Neo luddism


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These are the slides from a teaching session I ran to get our doctoral students thinking a bit more critically about the nature of technology in Higher Education. (Note, it's deliberately controversial in places)

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  • Neo luddism

    1. 1. Neo-Luddism Critiquing Technology Dr. Julian Beckton
    2. 2. Aims <ul><li>To show that technology is neither malevolent, benevolent, or neutral. </li></ul><ul><li>And that it certainly isn’t sentient! </li></ul><ul><li>But that it is exploited. </li></ul><ul><li>Show how an informed critique can lead you to socially just uses of technology. </li></ul>
    3. 3. The Utilitarians <ul><li>19 th Century English movement. </li></ul><ul><li>Name reflects a hard headed practicality </li></ul><ul><li>Control of facts licenses government. </li></ul><ul><li>Taken for granted that governments collect data – A radical idea in the 19 th Century. </li></ul><ul><li>Utilitarianism actually a “highly political ideology based on a dismal vision of human nature and a grim obsession with cash values” (Roszak, 1986:160). </li></ul><ul><li>Precursors of modern “information theories” </li></ul>
    4. 4. T “ The valley is gone and the Gods with it, and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you fools everywhere.” (Ruskin, c1870)
    5. 5. Technology and education Have a look at this short video – pleading for more funding for Arizona’s e-learning programme, and list the ideas about e-learning inherent in it.
    6. 6. Software <ul><li>Is informed by philosophical ideas (.e.g) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Kill or be killed (games – moral dimensions) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bankruptcy is a bad thing (financial planning software) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>People have similar tastes (business forecasting) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning is the acquisition of data (Blackboard!) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learning is what students do. (Interactive software) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>But you rarely hear these ideas mentioned in discussions of e-learning. Instead there is a utilitarian focus on information, data, content. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Information <ul><li>(is believed to) somehow compile itself into knowledge without the active intervention of theoretical imagination. (Rozsak, 1986:109) </li></ul><ul><li>So, what is this “theoretical imagination” </li></ul><ul><li>Information is power, (we imagine) but power has implications… </li></ul>
    8. 8. I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils, Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight, All the misery of manila folders and mucilage, Desolation in immaculate public places, Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard, The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher, Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma, Endless duplication of lives and objects. And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions, Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica, Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium, Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows, Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces. Theodore Roethke Whose power? Power to do what? Power over whom? What is the source of information’s power?
    9. 9. Commodifying information <ul><li>We believe ideas are based on information </li></ul><ul><li>Logically, the more information we have, the more ideas we will have. </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore the more information we produce, the more knowledge we will produce. </li></ul><ul><li>Erm, no. Not exactly... </li></ul>
    10. 10. Would the existence of radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, and the microwave background ever have been revealed if their discovery had depended on the computerised radio observations of today? The computers act as very narrow filters of information; they must be oriented to specific observations …i.e. what the observer expects to see (Lovell, 1984:94, quoted Roszak, 186:115)
    11. 11. Going out in the rain?
    12. 13. Strands of the Education Market <ul><li>“ learning content” (Whatever that might be!) </li></ul><ul><li>Student fees </li></ul><ul><li>Production of “skilled” graduates </li></ul><ul><li>Corporate technology (e.g. Blackboard, PowerPoint etc, electronic whiteboards) </li></ul><ul><li>Personal technology. (e.g. Laptops, iPads, mobile devices, cameras, audio recorders, digital pens) </li></ul><ul><li>Patents, intellectual property (in research, and in “learning content”) </li></ul><ul><li>Information is power, but it is also money (value) </li></ul>
    13. 14. Consequences <ul><li>Knowledge is the &quot;conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and hence, intellectual property” (Noble, 2001:27) </li></ul><ul><li>The labour of teachers becomes that of producers of commodities </li></ul><ul><li>Which students have to pay to access! </li></ul>
    14. 15. How many computers have YOU got?
    15. 16. Part 2: Ways of ‘resistance’ <ul><li>Luddism </li></ul><ul><li>Open education. </li></ul><ul><li>Blogs & Wikis </li></ul><ul><li>What’s stopping us? (Fear?, awe of tech?, something else…) </li></ul>
    16. 21. Slide Credits Monsal Dale Wottalottacomputers: Files1 Galaxy1 Rainypaper UCLA Luddites Creative commons Wikipedia logo (not for public release) Academic Commons. http:// /
    17. 22. Oh, and one last thing! (just in case you thought I had something against using technology!
    18. 23. Slide 1-2 notes <ul><li>What I would like to do in this session is to have a look at a moral dimension to technology, or more accurately, at our use of it. </li></ul><ul><li>In the spirit of criticality in this session, I’m going to ask three questions </li></ul><ul><li>1) Why is it like that? </li></ul><ul><li>2) Is that a problem? (and I’ll suggest that it might be) </li></ul><ul><li>3) What can we do about it ? </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 2 </li></ul><ul><li>I don’t want you to go away with the impression that technology is evil, and we’ll all end up as Matrix style pod-people providing energy for the machines! </li></ul><ul><li>But neither do I want you to go away with the impression that technology is a force for good, which we must subscribe to in order not to be left behind! </li></ul><ul><li>And, perhaps oddly, I wouldn’t want you to think that technology is neutral. As I hope to show in this session it is anything but that. </li></ul><ul><li>Of course technology isn’t sentient. It doesn’t have a mind of its own, although there’s an eminently respectable literary tradition of truculent computers wanting to get their own way. </li></ul><ul><li>The critical point that I’m making is that the social effects of technology are always products of the way in which we exploit it. So, what I hope to do in this session is to show you how to question technological innovations, and to think about ways in which you can exploit them in a more positive fashion. </li></ul><ul><li>Because no-one’s going to do it for you., </li></ul>
    19. 24. Slide 3-4 notes <ul><li>Slide 3 </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s start with an old idea. Ideas are going to be important in this presentation. Those of you who have done some work on research methods may recognise this kind of philosophy as informing quantitative research. </li></ul><ul><li>(I’m not saying that quants is invalid, here, just that it is a particular way of looking at the world based on a particular philosophy). </li></ul><ul><li>Utilitarianism (although we don’t call it that any more) is still highly influential in policy making although less so in politics. (Most Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, who was not born in the US!. Coalition’s bonfire of the quangos, is coming up against reality). </li></ul><ul><li>Point is people choose what to believe anyway. </li></ul><ul><li>But computers don’t have that choice. The theory behind them is that information can be broken down into bits, combined, recombined and transmitted. In that sense information theory works as we know. But it has nothing to say about the meaning of what is transmitted. Utilitarianism places a particular kind of meaning on what is transmitted. </li></ul><ul><li>And that isn’t always welcome… </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 4 </li></ul><ul><li>The railways, which were the technology that perhaps did most to change the face of the West, were developed for profoundly utilitarian reasons – which were not always welcome… </li></ul><ul><li>Ruskin was of course talking about the advent of the railways, in this case the line through Monsal Dale in Derbyshire. But let’s deconstruct his remarks a bit. </li></ul><ul><li>“ The valley is gone”. Manifestly, it is not gone. (no need for a viaduct if it had). What has in fact gone is Ruskin’s idea of an unspoilt sylvan vale, where he could commune with nature untroubled by the great unwashed steaming past on their way to indulge in dreary commercial activities </li></ul><ul><li>Also, although Ruskin couldn’t have known for sure that this would happen, the line has now gone, (after about 100 years), although as we can see, some of the infrastructure survives, as a walking and cycling route interestingly, thus reverting to a form of (admittedly managed) nature. </li></ul><ul><li>There is also a hint of the romantic environmentalism characteristic of neo-luddite thought in Ruskin’s quotation which we will return to later. </li></ul><ul><li>Throughout this presentation I want to be emphaisising the primacy of ideas . </li></ul><ul><li>Three ideas here. </li></ul><ul><li>Nature is good </li></ul><ul><li>Machines threaten it </li></ul><ul><li>Nothing is permanent </li></ul>
    20. 25. Slide 5 notes <ul><li>http:// =X4qOlJnckyQ </li></ul><ul><li>I hasten to add, I’m not recommending this. </li></ul><ul><li>Flip chart/Whiteboard </li></ul><ul><li>Well, here’s what I identified from it </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers are inadequate </li></ul><ul><li>If we don’t use technology we’ll get left behind </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation is a good thing </li></ul><ul><li>Teacher’s don’t spend enough time with students </li></ul><ul><li>Students need personalised learning plans </li></ul><ul><li>Funding is dependent on success </li></ul><ul><li>E-learning works </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers are underpaid! </li></ul><ul><li>And here’s what I didn’t get. </li></ul><ul><li>Any sense of what they meant by “learning” </li></ul><ul><li>Why “e-learning” would encourage students to do better. </li></ul><ul><li>Whether this alleged extra $10,000 dollars would in fact end up in teacher’s pay packets. (I have a feeling it wouldn’t) </li></ul>
    21. 26. Slide 6-7 notes Slide 6 Most of what we do is actually informed by ideas not facts. Ideas are moral, immoral, ethical, or unethical right or wrong. But they’re never correct or incorrect. They depend on your point of view. We place a great deal of emphasis on information, but to ignore the primacy of ideas is extremely risky. It is really how information is used that matters. Why do we gather the information that we do? For what purposes? Slide 7 This is a metaphysical and epistemological question about the nature of knowledge. What does it mean to “know” something. (In fact, let’s all share something that we know. Doesn’t matter what) That should have produced a random collection of facts. Yet, information is only useful if it has something in common with other bits of information. (e.g. people who live in postcode X buy lots more Jedward albums than people who live in postcode Y. If we can do this, we can begin to make rational predictions about likely outcomes of interventions. But there’s still a moral dimension to our decisions. There’s also a practical dimension. Why are we relating THESE bits of information to THOSE other bits of information? Essentially, I’d argue, it’s because we’ve had an idea and we want to test it!
    22. 27. Slide 8-9 notes <ul><li>Power, as we have seen is a double-edged sword (Well, most swords are) Those of you familiar with Marx, will be aware of his suggestion that working for other people separates the worker from his or her labour…Something that is beautifully captured in Roethke’s poem here, particularly the phrase the “misery of manila folders”. </li></ul><ul><li>Point is information has no life of its own. But we let it colonize our own lives. </li></ul><ul><li>And that raises further questions – who is it that is doing the colonising? And why? What is the idea behind all this? </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 9 </li></ul><ul><li>Of course the point of having more knowledge is that we will have more to sell. </li></ul><ul><li>(Hence we’ve seen all the arguments about music and video piracy, the debate about e-books, newspapers going behind Firewalls etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>This is essentially Marx’s theory of value at work. He wasn’t talking about information, of course, but you can see the parallel. </li></ul><ul><li>If we work to produce a commodity that we will not ourselves make use of, it only has any value to us in that we can exchange it for commodities produced by other people – in short we are alienated from our own labour. Not always, because we do make stuff for ourselves, and not entirely. (Though remember the point about information having no life of its own. </li></ul><ul><li>My argument is that this alienation is inimical to the development of new knowledge. If we work for others, we struggle to develop new ideas. Here’s an example… </li></ul>
    23. 28. Slide 10-11 notes Slide 10 Bernard Lovell, Astronomer Royal was essentially making the obvious point that if you look at things from a particular perspective, you’re going to see things from that perspective. In other words, you find what you’re looking for. It sometimes works the other way – Darwin’s theory of evolution came out of his observation of the shape of the beaks of different finch species and the idea that they needed to be different because of their environment. No computer could ever have worked that out though. For computers are, as Lovell suggests, narrow filters of information. There is not the slightest possibility of serendipitous discovery. For that you need multiple sensory inputs – Think of Proust and his Madeleine cakes. - We are miles and miles away from this kind of artificial intelligence. Slide 11 You want to read the paper. It’s out on the lawn (This is the USA) So you should go out and pick it up. Quite an easy decision to make, even with lots of information. You’d think wouldn’t you? But it’s raining. In which case you put on a coat. But it’s raining really hard. And you’ve just had your hair done. So you get an umbrella. But then you think, The newspaper’s going to be sopping wet anyway when I get it out of its wrapper. And I really don’t want to. So you turn on the radio… There’s ostensibly logical thinking in this, but a genuine research project At Berkeley University, described in Roszak pp124-125) failed to write a program to replicate it. The human mind doesn’t work that way – but it’s the only way a computer can do it. The point is that you KNOW what to do. The machine doesn’t. Not that stops people trying to sell knowledge!
    24. 29. Slide 12-13 notes <ul><li>Slide 12 </li></ul><ul><li>In 1997 the administration of UCLA started an “Instructional Enhancement Initiative” requiring that all Arts and Sciences Courses had to have a web site by the start of the fall term. (Given the ubiquity of Blackboard, that doesn’t sound that unreasonable now) </li></ul><ul><li>But… </li></ul><ul><li>The decision was made in Summer (while academic staff were away) </li></ul><ul><li>It was to be funded by a new, compulsory, student fee. </li></ul><ul><li>At the same time the university began offering courses in collaboration with a for profit company that was specifically created for this purpose. </li></ul><ul><li>Given what we already know, why do we think this was seen as a good idea? </li></ul><ul><li>Lesson to be learnt from history. Tell the story of the 1920’s correspondence courses. </li></ul><ul><li>What we see then is a variety of strands of the education market, and technology as a way of exploiting them. </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 13 </li></ul><ul><li>Doesn’t take a genius to see that this is worth a lot of money! Or in Marxist terms, there’s a lot of surplus value being produced </li></ul><ul><li>“ Learning content” – I think this is “information” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Student fees” can be raised, justified by investment in tech </li></ul><ul><li>“ Skilled” graduates. A “Skill” is the ability to perform a task informed by some (usually) fairly esoteric knowledge. But “skills” seem to have come to mean a relatively limited range of ability useful for “business practice” In other words, this is about socialising the cost of education, while keeping the benefits in private hands. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Corporate technology” can be sold to universities – in fact they have little alternative other than to buy. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Personal technology” – students have to buy a lot of computers (and peripherals) too </li></ul><ul><li>We produce intellectual property, but as academics we’re pretty much obliged to give it away – the UCLA project I referred to insisted that academics who provided learning content gave their IP in their work to the University. (Actually in most cases Copyright does belong to whoever commissioned a work, so they were within their rights – but what does it say about the nature of academic labour?) </li></ul>
    25. 30. Slide 14-15 notes <ul><li>Slide 14 </li></ul><ul><li>I think this slide is pretty much self explanatory, and really sums up my critique of the way technology has been used in universities. It hasn’t been used to develop knowledge, or “promote learning” whatever the marketeers might say. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s actually a trojan horse for capital to exploit the value hidden in the higher education market. And I think it’s going to get worse. </li></ul><ul><li>So what are we going to do about it? Well first, I’d like to ask a question of you… </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 15 </li></ul><ul><li>How many technological devices do you have on your person now, and which you could use for your learning now. I’m including, laptops, netbooks, mobile phones, PDAs, ipods, ipads, kindles, digital cameras in this. I’m sure you can think of more! </li></ul><ul><li>(And how many peripherals are there – flash drives, chargers, ethernet cables etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>Now add these to equipment that you have at home. </li></ul><ul><li>How many is that? </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s go around the group and total it up! </li></ul>
    26. 31. Slide 16-17 notes <ul><li>Slide 16 </li></ul><ul><li>I want to look at ways we can resist the colonising tendencies of technology, some more positive than others. First we’ll have a look at Luddism, or more properly neo-luddism.- this isn’t the unthinking anti technology reaction it’s often portrayed as. Goes much deeper. There is certainly an element of romantic resistance to technology, but it’s about selective technology – so we’ll need a bit of historical background </li></ul><ul><li>Then I need to have a look at some of the legal ramifications around working with technology, specifically around intellectual property – but we should also briefly mention disability discrimination, Freedom of Information and data protection, </li></ul><ul><li>Finally I want to look at a couple of ways in which we might be able to open up our teaching. </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 17 </li></ul><ul><li>Luddism is often a tempting riposte to mechanisation, but it’s often misrepresented. </li></ul><ul><li>Luddites weren’t unthinking anti-technology reactionaries, but were often skilled technologists themselves. </li></ul><ul><li>The problem was the quality of their work was being compromised by tech, and their status as artisans undermined </li></ul><ul><li>Arguably the conditions that led to the Luddite protests in C19 being replicated in the modern university. (You may well think that is a large claim. Because it is!) </li></ul><ul><li>And there is little doubt that the Luddites were drawing on a romantic tradition of resistance to oppression (there is an obvious similarity between “Ned Ludd” and “Robin Hood” for example – both probably fictional characters but clearly proletarian heroes. </li></ul><ul><li>But, and this is a massive “But” – Luddism was savagely repressed, with executions, transportation and all the violence of the state. Marxists would argue that this is an example of the extremes to which capital will go to protect its own interest. Of course, times have changed, and we don’t have the opportunity to smash the machines. Well, we can, but it is a futile gesture – resistance takes different forms. </li></ul>
    27. 32. Slide 18 notes <ul><li>Six Licences – that allow other people to use your work. What is really important to understand about Creative Commons is that you do not give up the copyright in your work. (But as discussed earlier, you might not own it!) But where you do, you license other people to do use your work under certain conditions. </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution. You let anyone do anything to your work, as long as they attribute it to you. </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution, share alike. As above, but if anyone changes your work, they have to release their modifications under the same terms </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution, no derivatives - can be used commercially, but can’t be changed </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution Non commercial – allows changing your work, but not release for commercial purposes in either original or changed for. </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution Non Commercial share alike - allows remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature. </li></ul><ul><li>Attribution – Non commercial No derivatives. Quite a restrictive license in that while it does allow others to download and share their work, it doesn’t allow any development or changes – sometimes described as a “free advertising” license. </li></ul><ul><li>IP law not the only thing to bear in mind. If you produce work on-line, then you have to make it available in formats that anyone can access. (So, technically, I should have produced a podcast of this in case we have any visually impaired students.) </li></ul><ul><li>There’s also FOI law – Any one has the right to ask any public body for any information it has (Although not private ones) and it must provide it within 21 days. (Unless there’s a good reason not to – and “We don’t really want to” isn’t regarded as a good excuse!” </li></ul><ul><li>Finally Data Protection requires that any information about individuals be registered, and again, individuals have the right to ask for that information (Again, there are exceptions) </li></ul>
    28. 33. Slide 19-20 notes <ul><li>Slide 19 </li></ul><ul><li>Martha Groom at the University of Washington Bothell in the USA has experimented with getting students on two of her courses to submit articles to Wikipedia </li></ul><ul><li>students valued the public peer review process that Wikipedia offers, even when other editors pointed out that their work was derivative, </li></ul><ul><li>They were much more cautious about checking the value of references, and that work was further developed as other readers contributed to the debate, or asked students for further information. </li></ul><ul><li>It is important to prepare the students, both conceptually and technically for learning in public. </li></ul><ul><li>Technical issues about privacy of students (resolved by getting them to create pseudonymous accounts), learning the markup language used by Wikipedia, Develop understand that writing for an encyclopaedia requires a different style from a more traditional academic essay. </li></ul><ul><li>Argument is that the investment required pays off dramatically in students much greater understanding of how knowledge is created. </li></ul><ul><li>Slide 20 </li></ul><ul><li>This is the Academic Commons web site from CUNY. </li></ul><ul><li>Constructed around personal blogs. (With a social interface added on) </li></ul><ul><li>A blog is a personal diary, consisting of entries each of which has the following features – post date, category, title, body, trackback, comments, permalink and a footer </li></ul><ul><li>you should always keep a research diary to </li></ul><ul><li>Reflect on your experiences, Categorise research/teaching experiences, ramble incoherently, provide tips for colleagues, provide useful documents (in teaching you can use it for assignments, calendars), provide a space for students to contact you, comments based on literature readings (and responses to your comments, a collaborative space (you can invite others to your blog), images and reflections, An online gallery space for review of works, writings etc, A portfolio of work. </li></ul><ul><li>Different from discussion fora in that it foregrounds the individual over the group – they do the reverse. </li></ul><ul><li>Can use RSS feeds to allow readers to alert themselves of posts or opinions </li></ul><ul><li>Can follow other blogs. </li></ul><ul><li>Can be linked with other blogs as with here </li></ul><ul><li>So, if you don’t have a blog, why not? </li></ul>
    29. 34. Slide 21 notes (summary) <ul><li>So to summarise – technology does have a tendency to colonise our lives. What I hope is that I have provided you with some different ways to think about it, and given you some ideas for things you can do. </li></ul><ul><li>I strongly recommend you start and maintain a blog. It’s a really useful way of recording your research journey. This isn’t a how to session, but I’ve posted some links on starting a blog on the Blackboard page. There’s also some useful guidance on setting up and using wikis. </li></ul><ul><li>And that is my conclusion really. It’s not that technology is something that you sit and wait for “training” in – there’s very little point. If you want technology to deliver social justice, it won’t. But you might, and you can use it to help you in that aim. </li></ul>