Can the Web sustain free?

So many of us are grateful for the Web; it allows us seemingly unlimited access to information at the press of a button, and most of it’s free. I saw an interview with Bryce Courteney recently. He talked of how the Web has changed the research he conducts for the novels he writes. What used to take him 8 months now takes 7 weeks. I often think of my College days and the heavy books I would cart home and the hours and hours spent in the State Library of Victoria. Life as a Uni student must be markedly different now; so much is available with an internet connection and access to online resources from Libraries.

That’s why this is worth reading. We have to start questioning how sustainable all of this is if so much of it is ‘free’. Some valid points are raised about the effect ‘free’ will have on our economy; can people keep on developing new apps and products or give away what they know without being able to monetise their investment? I’ve quoted a sizeable chunk from the interview below, but would urge you to read the entire interview as it raises other interesting discussion points about the future of the Web and what it will mean to us.

“JARON LANIER: Well, you know, I would like to see us shake-in, instead of a shakeout, in the sense that it’s true that there’s a lot of junk online, and we have to filter it and so forth.

But, you know, the thing that really disappoints me is that we didn’t create enough jobs, just to be very blunt about it. Ten years ago, what I thought was that the Internet was becoming a major new American industry, and what that would bring with it was, in a way, a replacement for the fading American industries, like our auto industry and our display industry.

And we have reconceived of it as something that is in a sense de-economics. We treat it as this sort of frivolous way to send things around for free. And it’s all in the service of advertising.

RAY SUAREZ: Ah, but, Jaron Lanier, you keep using the word “for free.”


RAY SUAREZ: Isn’t that why it didn’t create any jobs? If you turn people into unpaid journalists, photographers, painters, music video producers, that’s it. It’s unpaid. How could it create a job?

JARON LANIER: Or bloggers or popular tweeters, for that matter.

I think we really made a mistake in separating the Internet from capitalism in a certain way that is bad for our country. I mean, remember, just before that, we had made a — sort of a national decision that we wanted to be this intellectual property country, where we would have things manufactured in China, but we would do the design, we would do the creative stuff.

And now what we have done is, we have forgotten that that’s what we wanted, and we’re making the intellectual stuff more and more free. And, so, we’re sort of left with less and less. And it’s just not tenable. We have to decide one way or the other and really do something to earn our keep. And I think that’s a huge problem right now.”

via After Banner Decade, Peering in on the Future of Technology | PBS NewsHour | Jan. 4, 2010 | PBS.

Part of the problem lies with advertising and how many of us have become, as Steven Hodson describes in a post on The Inquisitr, ‘ad blind’. We’ve become inured to ads on our web pages and find ways to read without them. Take Readability as an example of this. Steven argues that advertisers need to rethink their approach to advertising on the Web; the TV method of, ‘throw it at a captive audience’, just won’t cut it in this new forum. I’ve been one who has bemoaned ads on networks like Ning. I still think ad free platforms need to be developed for education, but I do understand that we may not have access to these platforms at all if they aren’t able to find a way to create income from what they offer.

Perhaps we as educators need to do what people have suggested to me in Twitter conversations; accept that ads are part and parcel of the platform and use them to teach digital literacy. Our students need to understand the business model that permeates the Web and think about it as they browse pages, upload videos and download apps. Especially if they want a job in the future; taking notice just might help provide them with an income.

Avatar – how did they do it and how would you use it?

By now, plenty of you would have seen Avatar, James Cameron’s newest movie. I was completely blown away by the movie, and that was before I’d watched the video above. After watching this, I’m even more blown away. This really does represent a new era of movie making.

Someone left a comment on Twitter about how watching the film reminded them of how they felt when they first saw Star Wars in 1977. I had the same feeling when I was watching Avatar. I also remember being so excited to see the new installment of the Star Wars movies, the introduction of Anakin Skywalker. I vividly recall being so incredibly disappointed while watching it. It didn’t represent movie magic to me; I knew most of it was a digital creation. Avatar is different; yes, there is computer imagery, but it’s the blending of the human with the computer imagery that makes it so much more sophisticated and watchable. (in my opinion, anyway!)

I’d really like to spend time discussing Avatar with a class. I’d like to see what students make of it; are they conscious of the sub texts in the plot? Can they relate what happens on the screen to modern day conflicts or even conflicts from the past? Is some of the terminology used in the film eg: ‘shock and awe’ familiar to them? Do they sense a message to us all about the environmental impact of the way we live our lives?  What do they make of the roles of male and female characters? Why is ‘the human being’ the saviour? In fact, what would be best is to pose no questions to them at all, and instead, let them brainstorm discussion points.

Another interesting way to look at it would be to have students search the web (or Twitter!) for links to items that would pose interesting discussion topics. One such link that came to me from Tony Hollingsworth the other day was from a blog called ‘Dark Roasted Blend’ and the title of the post was, ‘10 possible sources of Avatar in Science Fiction‘.  In it, they make reference to an Ursula Le Guin novella from 1972 entitled ‘The Word for World is Forest‘. Here’s their opinion and precis of the plot;

Similarities? Well, how about a forested planet with the deeply “connected” natives, a human military raid on a huge tree-city and a subsequent retaliation of natives… some scenes seem incredibly familiar, even though Le Guin plot is markedly deeper and more sophisticated.

It makes for interesting reading. Very good fodder for a book club discussion.

There are some scathing criticisms of the film out there too, and they would prove very useful for a class to dissect. Love it, just like it, or hate it, there’s plenty in Avatar that would make for an interesting examination of film making and how it relates to and draws from the human condition.

School’s out Friday

Happy New Year!

Yes, Sydney do it better than anyone. Fireworks, that is. You’ve probably all seen this incredible fireworks display from last night, but if you haven’t it’s so worth watching. I have to admit to being a huge fireworks fan; I seek out a display and drag the family along to any that are nearby. It would be a real treat to be in Sydney on a New Year’s Eve to experience it firsthand.  Just might have to put some serious thought into that idea…..

Hope 2010 treats all of us well! Enjoy your weekend. : )

The era of the everyman – but, you better be good.

Today marks the beginning of a new decade. Time for reflection, but also time for analysis of where we sit. I truly believe we’ve encountered the era of the everyman, the time for the ordinary individual to have the opportunity to achieve something extroadinary.

But, you better work at being good at what you do if you think you’re going to rise above the pack and achieve everything you want. Just because you can post a video to YouTube, connect through Twitter, write a blog, and use all manner of social media networks to get yourself out there, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the next big thing. Yes, the everyman has the opportunity to come from nowhere and make an impact, but plenty of everymen and women out there are starting to catch onto this idea. That’s why it’s vitally important we teach our students to manage their online presence well and ensure that the quality work they produce and expertise they have, can surface and inspire an audience.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw a television interview about Danny MacAskill, a 23 yr old Scottish urban cyclist. When Danny was a teenager, he spent countless hours riding his bike and learning how to do things with a bike that are seemingly impossible, until you see Danny doing them of course. Why was Danny the subject of a television interview? Because his flatmate took a video of his bike riding prowess, posted it on YouTube, and it got 12 million hits. Did his school identify and nurture his talent? I can’t be 100% sure, but the interview suggested his bike riding wasn’t exactly looked on favourably in the community he lived in. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he had have been encouraged to explore his talent to his full potential while at school? Thankfully, Danny’s now making a fully fledged career out of his talent, and is talking to students about how to do what it is he does. No doubt quite a few of those kids will take note of how he came to be living his dream and may act on the example.

I’m a little disappointed that the elective I proposed for this school year, Learning U, didn’t get enough interest from our student body to warrant a class running. (It was renamed ‘ICT’ in the elective handbook – don’t think that helped it any : (  ) The idea of the course was that students would explore their passion and use the tools of social media to connect and learn from others who also share a similar passion. I think it would have helped guide some students to understand how it is you can produce quality content that will help you rise to the top. So, how will I convey this understanding without the forum I was hoping for? I’m not quite sure yet, but I know I’ll be doing my best to help the students at my school to understand that you can use the available tools, and the connections that are possible with these tools, to your advantage. But they’ll need to remember, quality counts while you’re at it.