as short sighted.
  5. I can create new ways of structuring the internet to enable different kind of conversations. My little experiments here with closing comments on this blog, no hyperlinking, no retweeting just a a way to say ‘Iike you’, retweeting ideas that amplify a minority view that I want heard, a #likestrike that really should have been a permanent change in behaviour if only I were not so lazy. My individual node experiments are small. There are others developing old architectures on top of existing commercial platforms such a Tumblr or WordPress to de-emphasise narcissistic interaction on the web. Yet others seem to be looking wider than technology and bringing the socioeconomic and political into the technological conversation – with a view to evolving an approach to contemplative design in the sense defined by Chris Dancy. Something might change to get us closer to our open practices ideals.
  6. I can make people aware of the economic underbelly of the web in spite of the fact that it may be a pleasurable activity. This is harder for me, the bigger context to the network is all so new to me. And then I also remember a favourite quote that applies here and to my #likestrike: ‘You should never underestimate the power of comfort. To our everlasting discredit, we owe our utter dependency on technology to our inability to resist it.’  It is so easy to press the little heart on Twitter, it takes so much more effort to tweet back… I like what Ben Grosser does on Twitter when he superimposes the economic imperative to what we do online – like apply the idea of bankruptcy to us losing the fight against too many browser tabs open: Tab Bankruptcy.
  7. I can use the network to amplify the local in my own life. Mejias remind us ‘the network remains local at every node. The body is thus the node where the network becomes locally situated; it is what remains after the digital network has been shut off.’ This was a new idea to me, a case study in Mejias book made me think about how and when I use the network to act locally.
  8. And finally, I can instantiate the  slow down. This is the experiment that I think has the most milage. A system built on speed, the new mattering more than the deep, a-historicity, the ‘measurement of everything and the value of nothing’ is disrupted and challenged by ‘slow’.

I will be writing elsewhere about the last point as it is a nugget worth a great deal to me and what I value in my own life outside the network. Here it is relevant because I think I have found some hope to my life in open education as I apply this last point: Just stop. Stop rushing to comment on the last tweet, the latest post, download the newest Calypso App… and start instead dedicating time to old posts from people I learn from, to old ideas and the wisdom they bring to us today, and finally focus on that art appreciation project because it is an activity that challenges the network and its metrics of Now. Mejias again, ‘the network can be disrupted by something outside the nodes and yet quite proximal to them’. It can be challenged by my critical evaluation of how I use technology, and my continuing to use it in a way that does not pander to the more-links-likes-follow-now ethos; a way that counters the preferential attachment rule we all follow to enable networks to grow and enable the fat nodes to get fatter. Mejias explains,

The rule that has the most impact is Preferential Attachment: Given the choice to link to a node with fewer links and a node with more links, we will choose to link to the one with more links. This means that in the long run, rich nodes get richer and rich networks get richer (this is the second stage).

Animated gif by @gifadog
Animated gif by @gifadog

In my little part of the web, these are some of the ways I can start to reimagine my relationship to the network and find a place to ‘critically assess networked sociality’ as defined by commercial communicative capitalism. Mejias tells us that this ‘parasitical disruption can provide a way to think outside the logic of the network, to disidentify from it, and to resist its nodocentric view of the world.’ Here is to my becoming a ‘disenchanted paranode’, as I chose to remain living and learning online seeking to support that which could become the open educational medium in which to bring my students one day. May be if enough of us challenge the foreground and highlight the background, the new normal might be more aligned to humanitarian rather than nodocentric values. Are pigs flying yet?

Update November 27, 2015

I think Tim Klapdor presents such a clear case for moving away from commercial social media platforms, I found some optimism on reading his post. Even so, in my comment on his blog I said I was reminded of the heteropia of desire as a construct and wondered if the ‘solution’ still played into a nodocentric view as described by Mejias in Off the Network. On reflection, I am now wondering if his proposals are not, instead, an example of redefining (creating a new instantiation, in Mejias terminology) the logic of the network. Mejias refers to this as moving beyond the logic of the network as it is instantiated in social media today. May be Tim’s ideas help us do that, coming as they do from a thoughtful and informed view factoring in social, economic and political issues in online life. His focus on technology might give us new ways of connecting and move away from just making ‘fat nodes fatter’.