Let’s be honest. If we were always this cautious about data, the Internet economy as we know it would never exist. Many of the innovations of the last couple of decades have sprung directly from our willingness to blithely let Google track our web activity or post photos of our families on Facebook or share our innermost thoughts with the world on Twitter or allow apps to know where we are at any given moment. From time to time, we grow alarmed—when we learn that Facebook has changed its privacy settings or that the NSA has been storing our email or that Uber executives are sharing our real-time travel data to impress people at parties—but not enough to actually change our behavior. An entire ideology has sprung up among tech startups—move fast, break things; it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission—encouraging founders to trample convention, offend sensibilities, and risk screwing up. It’s the cost of progress.
For the most part, we’ve been able to accept that trade-off—for ourselves. But kids are different. They evoke almost unbearable wellsprings of emotion–love, sure, but also doubt, fear, and guilt. We lay awake at night worrying that we are failing them, that we aren’t giving them enough emotional support or the right skills, that we are too lenient or too strict, that we are too approachable or not approachable enough. We worry that we are bequeathing them a world that is worse than the one we inherited, that they will be forced to fend for themselves in a drought-besieged dystopia where only the mega-rich can afford such luxuries as, I don’t know, meat. We worry that the same technological advances that have both enchanted and enraged us will further dominate their lives—and we feel powerless to understand or predict precisely what that will mean.
Whoa, sorry, maybe I got a little carried away there. Am I projecting? Somehow I doubt it.
Anyway, I have to think that’s partly why educational technology remains so difficult to implement. We may know—deeply believe—that technology can have a miraculous impact on the education system, but we can’t help but become at least somewhat driven by our worst fears. We worry that the decisions we make today will have unintended consequences that follow our children for the rest of their lives. This is one realm where we don’t feel comfortable making mistakes and asking for forgiveness later, and that makes it difficult to take even the first, most innocuous steps.
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
In one end is the stored material. The matter of bulk is well taken care of by improved microfilm. Only a small part of the interior of the memex is devoted to storage, the rest to mechanism. Yet if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day it would take him hundreds of years to fill the repository, so he can be profligate and enter material freely.
Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place. Business correspondence takes the same path. And there is provision for direct entry. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. On this are placed longhand notes, photographs, memoranda, all sorts of things. When one is in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.
Will there be dry photography? It is already here in two forms. When Brady made his Civil War pictures, the plate had to be wet at the time of exposure. Now it has to be wet during development instead. In the future perhaps it need not be wetted at all. There have long been films impregnated with diazo dyes which form a picture without development, so that it is already there as soon as the camera has been operated. An exposure to ammonia gas destroys the unexposed dye, and the picture can then be taken out into the light and examined. The process is now slow, but someone may speed it up, and it has no grain difficulties such as now keep photographic researchers busy. Often it would be advantageous to be able to snap the camera and to look at the picture immediately.
3. Amazing backstory on The Anarchist’s Cookbook
I found a way to get ahold of a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook when I was in high school. It was all terribly interesting; the seemingly secret knowledge of it. I will say the chapter on homemade Nitro-Glycerine did sound incredibly sketchy. You don’t just “sweat” dynamite… This was before the Internet and all information being a Google away. Still this expose makes it that much more interesting. The author of the AC, who later reformed to Christianity and spent a life in international education, spent the 40 years after publication trying to get it out of print.
Stuart had bet right again. Newspapers ran articles with titles such as “Book Teaches Do-It-Yourself Anarchy,” complete with images of bomb-planting hooligans. Stuart played up the controversy, stating that members of his staff were “appalled” that the book had been published and that shareholders were in “a state of shock.” The White House requested a copy and ordered the FBI to investigate. (They did, determining that the book broke no federal laws.) Concerned citizens wrote letters to J. Edgar Hoover. “DANGER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT THIS???,” a man in Florida scrawled above a clipping about the book. The Saturday Review wrote that it was “the starkest example of irresponsible publishing” since the magazine had been founded. At a press conference held at a Manhattan hotel, Powell was interrupted when someone threw a stink bomb. People ducked for cover, and Powell dove behind the lectern. Anarchists were supposedly to blame, angry that a phony such as Powell was cashing in on the revolution. But Powell says that he wouldn’t be surprised if Stuart, master of the media stunt, had orchestrated the show. When the smoke cleared and Powell stood up, he realized that Stuart hadn’t moved an inch.
A photo from the press conference shows a young Powell sporting long hair and a bushy beard. His jaw is set, but there’s also a glimmer of uncertainty in his eyes, as if he’s not totally clear on how he ended up in front of the collection of microphones. The book had been written alone and in a hurry, and Stuart published it without making any changes. (“An angry kid’s blog, circa 1970” is how one Amazon reviewer put it.) As Powell weathered a media storm, an FBI investigation, and a number of threatening letters in his mailbox (“Dear Anti-Christ,” one began), he started to have second thoughts. “There wasn’t a seminal moment, like Paul on the road to Damascus, when a blinding light came down,” he says about his change of heart. “But the publicity surrounding the book spurred me to try and think it through again, to try and justify it. And I came up short.”
Powell set out to rebuild his life: He graduated co-valedictorian from Windham College in Vermont and spent a year in Alaska, where he worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and taught emotionally disturbed children. He returned to New York, gained custody of a young son from a previous marriage, and met his current wife. By the late 1970s, he was earning a master’s degree in English and teaching at a private school in Westchester County in New York state for students with special needs, on the path that would lead to a long career in education. “All was quiet,” he remembers. The book had made a splash and, he thought, been forgotten.
4. Sci-Show on cognitive bias and belief systems (and vaccination)
Got 10 minutes? I know it’s a lot to ask. Your brain fails you in predictable ways (think it doesn’t? that’s one of the ways it fails you) This video quickly runs through a number of them. It also speaks to why you should be patient (and aware) of your own mind and everyone else’s.
“Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” – Graeme Wood
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I hope that you’ll read these articles if they catch your eye and that you’ll learn as much as I did. Please email me questions, feedback or raise issues for discussion. Better yet, if you know of something on a related topic, or of interest, please pass it along. And as always, if one of these links comes to mean something to you, recommend it to someone else.