The Golden Age of Freeware

I just read a great posting on SavageMinds by Christopher Kelty about the age of Free software and free services that we are living. This is a glorious golden age of free software and as Kelty states, it has absolutely helped some of us innovate. I have worked on robotics projects with poor rural middle school students and have helped undergraduate students and non-for-profits start a number of websites and blogs.

But, I fear, it will not last. I fear it will be just like the last golden age where the cataclysmic bursting of the dot-com bubble ushered in the dark ages of the Microsoft empire. I am enjoying it while all these free apps are here but Google will have to become the ‘grumpy old troll under the bridge’ eventually. It comes with the territory of being a behemoth. This should not come as a surprise to anyone – Ibn Khaldun (one of the world’s first ethnographers!) described these cycles in the Muqaddimah in the 14 century. Microsoft was cool in the beginning but everybody loves to hate them now.

But there are some signs of hope in the following developments that even Ibn Khaldun would have trouble explaining:

Apple made SproutCore open source.

Google made Android open source.

The real tragedy will come when the U.S. finally crosses the Digital sub-Divide (i.e., universal high speed internet access) and most of these fun, cool, free applications will have been swallowed up and licenced by the big guys.

The Digital sub-Divide

NPR’s recent story entitled Looking at the Future of E-Politics points out the need for nationwide broadband access in the United States. Listen closely to the story and they sometimes conflate the “need for Internet access” with the “need for high speed Internet access”.

What I’m referring to as “the digital sub-divide” is the conflation of a current {2008} desire for all Americans to be able to have broadband access and an older concern of a few years ago about any sort of internet access being yet another class marker of the haves vs. have nots in the United States.

Wikipedia states that “the term digital divide refers to the gap between those people with effective access to digital and information technology and those without access to it”. As recently as five years ago, there was a real class divide between Americans who surfed the net and those who didn’t. That is no longer the case, particularly in light of the fact that some mobile phones are faster than some internet connections. The organization clearly understands this as illustrated in their first objective: “Every home and business in American must have high-speed internet access”. With the advent of “cloud computing” high speed access is quickly becoming an important determining factor in connectivity in the United States. Robin Bloor’s recent post entitled, “Everything as a service: The the growth of cloud computing” clearly illustrates this change.

The US is the fourth most wired place on the planet. There are rural pockets that have no access to broadband but this should not be confused with what is now being referred to as “The Global Digital Divide” (see the map below that I found on Wikipedia) where entire nations lag behind others in terms of any level of connectivity. Gary Chapman’s work is more illustrative of this “global digital divide”.

And this is more than just a rant! I recently participated in a rather large project (several hundred thousands of dollars) with a large service provider that conflated these very issues as NPR has done. For the service provider, it maybe some sort of strategic oversight; for NPR, its just bad reporting.

The Global Digital Divide
In summation: YES, it would be great and more democratic if all US citizens had broadband access, but NO, there is no longer a digital divide in the US when you can take an Iphone and watch YouTube clips most anywhere.

Intellectual Bricolers or Trouble Makers?

The current debate about the role of technology in the classroom is a challenging one to follow.  Initially, computers were thought of as a panacea that would improve scores. Then, a backlash came when kids were found to be “screwing around”* with those very devices rather than “learning”.  Now, I’m seeing a third wave where some people are realizing that not all “screwing around” is actually “screwing around”.  There are many skunksworks that clearly illustrate that some forms of organized disobedience can sometimes be very productive and profitable.  But one does not need a major corporation to innovate.  Creativity can be found in “the street” as well.  William Gibson’s famous dictum “the street finds its own uses for things” (“Burning Chrome“, 1981) points to the power of human ingenuity in adverse disempowered contexts like poverty or “American adolescence”.  Lévi-Strauss’ use of the term “bricolage” is a more classical version of this observation.

What is “bricolage” you might as? Wikipedia’s correct when they say bricolage is “borrowed from the French verb ‘bricoler’ – equivalent to the English “do-it-yourself”, the core meaning in French being, however, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)”. 

My research puts me contact with adolescents (middle school students) who “screw around” with robotics and “pre-engineers” (college students) who “fiddle, tinker and create” technology. 

What would happen if our analysis started considering those adolescent kids ‘technological innovators’?  The kids’ transformation from “trouble makers” to “intellectual bricolers” would improve our knowledge base by realizing that some very creative things come from the minds of the disempowered.  This would also improve the educational preparation of students to the degree that they would potentially realize that their “play” is actually “work” in another context.


*[Use of the term “screw around” originates from Garfinkel, “Consider that once you get into line persons will not therein question that you have rightfully gotten into line unless you start screwing around. Then you get instructed” (2002: 257).  Follow this link to better understand how Garfinkel’s  “screwing around” links to this discussion via a discussion of Varenne’s “productive ignorance”.]

“Faeces hint at first Americans”

Let me start my tirade by pointing out that I’ve got nothing against the BBC. When I lived in Mali then Egypt, the BBC was all I listened to. I currently record their nightly TV broadcast to keep up on the world news. But look at the wording they chose to publicize this very important Anthropological finding. To say the least, it was a rather “crappy” way to describe recent findings that suggest humans were in the New World a couple thousand years longer than Anthropologists had originally assumed.

This rather cheap shot reminds me of the fat kid in grade school – even the most dimwitted could find a way to poke fun at him.  Well, I won’t stand idly by and let this one pass, Anthropology deserves better!!

Defiantly Yours,

ex-fat kid

Are Universities Medieval Enclaves?

Some time ago, John Norvell posted this quote on his blog at anthroblogs.

A Jesuit theologian, Edward T. Oakes, reviewing Gary Wills’ latest book on the Catholic Church, chides him with this little gem:

As he should know from his own position as a Catholic professor at a secular university, the two great institutional legacies of the Middle Ages to modern civilization are the Catholic Church and the contemporary university, of which the latter is surely the more rigidly hierarchical: With its politically correct orthodoxies, its hegemonically imposed anti-hegemonic discourse, its salary-mongering, its freedom from taxation (how Constantinian!), its speech codes, its teacher evaluations conducted sub secreto pontificio, its heated debate over the minutest matters, its hair-splitting fights over teaching loads and research assistants (tenure as benefice!), the contemporary university makes the Catholic Church look like a Quaker meeting house.

I would like to take this a bit further by pointing out that although there were two great institutional legacies of the Middle Ages (the university and the church), there were actually two competing models of university (represented by the Universities of Paris and Bologna): Paris was run by faculty and Bologna was run by students (e.g., grad students had the power and responsibility to fire boring faculty). Imagine if the Bologna model had taken root in stead of the Paris model?

St. Patrick’s Day in San Fransisco

This sensationalized account of TheAnthroGeek’s St. Patrick’s Day in San Fransisco and is photo-fictionalized.

…Although I do not remember much, I found these photos on my iphone. With them, I’ve stived to piece together TheAnthorGeek’s day in San Fransisco. Select “slide show” for full effect.

PS. In truth, there is a tech angle here: Tech Tip 38: I’m playing around with ways to tell a story (of something like a trip to San Fransisco for a holiday) via media other than words. I could not load a bunch of photos in this blog so I used the flikr titling of images as a cluncky means to tell that tail.

With the help of the very cool mapjack software, I’ve been able to map out some of my steps as well.
TheAnthroGeek started here and entered China Town here.

Seesmic is a way that one can use little video clips to tell a story as well. I think you have to sign up (for free) to see them but here are clips: before the trip , then during the trip (sorry for the low light) and after the trip

Although Facebook could do much of this, I don’t want to work with a closed platform like that anymore so here I am.

I saw something called StoryBlender at the TechCrunch40 site that also looks promising.

Nutcracker dress rehearsal

Just got back from the Nutcracker dress rehearsal. Although I received an unofficial minor in dance as an undergrad at UWM, I’ve never actually performed with a formal company before.It is only a bit part as one of the parents in the party scene, but it’s far more exciting than correcting exams and my six year old ballet dancing daughter is jealous since she was too young to audition for a role this year!On this the eve of my 43 birthday, I must say I’m tickled pink to be re-involved with ballet.