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My Personal Cyberinfrastructure

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‘”Don’t copy, that’s cheating!” Outside schools, that’s called collaboration.’ – Sir Ken Robinson

My thoughts on Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure”. They’re a bit mashed together and not particularly deep or fully fleshed out as there was no stand out issue for me, rather a few ideas that I’m trying to string together. Here goes, anyway:

Before I read the piece I was in the process of sorting out my own hosting for the first time. I’ve been blogging in some way, shape or form since I was on MySpace, when I’d write music reviews; moving on to Notes on Facebook before taking to Blogger towards the end of 2008 and then moving to WordPress. Then in 2009 I worked at a university, mainly creating news content for their external website, using a content management system created by the in-house it nerds. All these things worked well, all I had to do was write, take pictures, film videos, record podcasts and click the little upload or embed button and voila! they’d appear on the web. But I had no idea where they went or what happened to them after clicking those buttons.

So for some time I’ve been intending to get acquainted with all this voodoo. I first started nearly two years ago when I bought the domain “jamiepotter.org” but after taking a few looks at the inner machinations and hosting my eyes glazed over and I gave up. When it comes to technical things I often struggle to comprehend it and one of my downsides is my impatience, especially with tech, through growing up in a world when everything is so easy to do with existing nicely packaged platforms. Inevitably this frustration spilled out on to twitter and I demanded to know if schools teach this and if they don’t, then why not?

Lo and behold, an hour later I’m reading Gardner Campbell’s article making exactly the same point. I’m struggling to come up with real criticism of his ideas at the moment, as on initial thoughts it’s an approach I wholeheartedly agree with. It’s one thing to be competent using ready made tools online; it’s another to understand and be capable of navigating and using the architecture upholding it.

Eureka!

For example: At school I took French at AS Level, got an E and gave up. Years later while spending some time in Ecuador I took lessons in Spanish and fared much better because – I realised – I was paying attention to and understanding the grammatic conventions underpinning the language. When studying French, I couldn’t get my head around this and as such everything else suffered. But now, I’d feel a lot more confident taking on any language because I know how to approach it. There’s a difference between riffing from a phrasebook in downtown Quito and having explicit understanding of the structures that help form that phrasebook. McLuhan’s point, I guess.

So, just as I felt empowered by this little language epiphany, I also feel like I’ve taken a massive step forward for my own personal development by simply sorting out my own hosting. From here I can build on my knowledge and experience, however small, and build my confidence using the mechanics of the web. I already feel empowered knowing I can go beyond WordPress and the like.

More importantly though, I think the ‘real’ value of the personal cyberinfrastructure may not lie so much within the actual hosting and domain ownership, but through taking those underlying attitudes of the web and applying it to the way we engage online with each other; the narrating, curating and sharing.

Mutual aid

To draw on another personal anecdote, while I was at university studying for a degree in Journalism (and Politics) I ultimately felt like I learnt more from my extra-curriculur activities with student media: producing and presenting on the radio station and writing copy for the newspaper. My creations were far from perfect, but throughout the whole process I learned from reflecting on myself and from collaborating with others. Such an approach was invaluable, and only the tip of the iceberg as a way of learning.

(Furthermore, getting stuck in with the ‘complicated’ stuff could also take in the views of the naive and innocent. Don’t we love it when a small child cuts through the bullshit pervading modern life and manages to put their finger on the crux of a problem because we can’t see the wood for the trees? And through introducing this engagement with the background mechanics and ideas, could this help people apply critical thinking elsewhere too?)

Campbell’s ideas also chime with what Sir Ken Robinson spoke about at the RSA (a must watch) in which he points out that existing pedagogies are “trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past”.

He points to the factory line nature of contemporary education and its anaesthetic approach to teaching as opposed to the aesthetic processes which art and creative practices emerge. In the latter our senses resonate with our experiences, but in the former we are forced to shut down this resonance: “We shouldn’t be putting them (pupils) asleep, we should be waking them up to what’s inside themselves.”

This strikes a chord with my own radical point of view, as I also see such an approach of mutual aid and collaboration as a way to smash neoliberal hegemonies. The quantifying and ranking and atomising of the whole education process, churning out automatons for economic exploitation needs to stop. I believe in education and experience as critical to transforming the world, but as such this education and experience itself needs to encapsulate the kind of society we’d like to move to: be the change you’d like to see.

In the UK today, the education minister Michael Gove has announced his intention to reform the national curriculum so as to focus on learning facts (also opening up the possibility of ICT not being a compulsory subject). Can you believe that?! Content is useless when taken out of context. With no meaning, understanding, criticism, construction it’s simply a transaction.

So how we implement these ideas, that’s where I’m at now.

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