HEWN, No. 296

"The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is there is good because otherwise who would care" -- V. M. Varga, Fargo, Season 3

I’m juggling so many ideas in my brain right now, it will be a relief to begin to put some of them on paper — not just as the notes that I’ve been jotting down during my research for Teaching Machines, but to finally craft longer sentences, paragraphs, arguments. It is time to write this book.

But first, a few more tasks...

Most of the reading I’m doing right now in my final weeks of research I’d describe as “contextual” — that is, I’m reading the bestsellers and articles that reflect ideas influencing and influenced by and adjacent to teaching machines and behaviorism in the 1950s and 1960s. Needless to say, I’ve been reading a lot about cybernetics — something that totally colored how I thought about the article Mike Caulfield published this week on “The Homeostatic Fallacy and Misinformation Literacy.” Homeostasis is a cornerstone of cybernetic (and information) theory. And yet here we are, thanks to data-driven “feedback,” all out of whack.

All the reading on cybernetics — Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, Gordon Pask, and the like — has colored too how I thought about the 50th anniversary of “The Mother of All Demos” that rolled around last weekend, an event that many in the tech industry like to point to as unveiling or foretelling the future of personal computing. I’ve been thinking, I suppose, how and why the augmentation of human intellect, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Englebart himself, is most often now traced to Silicon Valley and to Xerox PARC as opposed to other places, people, institutions.

And so I’m stewing a bit on how “intellect” (yes, I’m reading some Richard Hofstadter as well) in Silicon Valley might actually matter far less than “innovation.” Scholarship (and perhaps democracy) matters even less. I think there’s something wrapped up in all this marketing and mythology that might explain in part why the tech industry (and, good grief, the ed-tech industry) is so incredibly and dangerously dull. You can’t build thinking machines (or teaching machines for that matter) if you’re obsessed with data but have no ideas. (That’s a Theodore Roszak insight there. Reading him too.) You can’t augment humankind, turns out, if you loathe and if you undermine humanity.

Anyway, all these thoughts and more and the book and such are prompting me to make some big changes to my website Hack Education. I'll write more about that next week...

Reading recommendations, in the meantime: “His Only Living Boy” by Casey Parks. “The Rise, Lean, And Fall Of Sheryl Sandberg” by Anne Helen Petersen.

This week’s pigeon is a Jacobin pigeon (but you could probably tell by the ruffle and wicked side-eye):

(Image credits)

Yours in struggle,