Let there be tech: what “creation myths” tell us about control

Lawrie’s been at it again! Following a conversation with Amber Thomas, he posted last night about classic tales and our relationship with ed tech referring to classics like “Stone Soup”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and so on and he asked for people to contribute ideas for other narrative types that characterise the ed tech landscape.

So, like a bad student who doesn’t read the question properly, I started thinking about Creation Myths. You know, go big or go home! More specifically, how the stories that are told of the genesis (small G) of technical innovations tell us about the values of the different parties involved.

I started out reflecting on how the creation narrative around MOOCs panned out with some focussing on the efforts of Sebastian Thrun, Andrew Ng and so on with the likes of Coursera and on the other hand looking to the deeper roots of the approach pioneered by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes et al. It’s hinted at in this article from University Affairs.

Then I got thinking about Facebook. There was an advert recently that FB put out to try to salvage some of its reputation in the fall out from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Here it is:

It’s an attempt ot reclaim that origin narrative. It’s the line that goes “when this place does what it was built for then we all get a little closer.” Is that really what it was built for? I mean, really? If you watch another version of that narrative, David Fincher’s Social Network movie, that phrase takes on a different meaning.

Lastly, I thought about a talk I saw a few years ago at the Thinking Digital conference in Gateshead by the economist Mariana Mazzucato where she effectivley dismantled the received wisdom that products like the iPhone were all to do with the innovation and entrepreneurship of the private sector and pointed out that it was public sector-funded developments that had made it all possible in the first place. Watch it, it’s brilliant

In posts and workshops in the past I’ve mentioned the hackneyed and serially misattributed phrase “those who tell the stories, rule the world”. Stories are how we make sense of events but they’re never neutral .You can tell a lot by looking at contrasting narratives as a way of taking control.  And who is telling them can be instructive. Ask yourslef, in whose interests is this story being told. It pays to be critical.

And if you’re the storyteller, it pays to do this responsibly.

Facebook Killer, qu’est que c’est? Fa fa fa fah, fa fa, fa fa fah fah.


Google+ has been causing a bit of a stir over the last week as people with invites have been putting it through its paces.

I don’t have an invite. 🙁

But then, neither do the other people in my core network.

Watching the tweets come in about how people are finding it is fascinating. While nobody that I’m following has gone hugely ape over it, the responses seem to range from “meh” to “interesting”. No one has been outright hostile as far as I can see.

I was interested in this post from Read/Write Web about the possibilities (and limitations) for using Google+ in school. It seems like it’s not offering anything revolutionary in itself but the collection of tools in one place with eventual support for Google Docs etc puts it in a powerful position.

Also, check out Tom Barrett’s post on the subject.

Doug Belshaw highlighted the influence on our collective online lives that Google could wield if Plus takes off.

The other theme of note is the inevitable “is this an Facebook killer?”.

Why is it that for some new technologies to have been judged as successful they need to have obliterated the competition? Do we apply that reasoning to newspapers? Chocolate bars? If we’re worried about concentration of our online data in the hands of a couple of corporations then having a broad spectrum of platforms is surely more healthy. 

Of course, networks work best where people flock together and Facebook’s 600m users make quite a flock. Also, quite a lot of my personal experience over the last few years is catalogued in Facebook and I’d be loathe to abandon that record.

A few years ago, the mobile operators were forced to introduce number portability. It was apparent that mobile telephony was as essential tool for people and to facilitate competition the networks were told to allow users to carry their number onto other networks. Arguably, some people’s social network activities are now as important as their mobile phone.

Would this be possible on social networks? Not easily. Platforms operate in such a variety of ways that simple transferability isn’t possible. Transferring data between eportfolios or VLE’s is hard enough. Also, the comparison doens’t quite work as we might be consumers of social networking but we’re not necessarily customers so social network providers are under a different set of obligations.

What I would like to see is a SoMe ecosystem that evolves to facilitate easy movement between platforms and a greater measure of compatability between them. It’s not really in the best interest of the likes of Facebook but I can dream, can’t I?

In the meantime, I’m off to set up a support group for learning technology people that didn’t get their early invites for Google+.

I think I’ll do it in LinkedIn.

Image credit: Ripples by Cappuccino_iv – By-NC-ND