A moment of optimism

by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
ok_disconnect_ok by darkpony CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This blog post has been in gestation for some time and while the ideas have been tossing around in my mind, I have encountered a few conversations that have helped me to turn this from a gloomy to an optimistic idea.
I have been experiencing increasing disenchantment with (hyper)connection and its implications in my life. I use at least four Internet devices- my phone, a tablet, a Macbook and a Windows desktop  and I am bad at shutting down windows, closing applications and generally logging off.  This is a really good or really bad thing depending on how you look at it. When that shopping web site that you looked at on one device suddenly pops up on another web site that you are viewing on a second device, you might feel known or welcomed or, in my case, slightly spooked.

I have been exploring this at a theoretical level for my recent submission to NLC 2016 – reading Ben Light’s book  where he expounds (with lots of practical examples) a theory of disconnective practice, relating to Social Networking Sites (SNS), that helps with our understanding of how states of disconnection come into being and are maintained. Disconnection and connection are not a binary or even on a continuum: they are inextricably linked. Disconnection can enable connection or make it a possibility (Light 2014). Ben’s book introduced me to the work of Mejias that explores the limits of the network in his open book Off the Network. Mejias uses the concept of paranodes that draw attention to spaces beyond the logic of the network and helps us to go beyond the nodocentric view presented by SNS.

On a practical level, I am currently thinking about how I can achieve more control over my (dis)connection with SNS and Google.  Last week, an article by Donna Lanclos and Dave White about the Visitor / Resident model in academic practice online provoked much thought around my current goals on (dis)connection. As I intend to continue with “networked practices such as blogging, social media use, and participation in digital communities” then it would seem that I am engaging in resident modes of engagement for the public content that I present and curate. However, my desire to reduce my exposure to the hidden connections of SNS collecting and using my data means that I want to engage in more visitor-like practices.

As I try to change my web presence and practice, I have come across the concept of POSSE –  Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. This is attractive to me and I am currently experimenting with using Known for web comments.  The Indieweb offers a useful guide.

Catherine Cronin asks us questions such as

How is, and will, higher education respond to the growth of participatory culture and openness across networked publics? How will issues regarding access to education, equity, agency, and ethics be addressed?

and in answering them to think if any of the futures we see are beautiful. Since it’s easy for me to see gloomy futures, this is a good question that has led me to my moment of optimism. Kate Bowles is sensing a “groundswell of optimism”  in the current debates at #dlrn  and #icdeunisa.

All of this helping me to shift from the paralysing pessimistic view that things shouldn’t be like this to the optimistic feeling things can be different. Personally I can make changes in my online spaces, practices of sharing but a more important shift is to how change can be addressed collectively.  Indieweb is part of a collective and practical approach to making a different sort of web but what is the relevance of collective approaches in Higher Education?

In my last few years of teaching, I worked with colleagues on a module that looked at emerging technologies from business and personal perspectives. One of our aspirations was to foster critical digital literacies with students.  We weren’t saying you should/ shouldn’t use a particular SNS in this way or that way but rather let’s think about SNS from the perspectives of members, the SNS and its real customers, those who purchase advertising services.  Once a critical mindset is in place, then the idea that things can be different is easier to consider, and ongoing changes are more likely to be noticed.  This can be about personal choices of (dis)connection and collective actions to influence SNS and other service providers*.  Neither choices nor actions can completely decide our outcomes on SNS and the web but encouraging autonomy and choice seems to me to be a good start.  I think that educators and learning technologists can experience obstacles to this but that’s another post.

*missing text added later

References
Light, B. (2014). Disconnecting with social networking sites. doi:10.1057/9781137022479
Mejias, U. A. (2013). Off the Network. doi:10.5860/CHOICE.51-4485

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francesbell

I left full-time employment as a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems, Salford Business School in January 2013. Since then, I only take on projects that interest me, and try to make time for the things I struggled to do when I was at work - travel, gardening, textile crafts. I am still interested in the impact of the digital on life - work, learning, play. I volunteer as an IT buddy at Macclesfield Library and do research on informal learning online.

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