Technorealism Principle #5

Originally published in The Clarion | September 29, 2010

The fifth principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one that has proven itself over the years, yet still has enough validity today that it should not be overlooked. This principle – Wiring the schools will not save them – is both political and societal. Some aspects of this principle are obvious, others are simply open-ended.

Keeping the principles of technorealism in proper context is of utmost importance when considering this fifth principle. Published in 1998, this principle was established during the height of technical growth in the United States. The dot-com boom was in full effect as new businesses were seemingly created overnight to cash-in on the relatively new technological pie. Small businesses were getting “connected” for the first time and the Internet wave was beginning to sweep neighborhoods at an exponential rate. In universities, professors began publishing websites for their students and email was quickly becoming the preferred means of communication between student and teacher. As businesses and homes joined the Internet Revolution, it was only logical for our nation’s schools to take advantage of the new technologies available on the Internet.

Just like any other publicly-funded entity, resources available to school systems vary radically from city to city and state to state. With this in mind, it should be obvious that the more well-to-do school systems were at the forefront of technological implementation, leaving other systems years behind from the start. Over time though, a majority of schools across the nation had computers in the classrooms and libraries and were, for the most part, “connected”. It should be safe to say that some teachers and school administrators were better prepared for a connected classroom than others.

The introduction of Internet technologies in schools brought with it tools never before available to the teacher or student. While early adoption of these tools was for the most part sluggish, there were fringe instructors who jumped in head-first. Looking at the situation in hindsight, or even looking at it from the outside as everything was happening, several things were very obvious. In order for the new technologies to be beneficial to the students, the teachers had to first step up and sufficiently grasp the technologies. How a teacher used these new tools in the classroom differed as much as the personalities of the teachers themselves. Those teachers who were comfortable with the technologies made quick-use of them in the classrooms, often throwing the technology at the student with little to no thought of any possible adverse ramifications.

The major concern of this principle of technorealism was that teachers, administrators and politicians could very easily envision the new technologies filling the gap between teacher and student. The fear in 1998 was that some educators would over-rely on the technology and put it at the forefront of teaching. Unfortunately, in some situations, this happened and continues to happen today. No amount of technology can replace a teacher-student relationship any more than throwing paper money into a fire will extinguish it.

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Technorealism Principle #4

Originally published in The Clarion | September 22, 2010

The fourth principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one that should go without saying, although it seems some people do not recognize it as much as others. This principle – Information is not knowledge – is one that many of us may have never considered. A simple examination of this principle with an example should bring this fact to life.

In the context of Internet content and technologies, a separation of information and knowledge might seem difficult. Never before in the history of mankind have we had so much information literally at our fingertips. With Internet connectivity so accessible, any piece of information can be had within seconds. While modern conveniences enable us to answer most any question at any time, take away the tools that give one access to the information and we’re seemingly transported to the Dark Ages in the flip of a switch.

Information, or data, can be had in seconds. Knowledge on the other hand requires experience and education or a theoretical or practical understanding of the information. A simple example of information versus knowledge could be exhibited with a person and her cellphone. With cellphone in hand, simply ask the subject for a couple phone numbers of mutual friends. Without hesitation, our subject can access the list of contacts in her phone and return to us accurate data. Now, take the phone from her and ask for additional phone numbers of people close to her – siblings, parents etc. Odds are good that the returned data will be a mix-mash of accurate and inaccurate information. She may know her mother’s home phone number while being clueless to what her mother’s cell number is. With her cellphone in-hand, the requested information is readily available, take her tool away and we swiftly realize the distinction between information and knowledge.

I am comfortable with this example as I am guilty (as I imagine most of you are) of reliance on many devices for information I use each and every day. While a simple example, the fundamentals can easily be applied to most any situation. The purpose of this principle of technorealism is to point out the obvious. Access to a plethora of information does not necessarily make us more knowledgeable. In fact, there are some who feel that the overabundance of information has actually dumbed us down over time. It is quite easy for man to be a lazy being. Considering this, the idea of why learn something when all I have to do is look it up has become more and more commonplace in society. With the maturation of the Internet, and knowing the quantity of inaccurate information it inhibits, a step away from the technologies that surround us can be both beneficial and refreshing. A visit to the library or dusting off the books on our shelves at home can be a great escape, one that can bring with it a wealth of knowledge we may never experience in our get-it-fast world of Internet technologies.

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Technorealism Principle #3

Originally published in The Clarion | September 08, 2010

The third principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one of great controversy today. This principle – Government has an important role to play on the electronic frontier – is so vast it could be analyzed over several weeks. My attempt will be to keep things as unpolitical as possible, while trying to present information relative to us today.

For starters, this principle is quite worrisome as no single government is the sole overseer of any specific technology, much less the electronic frontier. Over the years, attempts have been made by countries, including the United States, to assume overseer-like roles in Internet technologies. By design, the Internet is not a tangible object. Some have described it as a living entity as hosts and content are added and removed every second of every day. Individual countries can, and have, limited  access to certain parts of the Internet. This is an example of a government’s restriction on people – not on the Internet technologies themselves.

The advent and proliferation of Internet technologies over the last twelve years has created an entirely new arena in law. While pre-existing laws do apply to activities on the Internet, multitudes of new laws have come about as Internet crime has progressed over the years. The fine line that exists between the openness of the Internet and governmental intervention and regulation is becoming thinner and thinner as time passes.

One example is Point-to-Point (P2P) file sharing. According to some recent news articles, the use of P2P applications is responsible for as much as 99% of illegal copyright infringement. The sharing of copyrighted music, movies, books and software has been an appealing factor to users of the Internet for many years. Copyright laws have existed for even more years, protecting the composer or author or programmer from illegal sharing and copying of their works. To date, the only solution to this problem that has been presented by government is for Internet Service Providers to block all P2P traffic to and from their networks. While such action would in-fact significantly decrease the illegal transfer of copyrighted materials, it would also block the sharing of materials that do not fall under copyright law – specifically Open Source and Freeware applications. Such action would be no different from the government outlawing the sale of gasoline in order to remove inefficient and excessive pollution-producing vehicles from our roadways. While our air would become cleaner, such action would require all of us to purchase bicycles, fancy walking shoes or horses as our automobiles would instantly become obsolete.

One last concern of governmental intervention in the electronic frontier is the US government’s proposal of legislation that would give them operational control over the Internet when deemed necessary. In a nutshell, if this legislation were to become law, the federal government would have the ability to shut off parts, if not all, of the Internet in the United States. I will let you decide your take on this, additional reading on the subject is encouraged.

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Technorealism Principle #2

Originally published in The Clarion | September 01, 2010

The second principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one that is partially dated yet in other ways so very true. This second principle – The Internet is revolutionary, but not Utopian – can easily be broken down into two separate ideas. The Internet and society have changed drastically over the years and a division of this principle should prove more appropriate for us today.

The first half of the second principle of technorealism – The Internet is revolutionary – seems somewhat dated today. Considering this idea from a historical perspective though will shed some light on just how far we have come over the years. Thinking back to the mid- to late-1990’s, personal computers were not so commonplace, especially in homes. Added with the fact that cellphones were only phones, that is there was no mobile web, Internet technologies were truly revolutionary during this time. Life seemed to move at a slower pace in the pre-Internet era. Business was done either over the telephone or in person and used only facsimile machines for electronic communications. Teenagers actually got together to enjoy each others company.

The Internet Revolution, if you will, seemingly changed most every aspect of life. Over time though, as access to the Internet became commonplace, the “new” factor progressively wore off. Now, a decade into the 21st Century, most of us cannot imagine life without the luxuries of the Internet and Web. It has become virtually impossible to listen to the radio or watch television for any amount of time without hearing a news story or advertisement that includes a web or email address. Considering all of this, I feel it is safe to say the revolution is over, although we’re most likely stuck with the Internet at least until the next revolutionary technology comes around.

The second half of the second principle of technorealism – The Internet is not Utopian – was as true in 1998 as it is now. The word utopian is simply defined as perfection. The Internet of the late 20th Century was no more perfect than it is today. In fact, for the Internet to reach utopia is not only impracticable but impossible. With loose regulation, especially in democracies like the United States, the Internet inherently possesses a height of openness for the individual. If I want to publish an online article explaining that Alexander the Great actually discovered America, was its first President and never allowed slavery to exist in his new land, I can easily do so without hesitation. Such an exaggeration is unfortunately akin to much of the content one may find on the Web today. False content such as this combined with the widespread existence of all sorts of online crime contribute to the simple fact that the Internet is not, nor ever will be, a utopian realm. Caution should always be of utmost importance when using the technologies of the Internet in our daily lives.

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