Week 2: E-learning and Digital Cultures #edcmooc

I’m currently attending this MOOC: E-learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera.

Activity for Week 2

Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.

I watched these videos:

Video: “Day Made of Glass 2” (Corning)

The “Glass as lifestyle” approach is somewhat corporate wishful thinking, IMHO, and relies too much on groovy futuristic sci-fi touch interfaces to make the glass medium look exciting. Tinting windows? Sure. Use my bedroom window to help me decide what to pull out of my closet that is only a few feet away? Fat chance.

A massive sheet of glass in the middle of a demonstration forest would never be that clean and perfect.
I’m sure it would also be dangerous for the wildlife (dead birds having crashed into it all the time = scary discoveries for young girls).

In the classroom, students are just well-behaved passive recipients of the Teacher’s initial presentation, with nobody raising their hand to ask a question or ask to go to the bathroom. In classrooms today that use interactive whiteboards, students are often encouraged to come to the front and move images around as part of the lesson. Why do presentation and participation (at the beautiful touch-table) need to be presented as a group activity? In the Corning classroom, students are depicted and treated mainly as one group/collective. Is this a (subconscious) corporate wish for collective harmony? It’s okay for the kids to pick their clothes or to colour Dad’s dashboard full of hearts – that’s harmless kid stuff – but beyond that, personal expression or individuality seem muted in Corningland.

The glass-based solar array on the school roof was a nice image, but they could have done more to humanize their mission, and embrace corporate social responsibility. Like, why not show a kick-ass interactive graffiti wall donated by Corning to some local Community Centre?

Also, why are the young girls private school students? Is that a value judgement about an educational utopia? Does that mean that Corning’s utopian vision would only be available to the upper class and rich medical specialists like the Dad? That would leave something of a dystopian “plexiglass” reality for the lower classes, I guess… 😉 Definite technological determinism there, not to mention class-ism.

Video: “Productivity Future Vision” (Microsoft)

In Microsoft’s vision, paper seems to have disappeared, replaced by flexible touch-sensitive surfaces. Hard for me to accept that. Paper will still remain cheaper than plastic, for at least the next 10 years and more ecologically friendly, forever. I noticed that keyboards are still around in Microsoft’s future vision, at least in the office when one is preparing the annual report (or whatever that dude was doing).

Apparently, nobody at home or work is concerned about any repetitive stress issues from having to do all those large arm motions to swoosh images around on all those massive interactiuve surfaces. How many overweight CEOs are going to throw their back out trying to clear all the virtual files off their ginormous desk-walls?

This idea that all surfaces will be interactive and high-res is completely fantastic – a utopian vision and obvious excuse to demo Microsoft’s Surface technology. It is technologically skewed towards the vendor-manufacturer’s wet dream of an ideal consumer family.

#edcmooc

Week 1: E-learning and Digital Cultures #edcmooc

I’m currently attending this MOOC: E-learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera.

Activity for Week 1

Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.

I watched these videos:

This animation showed symbolically how cultures elevate and then scrap technologies, hoisting them to a high level of dominance, only to turf them in favour of the next big thing. The animation design style mimicked Javanese paper cutout shadow puppets, which was a very compelling choice, and lent a sense of tribal, primitiveness and other-worldliness to the characters.

This live-action comedy-drama uses the metaphor of magic paper bags and sticky notes to illustrate behaviours, interactions and expectations in social media (Facebook, primarily).

“Thursday” is a charming animation showing the tension and inter-relation between human modern electronic culture, and the natural world that continues around (and in spite of) it.

The design style of the animation evokes video games in its pixely appearance and representation of space (isometric projection and side-scroller” look and feel).

Thursday seems to be saying that we live in a vastly technological society, but the natural world is vaster still, and more persistent. The little mother blackbird adapts her song to the tunes she overhears in people’s cellphones and alarm clocks, steals a bit of wire to build her nest, and shelters her chicks in a satellite dish. Nature adapts.

Mankind borrows echoes from nature, putting little bird-like chirps into its mechanical tools – as an ancient comfort perhaps? Generally, it’s man who seems to be living with blinders on, surrounding himself with mechanical proxies for nature, and cloistering himself away from it in his dark, hive-like internal cubicle farms. Not until our human protagonist sees “the big picture” from space (and later when he contemplates the little crashed bird on his windowsill) does he seem to reconnect to his natural world.

Ultimately, the theme I saw here was freedom and survival of the natural world, alongside the structure and abstractions of the human digital culture. I think the true main protagonist of this little film are the birds.

#edcmooc

Improving hardware and software usability, but for whom?

stock-footage-social-network-on-touch-screen-tablet-pc-with-finger-touching-screen-and-arranging-wordsLast year, I read an astute saying that said “If you didn’t pay to use a service, then you are the product being sold”. I feel like that kind of “buyer beware” maxim could be applied to ease-of-use in information technologies too. Here’s what I mean…

If a technology tool or platform is popular, we could say that, in part, because it’s easier to use than the competition, the usability aspect of its design was likely a core business strategy. Hardware designers might talk of “build quality” and ergonomics – it’s all about usability.

Today, usability is deeply integrated into product design and marketing. For example, let’s take the rise of tablet computing platforms – most popularly, the Apple iPad. Many users who are new, or technologically-intimidated, or very young or old, will likely have an easier time using a touch-tablet like the iPad than they would using a desktop computer. Compared to the user experience of manipulating a mouse and keyboard on a desk to manipulate objects on a screen, touching your finger to a screen on a tablet (primarily one that has an OS that is designed for touch use) is much easier for a new or unfamiliar user. You don’t have to “get used” to using a mouse (i.e. training yourself that a wrist movement of a few inches from left to right across your desk will translate into a one-foot left-to-right motion of a pointer on the screen in front of your face). This basic aspect of the windows-mouse-icon-pointer interface is actually a barrier to use: a new user must practice a little bit before they can easily manipulate graphical objects using a mouse.

In this regard, smartphone and tablet-based computing have been absolute game-changer technologies for many people. Apple and many other manufacturers knew this, and were waiting for touch-screen technology to become sophisticated and inexpensive enough to bring to the mass market.

These devices are used to access many free and for-pay information and media services. People don’t really think about the way it is – they just want to be able to use these devices – these new gadgets – to get at the news, music, movies, or games that they want. Corporations seem to have taken a cue from the original “information on the Internet should be free” ethos that evolved through the 70s, 80s and 90s, and subverted it by making books, apps and games available on tablets for only a few dollars, or even for free. Buying an iPad game that will give you dozens of hours of fun will cost you about the same as a pack of bubble gum. That’s one barrier gone. After you download it, you can use it right away – installation is usually fast and minimal. That’s another barrier gone.

From a business perspective, making a platform easier to use (usability), and making the purchase process easier to complete (one-click fulfillment) and easier to justify (cheap or free) will easily result in more purchases. Amazon’s “One-click” purchase button was the first place I saw this kind of supermarket checkout “impulse purchase” tactic at work. I had disposable income, and Jeff Bezos and Amazon made it extremely easy for me to dispose of it on a whim. I could “impulse buy” a thirty dollar hardcover book with even less effort than it would take to grab a candy bar at the checkout aisle at Safeway. Tablets with apps and books that can be bought for under a dollar, while you’re laying in bed at night, are about as convenient and impulsive as it gets.

It means that the end-user consumer must exercise some discretion and will power to avoid nickel and diming themselves down to a negative balance in their bank account. A high degree of usability in the device itself makes for a pleasing and satisfying user experience, and ubiquitous cheap online products in a “one-click marketplace make it deceptively easy to please the vendors.

So, if it’s too easy to use, be careful. You might use it too often.

Buyer beware.

Sonic Soul and Electric Blues: Listening a little closer to Jimi Hendrix

Every few years, I go through a “music phase”, where I feel inspired to pick up my acoustic and learn a new chord or two, or try to learn a tune on our little Casio keyboard. It feels good to explore a different kind of expression, even as a periodic novice.

Inspiration can come from different sources. The biggest inspiration for me this time has been the great Jimi Hendrix. I guess I became most musically self-aware during the 70s and 80s, which was really a time dominated by heavy metal, progressive rock and new wave. The blues and blues-rock of the sixties were already being treated as passe, yet for my generation, the sixties were marketed as “the good old days” and could be heard every day at noon on “The Electric Lunch on CFOX.

I heard Hendrix on the radio a lot back then, and became fascinated by his crazy, spacey sounds, his incredibly powerful guitar riffs, and the honesty that came out in his singing voice.

I read James Henderson’s biography of Jimi, called “‘Scuze me While I Kiss the Sky”, and I realized that parts of his life story really resonated with me: he struggled with alcoholism in his family (me too), and he lost his mother when he was in his early teens (mine almost died from liver failure, and after brain damage and institutionalization, was unable to recognize her family most of the time).

In Hendrix’s voices (his own and through his guitars), I heard a quest for love, a sense of loss, and a fire to identify himself in the world. He had a lot of real poetry and passion in him, and all his music felt to me like very personal statements, whether it was funky, bluesy, folkish, or heavy electric..

Here’s a very good article on Jimi from The Guardian, written in 2010, on the 40th anniversary of his death: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/aug/08/jimi-hendrix-40th-anniversary-death

Gallery-2557: Personal Drawing and Collage

Here’s a link to a new gallery on this site – a collection of personal drawings or collages that I’ve done since 1998.

If I draw, it can be immediate, messy and expressive, like the manic scribbles of an angry child.
That feels good.

However, collage from found commercial images is my favourite method.
I like the idea of co-opting some art director’s vision, shredding it to bits, and putting the elements into a completely new context that suits my needs. I’ve learned that using “found images” evokes sub-conscious themes; archetypal symbols, dreams, or metaphors that are sitting underneath my skin, waiting to be re-used on paper. Some of the themes they evoke are inherent in the image, so really, at some level, I’m tapping into the collective unconscious that I share with that original art director or photographer. They just didn’t give me permission to so that, but so what…

I have (so far) resisted using digital tech for my personal images, sticking with scissors, tape, glue, pen, pencil, and crayon. I have a large plastic storage box full of odd magazine pages, and piles of ripped out, cut up elements: hands, arms, faces, spines, textures, dark silhouettes, and various angels and monsters. Fashion magazines often provide a rich storehouse of raw material for my surrealist visual “riffs”.

As I cut out bits of images and move them around on a page, a foreground/background theme, setting, or figure may begin to emerge. Rarely have I ever sat down with a particular idea in mind beforehand – it comes from the process of exploration, play and chance.

Creating a collage feels most personal when working by hand, directly applying paper to paper, tacking bits in place with tape, and then gluing them down into final locations. It feels like a little stage.