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Doug Engelbart, transcontextualist | Gardner Writes
"I’ve been mulling over this next post for far too long, and the results will be brief and rushed (such bad food, and such small portions!). You have been warned.

The three strands, or claims I’m engaging with (EDIT: I’ve tried to make things clearer and more parallel in the list below):

1. The computer is “just a tool.” This part’s in partial response to the comments on my previous post. [http://www.gardnercampbell.net/blog1/?p=2158 ]

2. Doug Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework” [http://www.dougengelbart.org/pubs/augment-3906.html ] is “difficult to understand” or “poorly written.” This one’s a perpetual reply. 🙂 It was most recently triggered by an especially perplexing Twitter exchange shared with me by Jon Becker.

3. Engelbart’s ideas regarding the augmentation of human intellect aim for an inhuman and inhumane parsing of thought and imagination, an “efficiency expert” reduction of the richness of human cognition. This one tries to think about some points raised in the VCU New Media Seminar this fall.

These are the strands. The weave will be loose. (Food, textiles, textures, text.)

1. There is no such thing as “just a tool.” McLuhan wisely notes that tools are not inert things to be used by human beings, but extensions of human capabilities that redefine both the tool and the user. A “tooler” results, or perhaps a “tuser” (pronounced “TOO-zer”). I believe those two words are neologisms but I’ll leave the googling as an exercise for the tuser. The way I used to explain this is my new media classes was to ask students to imagine a hammer lying on the ground and a person standing above the hammer. The person picks up the hammer. What results? The usual answers are something like “a person with a hammer in his or her hand.” I don’t hold much with the elicit-a-wrong-answer-then-spring-the-right-one-on-them school of “Socratic” instruction, but in this case it was irresistible and I tried to make a game of it so folks would feel excited, not tricked. “No!” I would cry. “The result is a HammerHand!” This answer was particularly easy to imagine inside Second Life, where metaphors become real within the irreality of a virtual landscape. In fact, I first came up with the game while leading a class in Second Life–but that’s for another time.

So no “just a tool,” since a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand. It’s one of those small but powerful points that can make one see the designed built world, a world full of builders and designers (i.e., human beings), as something much less inert and “external” than it might otherwise appear. It can also make one feel slightly deranged, perhaps usefully so, when one proceeds through the quotidian details (so-called) of a life full of tasks and taskings.

To complicate matters further, the computer is an unusual tool, a meta-tool, a machine that simulates any other machine, a universal machine with properties unlike any other machine. Earlier in the seminar this semester a sentence popped out of my mouth as we talked about one of the essays–“As We May Think”? I can’t remember now: “This is your brain on brain.” What Papert and Turkle refer to as computers’ “holding power” is not just the addictive cat videos (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I imagine), but something weirdly mindlike and reflective about the computer-human symbiosis. One of my goals continues to be to raise that uncanny holding power into a fuller (and freer) (and more metaphorical) (and more practical in the sense of able-to-be-practiced) mode of awareness so that we can be more mindful of the environment’s potential for good and, yes, for ill. (Some days, it seems to me that the “for ill” part is almost as poorly understood as the “for good” part, pace Morozov.)

George Dyson writes, “The stored-program computer, as conceived by Alan Turing and delivered by John von Neumann, broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Our universe would never be the same” (Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe). This is a very bold statement. I’ve connected it with everything from the myth of Orpheus to synaesthetic environments like the one @rovinglibrarian shared with me in which one can listen to, and visualize, Wikipedia being edited. Thought vectors in concept space, indeed. The closest analogies I can find are with language itself, particularly the phonetic alphabet.

The larger point is now at the ready: in fullest practice and perhaps even for best results, particularly when it comes to deeper learning, it may well be that nothing is just anything. Bateson describes the moment in which “just a” thing becomes far more than “just a” thing as a “double take.” For Bateson, the double take bears a thrilling and uneasy relationship to the double bind, as well as to some kinds of derangement that are not at all beneficial. (This is the double-edged sword of human intellect, a sword that sometimes has ten edges or more–but I digress.) This double take (the kids call it, or used to call it, “wait what?”) indicates a moment of what Bateson calls “transcontextualism,” a paradoxical level-crossing moment (micro to macro, instance to meta, territory to map, or vice-versa) that initiates or indicates (hard to tell) deeper learning.
It seems that both those whose life is enriched by transcontextual gifts and those who are impoverished by transcontextual confusions are alike in one respect: for them there is always or often a “double take.” A falling leaf, the greeting of a friend, or a “primrose by the river’s brim” is not “just that and nothing more.” Exogenous experience may be framed in the contexts of dream, and internal thought may be projected into the contexts of the external world. And so on. For all this, we seek a partial explanation in learning and experience. (“Double Bind, 1969,” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, U Chicago Press, 2000, p. 272). (EDIT: I had originally typed “eternal world,” but Bateson writes “external.” It’s an interesting typo, though, so I remember it here.)


It does seem to me, very often, that we do our best to purge our learning environments of opportunities for transcontextual gifts to emerge. This is understandable, given how bad and indeed “unproductive” (by certain lights) the transcontextual confusions can be. No one enjoys the feeling of falling, unless there are environments and guides that can make the falling feel like flying–more matter for another conversation, and a difficult art indeed, and one that like all art has no guarantees (pace Madame Tussaud).

2. So now the second strand, regarding Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” Much of this essay, it seems to me, is about identifying and fostering transcontextualism (transcontextualization?) as a networked activity in which both the individual and the networked community recognize the potential for “bootstrapping” themselves into greater learning through the kind of level-crossing Bateson imagines (Douglas Hofstadter explores these ideas too, particularly in I Am A Strange Loop and, it appears, in a book Tom Woodward is exploring and brought to my attention yesterday, Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. That title alone makes the recursive point very neatly). So when Engelbart switches modes from engineering-style-specification to the story of bricks-on-pens to the dialogue with “Joe,” he seems to me not to be willful or even prohibitively difficult (though some of the ideas are undeniably complex). He seems to me to be experimenting with transcontextualism as an expressive device, an analytical strategy, and a kind of self-directed learning, a true essay: an attempt:

And by “complex situations” we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers–whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years.

A list worthy of Walt Whitman, and one that explicitly (and for me, thrillingly) crosses levels and enacts transcontextualism.

Here’s another list, one in which Engelbart tallies the range of “thought kernels” he wants to track in his formulative thinking (one might also say, his “research”):

The “unit records” here, unlike those in the Memex example, are generally scraps of typed or handwritten text on IBM-card-sized edge-notchable cards. These represent little “kernels” of data, thought, fact, consideration, concepts, ideas, worries, etc. That are relevant to a given problem area in my professional life.

Again, the listing enacts a principle: we map a problem space, a sphere of inquiry, along many dimensions–or we should. Those dimensions cross contexts–or they should. To think about this in terms of language for a moment, Engelbart’s idea seems to be that we should track our “kernels” across the indicative, the imperative, the subjunctive, the interrogative. To put it another way, we should be mindful of, and somehow make available for mindful building, many varieties of cognitive activity, including affect (which can be distinguished but not divided from cognition).

3. I don’t think this activity increases efficiency, if efficiency means “getting more done in less time.” (A “cognitive Taylorism,” as one seminarian put it.) More what is always the question. For me, Engelbart’s transcontextual gifts (and I’ll concede that there are likely transcontextual confusions in there too–it’s the price of trancontextualism, clearly) are such that the emphasis lands squarely on effectiveness, which in his essay means more work with positive potential (understanding there’s some disagreement but not total disagreement about… [more]
dougengelbart  transcontextualism  gardnercampbell  2013  gregorybateson  marshallmcluhan  socraticmethod  education  teaching  howweteach  howwelearn  learning  hammerhand  technology  computers  computing  georgedyson  food  textiles  texture  text  understanding  tools  secondlife  seymourpapert  sherryturkle  alanturing  johnvonneumann  doublebind  waltwhitman  memex  taylorism  efficiency  cognition  transcontextualization 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Networked Learning as Experiential Learning | EDUCAUSE
"No one believes that knowing the alphabet and sounding out words mean that a person possesses the deep literacy needed for college-level learning. Yet our ideas about digital literacy are steadily becoming more impoverished, to the point that many of my current students, immersed in a "walled garden" world of apps and social media, know almost nothing about the web or the Internet. For the first time since the emergence of the web, this past year I discovered that the majority of my sophomore-level students did not understand the concept of a URL and thus struggled with the effective use and formation of hyperlinks in the networked writing class that VCU's University College affectionately calls "Thought Vectors in Concept Space"—a phrase attributed by Kay to Engelbart and one that describes the fundamentally experiential aspect of networked learning.5 My students appeared not to be able to parse the domains in which they published their work, which meant that they could not consistently imagine how to locate or link to each other's work by simply examining the structure of the URLs involved. If one cannot understand the organizing principles of a built environment, one cannot contribute to the building. And if one cannot contribute to the building, certain vital modes of knowing will be forever out of reach.

Yet educators seeking to provide what Carl Rogers called the "freedom to learn" continue to work on those digital high-impact practices.6 It is a paradoxical task, to be sure, but it is one worth attempting—particularly now, when "for the first time in the still-short span of human history, the experience of creating media for a potentially large public is available to a multitude."7 Students' experience of what Henry Jenkins has articulated as the networked mediation of "participatory culture" must extend their experience to school as well.8 School as a site of the high-impact practice of learner-built, instructor-facilitated, digitally networked learning can transform the experience of education even as it preserves, and scales, our commitment to the education of the whole person.

The web was designed for just this kind of collaboration. One does not need permission to make a hyperlink. Yet one does need "the confident insight, the authority of media-making" to create meaning out of those links. Such confidence and authority should be among the highest learning outcomes available to our students within what Mimi Ito and others have described as "connected learning."9 Learner-initiated connections that identify both the nodes and the lines between them, instead of merely connecting the dots that teachers have already established (valuable as that might be), co-create what Lawrence Stenhouse argues is "the nature of knowledge . . . as distinct from information"—"a structure to sustain creative thought and provide frameworks for judgment." Such structures can encourage an enormously beneficial flowering of human diversity, one that lies beyond the reach of prefabricated outcomes: "Education as induction into knowledge is successful to the extent that it makes the behavioural outcomes of the students unpredictable."10

Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond "schooling." If higher education can embrace the complexity of networked learning and can value the condition of emergence that networked learning empowers, there may still be time to encourage networked learning as a structure and a disposition, a design and a habit of being."
networkedlearning  2016  gardnercampbell  jeromebruner  georgekuh  experientialleaerning  experience  learning  howwelearn  education  carlrogers  hypertext  web  online  internet  literacy  alankay  dougengelbart  adelegoldberg  tednelson  vannevarbush  jcrlicklider  georgedyson  alanturing  johnvonneumann  self-actualization  unschooling  deschooling  progressive  networks  social 
february 2016 by robertogreco
Every user a developer, part II, or: Momcomp « Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
"The things which I’ve painted as trivial here are admittedly anything but. But they are, I sincerely believe, how we’re going to handle — have to handle — the human interface to this so-called Internet of Things we keep talking about. Each of the networked resources in the world, whether location or service or object or human being, is going to have to be characterized in a consistent, natural, interoperable way, and we’re going to have to offer folks equally high-level environments for process composition using these resources. We’re going to have to devise architectures and frameworks that let ordinary people everywhere interact with all the networked power that is everywhere around them, and do so in a way that doesn’t add to their existing burden of hassle and care.

Momcomp, in other words. It’s an idea whose time I believe has come."
programming  future  internetofthings  development  design  adaptive  ux  ui  tools  momcomp  usability  android  everyware  adamgreenfield  participation  google  appinventor  interaction  invention  literacy  computing  content  mobile  making  technology  alankay  hypercard  jefraskin  bencerveny  junrekimoto  tednelson  dougengelbart  spimes  iot 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Every user a developer: A brief history, with hopeful branches « Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
"the corpus of people able to develop functionality, to “program” for a given system, has been dwindling as a percentage of interactive technology’s total userbase…Alan Kay’s definition of full technical literacy, remember, was the ability to both read & write in a given medium — to create, as well as consume. And by these lights, we’ve been moving further & further away from literacy & the empowerment it so reliably entrains for a very long time now. … we need to articulate a way of thinking about interactive functionality & its development that is appropriate to an era in which virtually everyone on the planet spends some portion of their day using networked devices; to a context in which such devices & interfaces are utterly pervasive in the world, & the average person is confronted with a multiplicity of same in the course of a day; and to the cloud architecture that undergirds that context. Given these constraints, neither applications nor “apps” are quite going to cut it"
android  everyware  adamgreenfield  participation  google  appinventor  interaction  invention  literacy  computing  content  design  development  programming  mobile  making  technology  alankay  hypercard  jefraskin  bencerveny  junrekimoto  tednelson  dougengelbart 
july 2010 by robertogreco
Extenuating Circumstances – SXSW: The Web That Wasn’t
"early precursors to the web, different versions of hypertext, early thinking that went on around how networked information systems. It’s interesting - not just historically, but also relevant to today ont he web - if you look at the history of technolo
via:blackbeltjones  presentation  sxsw  web  networks  history  computing  alexwright  internet  paulotlet  vannevarbush  dougengelbart  hgwells 
march 2008 by robertogreco

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