You are on page 1of 66

MA thesis

Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Submitted by Owen Kelly ePedagogy Design – Visual Knowledge Building University of Art and Design Helsinki

In partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts

November 2007

Primary reviewer: Professor Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, University of Art and Design, Helsinki Secondary reviewer: Lars Lundsten, PhD, Director of R&D, Arcada University of Applied Science

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 2

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 3

The thesis offers a view of the cultural and technical history of the last one hundred years that seeks to demonstrate the existence of recurring attempts to construct devices that will act as memory extenders, and to use these devices in a form of constant self-learning and refocusing, of a kind that has been moved to the sidelines by industrial capitalism. It proposes the creation of a software based tool to act as a “portable, personal, lifelong dataspace” for purposes of memory extension to be called a memi . This web site is intended as a working prototype of a memi , and is intended as a proof of concept, that will be developed later into a fully functional version to be made publicly available. The thesis argues that cultural history, and the development of tools like the memi , to be used in ‘the cloud’, will force a rethinking of pedagogy, and the move towards an epedagogy founded on a belief in mentored peer to peer learning. It concludes by showing how the ultimate goal of such an epedagogy will be cultural democracy, something that can be seen as another strand in the same lightly woven cultural history. It is important to note that this thesis is only a staging point in a longer process. It does not seek to prove the benefits of using a memi, nor even to articulate in authoritative detail what such a memi should consist of. Those steps are for later. At this stage I am trying merely to demonstrate a proof of concept, in order to be able to claim that research in pursuit of the memi is likely to be a worthwhile and fruitful activity. This thesis then seeks only to explore the idea of a memi, to place it in context, and to show the benefits such an idea might bring in its wake.

Key definition
In The Little Book on Living, Krishnamurti asked: “Why do you want to read others´ books when there is the book of yourself?” The memi can be seen as a way of rendering the book of yourself tangibly so that it can be studied whenever it is needed with a view to finding patterns that might otherwise go unnoticed and learning lessons that be otherwise be unavailable. I have thus defined the memi as a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace, under the control of its user, and capable of publishing to, and subscribing to, a range of networks simultaneously. At its simplest it can be seen as a combination of a diary, address book, aide memoire, personal library, expense sheet, notepad, and portfolio. Everything you might want to remember, or be reminded of, or reuse, can be found in one place, where it can be searched, sorted, linked and cross-referenced. The memi is intended to store a lifetime’s worth of data, from birth to death. It is not an “official” document, maintaining a log of data that has been taken from you. Rather it s a personal record of whatever data that you wish to keep for later use: data you may choose to share or not share, in a spirit of radical transparency .

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 4

Structure of the thesis
This paper is not the thesis. The thesis itself exists on the web, at where it exists as a trail. What follows here is a condensed version of the core arguments presented in a linear form, rather than as the linked and discursive trail that they were supposed to be. I have adopted this strategy because the web site is organised in a way that I have found impossible to duplicate in a printed publication. Since the structure of the web site is an integral part of the argument I am proposing this has presented me with many difficulties. The web site contains many internal and external hyperlinks. Wherever possible I do not reference a work in a footnote, I create a direct link to the work itself or a commentary on the work. I have also created links to related articles, both within the site and elsewhere on the web. I have not attempted to duplicate this here. Those wanting to see the full references and footnotes should consultthe online version. The online essays link to, and are accompanied by, a set of concept maps that are difficult to reproduce on a page, as well as various diagrams, screen-shots and other visual documentation. This bound edition is apparently required for formal and historical purposes. It is necessary, in effect, that a physical copy of each thesis is housed in a library. However, since it is my intention to carry on the work that I have begun here, I am confident that the work will continue to exist on the web, and will in fact continue to grow and develop there. This version, then, should be seen as a reference copy of the arguments as they stood at the beginning of November 2007. It is a snapshot. The nature of the project means that the snapshot will rapidly become out of date as the web site continues to develop, and to realise more fully the ideas that inspired its creation. Because of this I have added two appendices. The first attempts to describe what you would find today on the web. It explains the site as it is now. The second draws together ideas from elsewhere on the site. It describes the next stages in the research, and the site's evolution.

Structure of the online trail
The trail that constitutes the core elements of this thesis begins with a single page that presents an overview and summary of the main arguments. This contains a few introductory paragraphs, followed by three main sections. Each section is a summary that is expanded in a longer overview entry. Each of these overviews also contain three sections which are themselves summaries of the arguments in three much longer essays. Each of the nine essays, in turn, makes many internal links to other entries scattered throughout the site from which the original research and observations are drawn. Thus there are thirteen core elements to the thesis trail, although the actual amount of relevant material that can accessed along the trail is very much larger. It should also be noted that, since the conception and development of the site itself has formed a large part of the practical research, the nature of the trail; the relationships between the elements; and the ways in which they are related internally and externally, itself forms an experiential dimension of the main argument.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 5

Table of contents
1 2.1 2.2 2.3 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 4.1 4.2 4.3 Overview Background and purpose Analysis and anatomy Uses and key roles The purpose of the research Cultural and technical precedents The long birth of the prosumer A lifelong dataspace Software, hardware and relations Functions and options Heads in the clouds Rethinking pedagogical theory The memi and cultural democracy References The site tomorrow References cited 5 8 11 14 16 20 25 32 37 42 46 51 56 63 64 65

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 6

1. Overview
Starting points
This project had a number of linked starting points. One was my growing belief that there were many exciting possibilities in the fact that increasing amounts of information now lived on the web or on servers: cultural, democratic and pedagogical possibilities. Another was a long discussion that I had with Alex Tscheulin and Ralf Appelt about the differences, if any, between blogs and wikis; and the possible advantages of combining the two forms into one. A third was a rereading of the works of Ivan Illich and John Holt, and a realisation that many of their more radical ideas could now be seen as failing primarily because they lacked the technical means for implementation. Illich posited radical decentralisation and Holt advocated peer-to-peer learning networks. Arguably both have these have arrived through the growth of the internet, and the permeation of networking into all aspects of our lives; although not necessarily in the form originally intended. Perhaps, then, it is worth looking at how the cloud might be used to further autonomous learning of the kind Illich, Holt, Friere, Goodman and others envisaged in the late nineteen sixties. As a result of this I constructed a specific kind of research programme for myself. I already had a web site - I had had one since 1996 - and I decided to see if this could be re-imagined in ways that would increase its use as a learning tool.

The background and purpose
The research began, then with participant observation, underpinned by a wide reading programme, and a series of online discussions with friends and colleagues. I began by defining a set of research questions that were intended to focus what was inevitably going to be a wide-ranging exploration. I established a research methodology which involved, in part, using myself as the subject of the research, and monitoring progress through rigorous selfdocumentation. During this process, it became clear that I needed to make an “object” that would stand as a proof of concept, and that I would need to be able to describe the “object” that I was seeking to build. For a number of reasons that are explained later I ended up calling this imagined object a memi, and the ultimate goal of the research became the construction of an alpha version of a memi that would, at the very least, indicate some of the benefits such an object could bring with it should it finally come into existence. The memi has its origins in several different ares of cultural and technical thinking. Not only does it encompass the ideas of Ivan Illich and John Holt, but also those of Marshall McLuhan and, importantly Buckminster Fuller, whose personal experiments with the chronofile have been crucial to my thinking. The memi is seen as a lifelong dataspace that can be used to retrieve, store, sort and publish information. Its purpose is memory extension and its aims are several. It will permit a user to retrieve personal historical data and to use this for personal reflection and learning. It will permit users to share personal information for peer-to-peer learning, and it will permit users to publish information in ways compatible with ideals of cultural democracy.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 7

In this regard the memi draws strength from a number of learning theories that have, in recent years, challenged the orthodox models. Informal learning and microlearning; action learning; the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants: all these are crucial to the thinking behind the memi. So too is the belief that the processes of production and consumption are merging, in many sectors, with a parallel growth in the number of active prosumers. The term prosumer was coined originally by Alvin Toffler and refers to those people who willingly and habitually consume through processes of production - and the institutions that have grown to facilitate this. The ubiquitous nature of flat pack furniture provides a simple example. Where our grandparents bought a dining suite, and had it delivered, we return from Ikea with boxes containing the materials, tools and instructions that we need to manufacture our own sofa and chairs. This is a remarkable change, and one that is being paralleled in the more immaterial realms of education and leisure. It is one that the memi is intended to address. The above is expanded in Essay 2.1 (Background and purpose) on page 8.

Analysis and anatomy
In its current form the memi consists of a suite of software configured to meet certain goals. In its more complete form it may well also require dedicated, portable hardware. This requirement is by no means certain, however, since one of the issues that has come to seem central to the research is the question of whether the memi should be an object or the name for a relationship to a personally controlled network of linked resources. In practice this dichotomy can be reduced to the question: where is my memi? The arguments advanced here suggest that the search for a single application that a user can own (an application that stores all the data it needs in its own repository, like a supercharged Microsoft Outlook) is doomed to failure. A better approach would be to concentrate not on ownership but on access, and on the creation of a storage strategy based upon synchronised redundancy. The nature of the memi is contestable in other ways. As I have developed the ideas embodied here it has become apparent that writing for a memi necessarily imposes modes of style and form. These will be examined in some detail. The core issues are concerned with how separate small notes and jottings can be combined successfully into longer pieces. This thesis is a living example of an attempted solution to these issues. Not only do questions of style and form arise, so too do questions of ownership and licensing. These too are examined in detail since they form an essential part of the memi’s anatomy. A memi is a social construction, based on an assumption of grouped networking, which in turn applies assumptions about the ability to share and reuse content. These can be dealt with by the adoption of specific policies with regard to copyright, but they can also be dealt with by the creation of the means for distributed publishing The above is expanded in Essay 2.2 (Analysis and anatomy) on page 11.

Uses and key roles
Current pedagogical tools do not, in the main, recognise the crucial changes that have occurred in the last fifteen years. From the mid nineteen eighties to the mid nineteen nineties people used home computers in isolation. Even when people accessed email they almost always used software that downloaded their in-box in bulk in order that they could read and answer the mail offline, before dialling up another connection to upload their replies in bulk. At this time almost all online activity was asynchronous, costly and laborious and, in any case, most computer activity happened offline.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 8

It is a self-evident truism to note that this is no longer true. For an increasing number of people the world is wired and information flows constantly in real-time. This has resulted in prosumers adopting strategies of informal microlearning, whereby they expect everything they do to relate to everything else. They expect to be able to aggregate information into knowledge rather than to be handed prepackaged modules. We need not accept Prensky’s assertions about digital natives and digital immigrants to realise that the relationship between teaching and learning is in flux. I will argue that the nature and direction of this flux is approximately what was prophesied by Illich, Holt and Friere forty years ago, and what is needed now is a suite of digital tools that are designed for socialised autonomous use; that are convivial in the sense that Illich used the word. It may be that we are witnessing the beginning of the dismantling of teaching, as it was developed in the industrial age. As atoms are replaced by bits, so the the monolithic structures of formalised teaching are replaced by the bits of autonomous microlearning. This may result in a flatter immersive pedagogy in which each learner becomes the centre of their own learning network, and the strengths of their networking become a key element in the progress of their learning. It is for this task that I have been thinking about the memi. Almost all “educational software” assumes a particular configuration in which the teacher or institution sit in the hub, with students in a radial relationship. The memi assumes no such thing. In particular it does not assume that students will use any official courseware to access their studies. It assumes that students and mentors will work in the cloud, and that all that is required is that each person in each network has the means to publish and subscribe to the network. In the final analysis the memi is a preliminary attempt to banish courseware, and the centralised control of online communication, as contradictory to the aims of a democratically charged epedagogy. The above is expanded in Essay 2.3 (Uses and key roles) on page 14.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 9

2.1 Background and purpose
The purpose of the research
In 2005 I began to explore the consequences of combining a blog and a wiki. This project initially seemed to consist of two related problems: one conceptual and one technical. It soon became clear, however, that they were simply two approaches to the same problem. That problem could be stated as developing a path beyond the electronic portfolio. The underlying issue concerned the question of how a portfolio and journal could best be digitised to take maximum advantage of the changed format. To this end I began a research project with myself as the subject. My overall aim was to extend this argument to an analysis of the kind of software necessary for self-motivated, self-organised learning in the social and educational contexts described by George Siemens, Marc Prensky and others. My intention was to move beyond a written critique to an attempt to produce a proof of concept, in the form of an actual object that was an argument for its own existence. The form of this thesis, and the web site that houses the thesis, is intended as an example of that object in use. For a considerable time I doubted that I would be successful in attaining these goals since the more I pursued the idea of a memi the more it seemed to dissolve, rather than come together. I began to feel that, for many reasons it might not be possible to create a such an object. Finally, however, I realised that not only could a memi not exist in the way that I had originally envisaged it - it should not exist. Furthermore the very fact of its inevitable nonexistence made it a powerful, and possibly indispensible, tool for learning in a digital age. The fact that this thesis is an example of a memi in operation is, in some ways then, an illusion; but it is an illusion with powerful pedagogical implications, particular where pedagogy is concerned with providing learning tools for geographically dispersed self-learners. It is, I will argue, precisely the kind of illusion that we should expect to find at the heart of epedagogy. The above is expanded in Essay 3.1 (The purpose of the research) on page 16.

Cultural and technological precedents
The ideas that inspired the project to create the memi have three separate starting points. The first strand is concerned with the nature of technology and its effects on society. Vannevar Bush first proposed the idea of the memex in 1945 in an article in Atlantic Monthly. In this he grappled with the concept of living in a world of limitless access to knowledge. He prophesied a personal learning tool, and the descriptions he created of this tool lay behind my initial thinking about the memi. (In fact the very name memi is a convoluted homage to the memex.) The second strand begins with those thinkers in the 1960s who moved from an oppositional critique of the current education system to a series of practical proposals for humane alternatives. These

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 10

included (but, it goes without saying, were not limited to) Paolo Friere, John Holt, Paul Goodman, and Ivan Illich. The third strand draws the work of Buckminster Fuller and in particular his personal experiment with his chronofile. This is a practical example that draws together the first two strands while demonstrating their value during the course of a lifetime. It can also be seen as a demonstration of some of the underlying ideas behind Marshall McLuhan’s probes. These were personalised through a fourth strand which related to my personal interest in, and use of, a pda since June 2003 when I purchased a Sony Clie. I had purchased this as a deliberate experiment in information handling, and I had subsequently used it to organise almost all aspects of my life. I had seen at first hand the advantages of extending my memory digitally, and I had seen the advantage of a single digital repository over a plethora of pieces of paper. In 1917 Buckminster Fuller decided that he was “determined to make myself the guinea pig in a lifelong research project”. Part of that project involved documenting every aspect of his life, and he named this expanded diary and journal a chronofile. This was a self-conscious attempt, using paper and pen, to develop a medium that would be “an extension of man” providing a means to draw objective conclusions from the data of one’s life, and thus provide a solid basis for planning and future activity. In this way he anticipated the technological analyses of Marshall McLuhan, while also providing a library of content suitable for inclusion in the memex, the theoretical machine that Vannevar Bush sketched out in an article in The Atlantic Monthly in 1945. Bush saw the memex as a desk sized machine capable of reading data from microfilm and displaying it visually. In this scenario people consulted their own memex as they might consult their own bookshelves, and seeded it with new content through obtaining additional microfilms. Clearly many of Bush’s suggestions need to be reconsidered or reworked in the networked world, where the instantaneous transmission and reception of information is axiomatic. This work was later developed in startlingly original ways by Ted Nelson, who coined the term hypertext, and thus opened up whole areas of research and artistic exploration. Nelson was not concerned much with the machinery, and even less with Bush’s rather patrician view of serious professionals engaged in serious business. Nelson’s concern was with computer lib, with the use of intuitive linking to enable everyone to do whatever they wanted with the world’s store of knowledge, including adding to it as they wished. The invention of the database, and its by now key role in making information available dynamically on the web, need to be included in any updated scenario which posits the use of “memory extenders” as “an extension of man”. The move from sites composed of static web pages to dynamic sites driven by content management systems is important in this context. The advent of blogs and wikis point towards strategies for collaborative knowledge building. The above is expanded in Essay 3.2 (Cultural and technical precedents) on page 20.

The long birth of the prosumer
During the twentieth century a movement slowly grew dedicated to the proposition that the process of learning had been industrialised with disastrous effects. This movement has never been more than a small minority but its influence has grown much larger than its membership. In 1921 AS Neill had founded Summerhill School in Dresden as an international school, in the

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 11

belief that “the function of a child is to live his own life - not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the educator who thinks he knows best”. In 1923 he moved it to Lyme Regis in southern England. From 1928 to the present day it has existed in buildings in Leiston, in Suffolk, England. In 1962 he published Summerhill – a radical approach to childhood which was a national number one non-fictional best seller in the USA. In 1964 John Holt published How Children Fail, and in 1967 How Children Learn. He too was concerned with the problems of industrialised schools. He claimed that “the only difference between a good student and a bad student, is that the good student is careful not to forget what he studied until after the test”. In 1972 Paolo Friere published Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Friere insisted that learning was a dialogic activity, and attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. He insisted that dialogic learning necessarily involved respect, and should be seen as the reciprocal activity of a teacherlearner and a learner-teacher working together. In this he attempted to insert democracy not just as the goal of education but also as a cornerstone of its methodology. In 1973 Ivan Illich published Deschooling Society in which he claimed that most schools teach students “to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value”. In 1974, in Take Today, Marshall McLuhan suggested that the difference between producers and consumers would break down in the global village. Alvin Toffler codified this assertion in 1980 in his book The Third Wave when he coined the term prosumer. “As prosumers we have a new set of responsibilities, to educate ourselves. We are no longer a passive market upon which industry dumps consumer goods but a part of the process, pulling toward us the information and services that we design from our own imagination.” What these all have in common is a belief that learning does not need to involve either a professional teacher or a specially designated teaching place. All seek tools to help learners, based on the essentially unique nature of each individual learner, and the possibilities of such learners coming together in mutually supportive learning networks. In recent years this belief has, ironically, spread back to the very businesses who played a large part in the industrialisation of the information industry. Consultants such as Don Tapscott, as well as publications such as The Cluetrain Manifesto attempt to point out the benefits of re-imagining business as a process of working playfully with prosumers, rather than working seriously to sell to consumers. The above is expanded in Essay 3.3 (The long birth of the prosumer) on page 25.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 12

2.2 Analysis and anatomy
Lifelong dataspace
The memi can be seen as a digital commonplace book, designed to enable its user to look back at aspects of her life; reflect upon them; and learn. According to Notes About Notes, right up until the end of the nineteenth century, “readers habitually copied out passages they wished to remember in a personal journal or commonplace book. The custom had the advantage of calling the reader’s attention into intimate contact with those passages that appealed to them most intensely.” They also noted down recipes and business transactions; drew in them; and recorded whom they had met and under what circumstances. Even though they would not almost certainly have recognised the description, those who kept commonplace books were, in effect, constructing a lifelong dataspace for themselves. They were storing things that struck them as important or interesting, at the moment they recorded them, and were thus able to look back at what they had collected throughout their life and reflect upon its underlying assumptions. They were thus empowered as autonomous learners in that their commonplace book was not required to display any logic except their own. There was no standard format, and nobody would declare a commonplace book to be faulty, or badly kept. Rather it was seen as a guide to the keeper’s underlying concerns, and its (often impenetrable) structure was one of its points. Only in the last century, with the industrialisation of knowledge and cultural production has this come to seem eccentric. In an age of digital networking it might now be seen as vital once again. This prototype memi is a collection of materials, many of which originate from me, and some of which originate from other people. Those pieces that originate from me are filled with hyperlinks both internal and external. This raises questions of style and form. Written essays stand alone, even when they are stuffed with quotations from other people’s work. The entries here do not. I have therefore devoted considerable time to examining how content is presented here, and experimenting to see how the form of that presentation could be improved. The above is expanded in Essay 3.4 (A lifelong dataspace) on page 32.

Software, hardware and relations
It has been suggested that “the paper analogue of the blog is not the diary, but rather the commonplace book.” However, most blogging software is designed for a specific kind of use. It is designed to sequence entries according to the time and date that they were posted, and to display entries in reverse chronological order. This has two consequences: most blogs are read as though they were newspapers, with older posts forming an archive; and most bloggers find it far from easy to search through their archives of past posts in order to obtain the kind of overview that Buckminster Fuller took from his chronofile. At a minimum, then, a memi needs to be configured in specific ways to facilitate analysis based upon retrieved data. This, in turn, requires the development of a detailed use strategy. Particularly important in this strategy is the development of tools for visual knowledge building. The user needs not just to be able to retrieve entries but also to see their relationships, relevance and relative importance.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 13

If a memi is to act as a digital commonplace book then it must be accessible at almost anytime from almost everywhere. This suggests that there may need to be a hardware component, whether in the form of a PDA; an ultra-light PC; or something designed specifically with this in mind. It also suggests that we have a need to look at how PDAs and ultra-mobile PCs are used at the moment. The Sony Clie that I use is built up from a very different set of assumptions than my laptop or desktop computer. These differences are instructive for our purposes, since they are as much about usability as physical components. They are based on very different assumptions about how they will be used and what users will regard as important and trivial features. We need to consider not just how material can be entered, sorted and retrieved. We also need to examine the constraints placed on the material itself. Since the days of the commonplace book the grip of the copyright laws have tightened on almost every aspect of cultural production. Whereas classical composers once borrowed freely from each other, today “borrowing” is almost seen as the subject for an expensive legal action. Although the connection to the memi might not be immediately obvious it is very real. If a memi is to live (in part or whole) on the web, then it is going to effectively publish whatever is collected in it. The usual way round this is for web sites to link to whatever is being collected. Thus the “original material” remains where it always was, and all that has been created is a non-infringing pointer. In a lifelong dataspace, this is more problematic. A recent entry on the web site serves as a useful example of why this is so. I was noting that Google have launched OpenSocial - a set of mini-programs that might change how the social web works. I most definitely wanted to be able to look back at this later, and so I included the complete official press release, in order that I can look back in five or fifteen years to see how far actual developments deviated from what was planned at launch. Since it is a press release I presume that I can include it here with little problem, but I can easily see how the same reasoning might lead me to copy a complete article - for fear that it will be deleted from the original server by the time I want to refer back to it. Current licensing arrangements usually preclude this, because they take no account of the use prosumers might make of their personal, networked cultural space. I do not wish to publish anything that is quoted or collected here. I simply wish to store it for personal reasons in a way that makes it publicly available. The above is expanded in Essay 3.5 (Software, hardware and relations) on page 37.

Functions and options
A single memi may be envisaged as a node in a larger network, much of which may not be directly available to it. Each memi will be able to hook into others, and be hooked into. The strength of these hooks will be important, since these are the means through which a personal dataspace will become a social learning tool. Each memi, then, is capable of being used autonomously but provides most value to its user when it becomes a federated member of a peer-to-peer network. Ideally it will operate both offline and online, although its natural habitat will be the web. There will be no need to convert it into printed text at any point. Instead it will live “in the cloud”, as the people at Zoho are fond of saying. I have been discussing with the development team at Zoho Writer the possibility of tweaking the application in such a way that it is capable of easy-to-use distributed publication. This is now on their road map. Distributed publication would enable members of a network to grab chunks of each other’s data for their own use, thus providing a vehicle for group self-learning, one of the ideas that Holt and Illich were both concerned with developing.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 14

If the memi lives in the cloud then where is it? Or perhaps, more accurately: what is it? This is an important question because it will direct the future development of the ideas outlined here. If the memi is “a thing” then it will require developing in terms of its power and capabilities and, when developed, it will be able to network. If, however, it is not a thing at all but, rather, a set of finely balanced relationships, then it is those that should be developed and, when developed, housed within a suitable object. Over the time I have been experimenting I have moved from thinking of the memi as an object capable of networking to seeing it as a personally controlled node in a network. As I have moved in this direction I have also been forced to think about the extent to which it needs to be selfcontained, if indeed it does. It would have been nice to be able to draw my research together with a description of a box and its contents, and an explanation of how my box might communicate with yours. However, I have come to see the network as paramount in ways that have distinct parallels Friere, Holt and Illich, and which prefigure democratic informal learning. If the network is paramount the other, more complex issues also need considering. Should the owner have a hard disk somewhere that is an almost exact analogue of the commonplace book, in that the material is stored there and lost forever if the disk is destroyed? There are many reasons why this would be undesirable. In a world of paper duplication was difficult and expensive; in a digital world failing to duplicate or back up is almost wilfully perverse. A strategy of stored redundancy would be more useful. Should a memi be a walled garden? By this I am asking whether the memi should be a conceptual pseudo-object, whereby we agree that anything stored at is “in” my memi, and anything of mine stored on, say, Flickr is not. There are, again, several reasons why this seemingly sensible distinction might be neither safe nor satisfactory. Nor, indeed, sensible. Perhaps, then, the noun memi might be said to occupy a similar position to the noun family. The relationships that can be said to constitute either are geographically and temporally fluid, but can nonetheless be defined with some certainty. In both cases the word defines a set of formal relationships and those relationships in action. The above is expanded in Essay 3.6 (Functions and options) on page 42.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 15

2.3 Uses and key roles
Heads in the cloud
Where is my memi? This can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer, once we assume that the memi is networked and that it, or parts of it, are publicly accessible. Traditionally, applications reside on disks, whether the hard disk that sits inside my computer or on a DVD that sits on a shelf wating to be loaded. My daughter plays The Sims as often as she can, and the answer to where her Sims live is fairly straight-forward. The application is first copied onto the computer’s hard disk, after which it always requires the original DVD of the latest upgrade to be inserted before the program will activate itself. The Sims themselves (their histories, houses, pets and jobs) are stored in a set of data files that can be backed up separately. When we talk about the Sims, then, we may be talking about the little characters, or about the application that generates the little characters, but that is as complicated as the question gets. The question about the memi is several levels more complicated, since it is necessary to answer a prio question first: what is my memi? At the moment this site is hosted by GoDaddy. One answer, then, is that my memi is stored somewhere in a server farm in Scottsdale, Arizona. However, this presumes that the memi is a single unit of data, like the set of files that constitute everything there is to know about Naa’s Sims; and it isn’t. It is perfectly possible to set up music files to play from my site, while storing them at my account. It is perfectly possible to have my photo galleries streamed in from Flickr, or somewhere similar. If the data lives “in the cloud” then there is no need to keep it all in the same place, and there might well be advantages in splitting it up. The memi may, then, not actually be anything at all. It may simply be a conceptual space that appears to house everything about me that I want stored, and a unified interface that enables me to access this material in understandable and consistent ways. In this, it is not alone. There are an increasing number of items in the cloud that might be said not to really exist, but to be better conceived as thought experiments that enable us to envisage relationships. As people become comfortable thinking in this way it will affect how they work and how they learn. Among many daunting tasks this will involve rethinking pedagogical theory. The above is expanded in Essay 3.7 (Heads in the cloud) on page 46.

Rethinking pedagogical theory
Marc Prensky has offered a challenging view of pedagogical theory in the post-industrial society. In the 2001 essay Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants he asserted that “students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”. However, unlike other cultural theorists he does not merely assert this: in part two of the essay Do They REALLY think differently? he attempts to produce evidence to support his claims from recent neuroscience. He suggests that, “based on the latest research in neurobiology, there is no longer any question that

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 16

stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people think, and that these transformations go on throughout life. The brain is, to an extent not at all understood or believed to be when Baby Boomers were growing up, massively plastic. It can be, and is, constantly reorganized”. Based on this he has suggested that we need to change the current educational paradigm from “being taught” to “learning on your own with guidance”. is a web site and a conference dedicated to finding ways to affect just this change. They say that the increasing need for microlearning occurs because “all is falling into small digital fragments, loosely joined and permanently rearranging to form a multitude of new patterns, tasks and threads. We have to learn to live in the micro-cosmos.” These, then, are some of the key pieces of the puzzle. These are some of the reasons why I believe that something such as a memi is needed: to help provide a tool within which can support continuous learning and growth, without being an educational facility. If Prensky and others are correct (or even partially correct) in their predictions then there is a need once again for commonplace books: a repository in which anything and everything might be stored for retrieval later. The above is expanded in Essay 3.8 (Rethinking pedagogical theory) on page 51.

The memi and cultural democracy
The cliched danger of life in the clouds is that we become mere digital cogs in a gigantic worldwide machine. If 1984 has gone then this must be the Brave New World; and so on. Realistically, though, the possibilities are much more interesting than this. I have talked about the idea of radical transparency, which involves switching a key question around. Instead of asking “why are they storing data about me, and how can I stop them?”, we can ask “what data shall I give them, and what will I get in return?” This involves moving away from a traditional starting point that asserts that nobody has a right to know anything about me unless they are police officers in possession of a search warrant. Instead we accept that we are in an information economy; that information is money; and that those are the main reasons that people want information from us. Since we all generate information all the time with every choice we make then the information economy has a very different starting point than previous economies. This does not mean that information wants to be free and everything will always be alright from now on. It does however offer us the chance to consider retooling pedagogy for a world in which the relationship between people and institutions is in many ways inverted. Like much that was prophesied or foretold in the middle of the twentieth century, cultural democracy is now undergoing a renaissance. In a networked world the radial nature of communications has broken down, to be replaced by a vision of communication represented by scale-free graphs. In this emerging culture cultural democracy is both a possible condition and a principled goal for a networked epedagogy. The above is expanded in Essay 3.9 (The memi and cultural democracy) on page 56.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 17

3.1 The purpose of the research
The project began with my concerns about the differences between blogs and wikis. Both were examples of database-driven social software. Both were used to gather together disparate bits of information. Both of them were available in many different (often open source) softwares. My concern was not merely theoretical. Students at Arcada, where I teach digital interactive media, had been provided with their own home pages, but these had not been a universal success. Students who were not trainee web designers, for example, often forgot how to create new pages, and let their sites languish after an initial burst of enthusiasm. I looked at this problem in some detail, thinking that I was, in effect, trying to find the best mechanism for powering HomePage 2.0. Recognising that blogs and wikis were just two rather specialised kinds of content management software, and that all were examples of dynamic web sites, I constructed a concept map that analysed the relationships between them. Later, in a seminar in Rotterdam, Ralf Appelt disagreed with, or extended, my conclusions in a way that directed my thinking. He suggested that the most powerful underlying difference between blogging software and wikis was the expectation that the programmers had as to how they would be used. Blogs are designed to make linking to external sites as easy as possible. Wikis are designed to make linking to other pages in the same wiki as easy as possible. Thus, Ralf Appelt suggested, blogging software presumes that you are linking to, and quoting from, the blogosphere, while a wiki assumes that you are building up a self-containing depository of knowledge, information or opinion.

The Bliki
Like many interesting answers this only served to open up more questions. There had been several attempts to create software that combined the two functionalities: so-called blikis. Martin Fowler had tried such an experiment several years previously, although the ultimate outcome was not clear. Martin Fowler still uses his bliki, and it forms a section on his site, but its use seems to me to serve more as a notepad or the collection of tiny snippets of the kind that newspapers and magazines sometimes run down the outside column of a page. In May 2003, in a piece titled WhatIsaBliki?, he wrote: I’ve been watching the blog scene develop for a while, and it’s impossible to not want to join in. But there are things I’m not so keen about blogs. For a start the name, as my colleague Mike Two puts it, “blog sounds like something I should pay a physician to remove”. Beyond the name, however, there’s the very ephemeral nature of blog postings. Short bursts of writing that might be interesting when they are read - but quickly age. I find writing too hard to want to spend it on things that disappear. I have similar mixed feelings about wikis. I like the way they allow you to quickly put stuff together. But they can easily lead to long rambling sites. And I do like the fact that blogs make it easy to see what’s really changed recently - thanks to the hooks into RSS and aggregators. So I decided I wanted something that was a cross between a wiki and a blog - which Ward Cunningham immediately dubbed a bliki. Like a blog, it allows me to post short

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 18

thoughts when I have them. Like a wiki it will build up a body of cross-linked pieces that I hope will still be interesting in a year’s time. Ralf Appelt, Alex Tscheulin and I spent sometime exploring the idea of developing a bliki, because it was far from clear how they could best be combined. Should a blog have a section that acted like a wiki? Should a single software combine both functions or should two pieces of software have their combined outputs amalgamated together? Eeva Melvasalo worked with us to collect a list of online discussions and resources about blikis both conceptual and practical.

Data Portability
One element that seemed important from the very beginning was enabling the user to publish and subscribe to other sympathetic users. This meant that the software needed to be able to import into its database and export data from it. Wikis seemed more problematic in this regard, since the way that they marked up the internal links was both non-standard in the sense of not being recognisable by either HTML or XML parsers, and in the sense that the formatting used varied from one wiki software to another. I therefore decided to begin the construction of a personal site that might develop into a template for HomePage 2.0 - and to construct it using WikkaWiki. I chose this because of its simplicity; its ease of use; and its devotion to standards wherever possible. I kept logs of the changes that I made to the structure, and to the look and feel of the site. I began with a wiki because I wanted to see if the problems of data portability where going to be as difficult in practice as I expected them to be. I also felt that it would be easier to look at the differnces between blogs and wikis if I didn’t get caught up (at least initially) in the fun of the blogosphere: of counting pings and trackbacks and so on. In September 2006, I considered the question of what, actually is a blog post? In November 2006 I decided to switch to WordPress, and the results were as painful as theory had suggested that they would be. There was no simple way of transferring the data from the Wikkawiki database to the WordPress database; and no complex one that could be constructed in less time than it would take to copy and paste the entries from one site to another. Although Wikkawiki is certainly standards-compliant in the way that it outputs data and send it to the browser (it uses valid xhtml and all the styling is contained within a css style sheet) the tags that it uses to maintain its internal structure only make sense to Wikkawiki itself. I spent sometime rebuilding the content of the site, although I was very happy to find that the design of the site was almost completely portable.

The choice of WordPress
I chose to move the experiment to WordPress because the question of data portability was only one of a number of similar questions that had arisen through the process of using Wikkawiki. I was also increasingly concerned with how my site could be placed inside a network, inside a cloud. Many of the hundreds of Wordpress plug-ins seemed designed to address these specific issues. The purpose of the research was to discover everything that I needed to make something that I needed personally, and which I believed other people would also need. The move to WordPress was an important step in that process.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 19

The research questions
By this point I had already developed a working hypothesis into which my experiments slotted: that the growth of networked working, learning and playing had, or would, drastically change the environment within which most adult learning would take place, and that new tools would need to be developed to meet the requirements of people living and learning in this new environment. It would have been easy enough to use my work so far as the impetus to turn this hypothesis into a theoretical research question: to investigate the extent to which this had proved true so far, and then to extrapolate from the current data to suggest how the learning environment might continue to change in the foreseeable future. However, I have read enough predictions of the future to know that, while they have their own charm, they hardly ever prove useful in the ways that their authors intended. This has been particularly the case with regard to prophesies about the future of life online. Much research in the nineteen nineties, for example, looked at the ways in which computer games removed the players from social contact and isolated them from their peer group and society in general. This turned out to be the ephemeral consequence of a particular stage of technological development, for as soon as processing power permitted games to be played by multiple players games ceased to be either isolated or individual. I therefore declined to create a speculative work of futurology, and instead decided to continue to create something of practical use for myself and others. To do this I began by accepting that the initial hypothesis was true within certain limits to be found experimentally and experientally. That is to say: the growth of networked activity, and its increasing everyday ordinariness, has undoubtedly changed many aspects of living and will undoubtedly continue to do so. Whether these changes are “drastic” or not is, however, a matter of conjecture and opinion outside the scope of this work. My primary research question, then, is: what kind of tool might I require to best integrate myself with those online networks in which I participate or wish to participate? Within this lie several other questions.

The research methods
Briefly stated, my research has encompassed a wide range of reading and discussions, including interviews and conference attendance, in order to understand the original hypothesis and its implications. While placing any attempts at predictive futurology outside the scope of this thesis, I nonetheless needed to know how things stood today. Parallel to this, I took my own web site and used it as a living laboratory. I reconfigured it several times to act in ways that I wanted a memi to act, and then observed the results, both in terms of utility and usability. I analysed my usage of my Sony Clie PDA, and tried to draw maps of my information needs. Concept maps become an important tool for envisaging relationships within networks, and in tracking the flow of information and the desire for information. I encouraged discussion among students and staff at Arcada, where I teach digital interactive media, about how my site was working and how, in their view, it should work. This gave me important qualitative data. Finally I logged all progress on the site itself, using the increasing amount of data to test strategies for displaying, sorting, searching, retrieving and publishing content. These all combined into a strategy of participant observation with the crucial addition of continuous

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 20

feedback loops from related networks which also contained both participants and observers.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 21

3.2 Cultural and technical precedents
When I first began this project I was surprised to discover that the idea of “a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace” struck many people I spoke with as pompous, pretentious, or self-aggrandising. One person said that they could not imagine wanting to know anybody who had one, and another suggested a reason for this: that the very idea seemed a thinly disguised way of announcing “look at me, look at my wonderful life; I am so important that even my bus tickets are historical artefacts”. After I had thought about this I realised that these reactions were in part based on a misunderstanding of what I was actually suggesting. I have therefore devoted a whole entry here to a more detailed analysis and anatomy of a lifelong dataspace to try to counter any future misunderstandings. What I am suggesting is not a new Web 2.0 phenomenon. It has plenty of historical precedents. I also realised that most people already attempted to keep most of what I am suggesting would be stored in a memi, but because they habitually use a variety of albums, boxes, cabinets, drawers, files and shelves to do so, they do not have an overall name for their collection, and therefore do not necessarily see the various elements as parts of a larger whole. This collection may consist of childhood photographs; holiday snapshots; old certificates, bills, and legal documents airplane boarding cards; menus from foreign restaurants kept as souvenirs; and even old love letters. It may also extend to memorabilia from years in a teenage band; a university theatre group; a football or hockey team; an orchestra; a political party; and more. There are two primary differences between this collection and the contents of a memi. Firstly, the various boxes of old memories do not necessarily appear, even to their collector-owner, as constituents of a larger whole, and are thus not available, as they might be, to be used as sources of reflection and learning. Secondly, because of their disorganisation and apparent lack of value (”we only keep them for sentimental reasons”), the contents of the various boxes are vulnerable in various ways. They get jammed into cellars or attics and, for all practical purposes, disappear; or they get left behind in the move from one place to another. The various precedents for the memi suggest, however, that these collections of times past do have a value; and that the value of data assembled in the past can be important in the present.

The Commonplace book
The first antecedent of the memi may well be the commonplace book. The Oxford English Dictionary describes this as: Commonplace-book. Formerly Book of common places. orig. A book in which ‘commonplaces’ or passages important for reference were collected, usually under general heads; hence, a book in which one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement. According to an article in Wikipedia, commonplace books emerged in the 15th century with the availability of cheap paper for writing, mainly in England. They were a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. They were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 22

aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests. By the 1600s, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students in such institutions as Oxford. The commonplace tradition in which Bacon and Milton were educated had its roots in the pedagogy of classical rhetoric and “commonplacing” persisted as a popular study technique until the early twentieth century. Both Emerson and Thoreau were taught to keep commonplace books at Harvard (their commonplace books survive in published form). These, then, were self-conscious attempts to arrange material from the present into albums, carefully arranged to facilitate retrieval later. This was part of a way of dealing with the world that was inherently active, and inherently concerned with self-learning. According to Robert Darnton, it “involved a special way of taking in the printed word”. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. The idea of a memi would, I believe, have made perfect sense to anyone keeping such a commonplace book, since they would rightly see it as simply extending the flexibility and power of the activity of commonplacing; ideas that wrere marginalised during the industrialisation of the production and distribution of information and “knowledge”.

The chronofile
Buckminster Fuller never indicated that he knew anything of the commonplace book. In 1917, though, he decided that he was “determined to make myself the guinea pig in a lifelong research project”, and that he would document every aspect of his life as part of that project. He named the expanded diary and journal he created for this purpose the chronofile. It was, in fact, a commonplace book intended to be used in a much more rigorous way. Not only did he use the chronofile to capture the minutiae of his life, he used to subject its contents to regular, detailed analysis, and use these analyses as the basis of future action. All of this is explained at length in an article entitled Bucky, that was originally published in Marshall McLuhan’s magazine Explorations, and later reprinted in The Buckminster Fuller Reader as Buckminster Fuller Chronofile. He wrote that The Chronofile consists so far of 250 volumes (half of them now bound in leather) containing (circa) eighty thousand letters, ie 300 to 400 pages per volume. The first important regenerative effect upon me of keeping this active chronological record was that I learned to ’see myself’ as others might see me. Secondly, it persuaded me ten years after its inception to start my life as nearly ‘anew’ as it is humanly possible to do. Thirdly, it persuaded me to dedicate my life to others not myself, not on an altruistic basis but because the chronofiled last thirty-two years of my life clearly demonstrated that I was positively effective in producing wealth only when I was

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 23

dedicated to others. Further chronofile observation then showed that the larger the number for whoom I worked the more positively effective I became. Thus it became obvious through the chronofile that if I worked for all humanity I would be optimally effective. Fuller thus extends the traditional role of the commonplace book from recording data that passes in front of him (striking passages he has read, quotations from speeches he has heard, sketches of buildings he has admired) to include the recording of almost every aspect of his life, including reports of his appearances in the conversations of others: I also keep a record of hearsay items published about my work and reported to me as having occurred over and above the items which I have actually received and entered into the record. There is a fairly constant percentage in the average of uncollected but reported items as ratioed to collected items. Reliable reports of the existence of uncollected items average twenty five per cent of the number of items collected. It is from analyses such as these that he was able to form hypotheses about general social or economic trends, which he could then explore further. The chronofile enabled him to use his own life as part of his research laboratory, and thus everything he did, from taking a tram to attending a movie, provided data that would have a later educational value.

The memex
In an article entitled As We May Think, published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Vannevar Bush sketched out the idea of a hyothetical knowledge machine, which he termed the memex (a neologism drawn from the phrase memory extender). He was writing at the end a war in which scientist had played a large part, and scientific knowledge had developed rapidly. His concern was to find a way in which this knowledge might be shared among all scientists and not get lost, forgotten, or buried. He wrote that Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month’s efforts could be produced on call. He looked for a technical solution to this problem and proposed a desk-like machine that contained many of the features that were later built into desktop computers. This machine would consist 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.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 24

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 sort 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. There is, of course, provision for consultation of the record by the usual scheme of indexing. If the user wishes to consult a certain book, he taps its code on the keyboard, and the title page of the book promptly appears before him, projected onto one of his viewing positions. Frequently-used codes are mnemonic, so that he seldom consults his code book; but when he does, a single tap of a key projects it for his use. Moreover, he has supplemental levers. On deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards. A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Most importantly, this device enabled the user to make intuitive leaps between items, in the way that Bush assumed people did in all other activities. These leaps would form personal trails through the material, and these trails would themselves be stored as data, and could thus be recalled later. The idea of the memex attracted wide attention and an artist’s impression of it was published in Life Magazine, on November 19, 1945.

In 1965, Ted Nelson presented a paper at the Association for Computing Machinery in which he first proposed the idea of hypertext, and first used the term. In many ways his ideas were similar to Bush’s with the important difference that his concern was not with the machine itself but with the information: the ways in which it needed to be packaged and addressed to make intuitive links between items possible. He began by envisaging something similar to a word processor that would allow different versions and documents to be linked together nonlinearly, by association. From there he developed the idea of a global network of linked data, available worldwide, which he dubbed Project Xanadu. In 1967 he formally launched this, and although many people claim that the project has delivered nothing since, although it continues to exist, this is not true. The Transliterature open standard has been published and the first viewer for such documents is also now available. In September 2007, Nelson and Robert Adamson Smith gave a plenary talk, Back to the Future, at HT07. The abstract makes clear that his current position has not retrenched despite the popularity of the web: “Others imitate paper (Word, Acrobat) and the constant 3D world we live in (’Virtual Reality’). Our system instead tries to create documents better than paper in a space better than reality.” His initial ideas, which he has developed but never backed away from, are collected in the 1974 book Computer Lib/Dream Machines. Here he wrote that paper media, whatever their disadvantages, have at least been compatible; you could

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 25

store the books, magazines and notes on the same shelf, compare them on the same desktop. Not for the new media, whether electronic or optical or magnetic or computerised. Each one needs a separate device. You cannot presently make margin notes on a video tape. I say it will all have to come together again. We need a presentational and archival medium that can be as standard as paper, to reunify the present mess of separately beautiful and mutually unintelligible forms of storage, presentation and annotation. The hope may be a shared-standard data structure. His concerns here are more cultural political than technical. He is concerned with the users’ abilities to derive meaning from the data at their disposal. He worries over the need to use technology to further autonomy, in the service of cultural democracy. For this reason, Nelson defined the Xanadu Project to which he has devoted most of his working life as “just one thing: a new form of interconnection for computer files - corresponding to the interconnection of ideas - which can be refined and elaborated into a shared network”. He also added that “if you truly understand this form of interconnection, you will understand its revolutionary potential”. It is these concerns, as well as his concern from intuitive linking and retrieval, that make his work an important precedent for the memi.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 26

3.3 The long birth of the prosumer
Before the beginning of the twentieth century there were no “consumers”. This role was born out of the split between production and consumption enforced by the spread of industrialisation from the manufacture of heavy goods to all walks of life. Much of this was to do with the cult of efficiency spread by Frederick Taylor. It was here that we can trace the beginnings of the resistance that would later be embraced by post-industrial entrepeneurs as prosumption.

Taylorism and education
Taylorism is the term usually given to the replacement of processes of manufacture undertaken informally using inherited skills by pre-planned automated processes using unskilled labour. Frederick Taylor laid down the four underlying principles of this approach in his 1911 book Principles of Scientific Management where he stated that First. They develop a science for each element of a man’s work, which replaces the old rule-of-thumb method. Second. They scientifically select and then train, teach, and develop the workman, whereas in the past he chose his own work and trained himself as best he could. Third. They heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed. Fourth. There is an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management take over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen, while in the past almost all of the work and the greater part of the responsibility were thrown upon the men. However, as applied in practice (and according to the more detailed explanations Taylor himself offers) the “cooperation” and “equal division of work” specified are friendly ways of ushering in mindless repetition. In Chapter Two he looks at a detailed example of how steps three and four could be implemented. The necessity for systematically teaching workmen how to work to the best advantage has been several times referred to. It seems desirable, therefore, to explain in rather more detail how this teaching is done. In the case of a machine-shop which is managed under the modern system, detailed written instructions as to the best way of doing each piece of work are prepared in advance, by men in the planning department. These instructions represent the combined work of several men in the planning room, each of whom has his own specialty, or function. One of them, for instance, is a specialist on the proper speeds and cutting tools to be used. He uses the slide-rules which have been above described as an aid, to guide him in obtaining proper speeds, etc. Another man analyzes the best and quickest motions to be made by the workman in setting the work up in the machine and removing it, etc. Still a third, through the time-study records which have been accumulated, makes out a timetable giving the proper speed for doing each element of the work. The directions of all of these men, however, are written on a single instruction card, or sheet.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 27

In other words, the men in the planning room make a short but complete set of timed instructions that could be done by an idiot, and then pass it down to the machine shop where (presumably donning the guise of idiots) the workers carry them out - over and over again. Taylor was widely lauded for bring science into the workplace and for helping complete the transition from the old-fashioned rural ways of life to the machine-led future. Many people began looking eagerly for places where his theories could be applied. Indeed Taylor’s assistant Morris Cooke made specific efforts to insert his methods into public services. His only real success was in education, where he was able to get schools to start subcontracting their faculty, initiating the “adjunct professor” movement. In a paper written in 2001 Jonathan Rees says that In 1962, the historian Raymond Callahan wrote the best-known account of how scientific management has affected American schools. Much of his book recounts the influence of Taylor’s ideas on educational administration — everything from how to make better use of buildings and classroom space to how to standardize the work of janitors. Other aspects of scientific management in education treated students like workers. “The ability to add at a speed of 65 combinations per minute, with an accuracy of 94 percent,” wrote one reformer, “is as definite a specification as can be set up for any aspect of the work of the steel plant” (John Franklin Bobbitt quoted in Callahan, 1962: 81). Another line of reforms required teachers to document their teaching activities in order to minimize “waste.” … The best example of Frederick Taylor’s ideas at work in education today are high-stakes standardized tests — tests which have a significant effect on funding for schools and the careers of individual students. It was the growing acceptance that schools were a site of industry, and that pupils were raw material to be reshaped according to the short but complete instructions from the planning room that led from early efforts of AS Neill to the anti-school movement of the 1960s and beyond.

Since 1928 Summerhill School has existed in Leiston, in Suffolk, England. The school’s own description of itself says that Summerhill is first and foremost a place where children can discover who they are and where their interests lie in the safety of a self-governing, democratic community. There are two features of the school which people usually single out as being particularly unusual. The first is that all lessons are optional. Teachers and classes are available at timetabled times, but the children can decide whether to attend or not. This gives them the freedom to make choices about their own lives and means that those children attending lessons are motivated to learn. Many people suppose that no children would ever go to lessons if they were not forced to. At Summerhill, it is rare for a child to attend no lessons at all - at least, after the initial shock of freedom has worn off. The second particularly unusual feature of the school is the school Meeting, at which the school Laws are made or changed. These laws are the rules of the school, made by

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 28

majority vote in the community meetings; pupils and staff alike having equal votes. AS Neill’s book Summerhill – a radical approach to childhood , which was published in America in 1959 (and in Britain in 1962), had a powerful influence on the nascent anti-school movement there. It came in the wake of Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System, which was published in 1956. In the introduction to this, Goodman describes the disaffection felt by young people towards the opportunities they are offered and the organisations that offer them, and then lays out several themes that recur throughout this discussion: The school system has been subjected to criticism. And there is a lot of official talk about the need to conserve our human resources lest Russia get ahead of us. The question is why the grownups do not, more soberly, draw the same connections as the youth. Or, since no doubt many people are quite clear about the connection that the structure of society that has become increasingly dominant in our country is disastrous to the growth of excellence and manliness, why don’t more people speak up and say so, and initiate a change? . . . . This brings me to another proposition about growing up, and perhaps the main theme of this book. Growth, like any ongoing function, requires adequate objects in the environment to meet the needs and capacities of the growing child, boy, youth, and young man, until he can better choose and make his own environment. It was these two books, and the example that the Summerhill School offered of the ideas being put into practice successfully, that helped light the stage for the Deschooling movement in the 1960s. Three books by John Holt were also extremely important. How Children Fail was published in 1964, and a summary of its conclusions is available here. The sequel How Children Learn is almost vitriolic in its rejection of “unasked teaching” which Holt believed was actually harmful in the way that it taught children not to explore lest an adult turned the fun into a long lecture. By the time of Instead of Education, Holt had had a bruising account with Ivan Illich and had rejected the whole institution, and the entire business of what he now perceived as akin to trying to entertain children after kidnapping them. Although he didn’t quote her, he certainly shared Hannah Arendt’s belief that “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions, but to destroy the capacity to form any”. The pivotal book of this informal movement was undoubtedly Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society. This book began with a viewpoint that was, like Paulo Friere’s, based in the Third World. It view was global. It provided a critique of society that linked industrialisation to the dehumanising of education which Illich said that school initiates, too, the Myth of Unending Consumption. This modern myth is grounded in the belief that process inevitably produces something of value and, therefore, production necessarily produces demand. School teaches us that instruction produces learning. The existence of schools produces the demand for schooling. Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions. Once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all nonprofessional activity is rendered suspect. In school we are taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with the amount of input; and, finally, that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 29

Illich did not see the growth of the school system as an accident. He saw it as a deliberately contrived training camp for consumers, with “education” as a label for the process of training people how to act and behave as clients whose needs could be satisfied only by professional intervention.

In his book Tools for Conviviality Illich greatly extended this analysis. He argued that the process of industrialisation has created a new kind of monopoly - a radical monopoly. This is not a monopoly of one brand over another (the kind of monopoly that Microsoft is accused of from time to time, for example). Instead it is a monopoly of one industrially produced and over-efficient product over what people can do for themselves. He gives many examples that include the compulsory use of doctors’ certificates to authorise time off from work. Instead of diagnosing oneself as having flu, or a sprained ankle, and then curing oneself by resting, one has to go to the doctor, have them diagnose what you already know, prescribe unnecessary drugs, and then give you a certificate saying that a professional has decided that you are unfit for work. This, he argues, not only degrades people and devalues their own knowledge, but sets up situations in which they gradually lose that knowledge through lack of opportunities and incentives to practise it. By ‘radical monopoly’ I mean the dominance of one kind of product rather than the dominance of one brand. I speak about radical monopoly when one industrial production process exercises an exclusive control over the satisfaction of a pressing need, and excludes nonindustrial activities from competition. Cars can thus monopolize traffic. They can shape a city in their image - practicially ruling out locomotion by foot or by bicycle in Los Angeles. They can eliminate river traffic in Thailand… Schools tried to extend a radical monopoly on learning by redefining it as education. As long as people accepted the teacher’s definition of reality, those who learned outside school were officially stamped ‘uneducated…. Radical monopoly imposes compulsory consumption and thereb restricts personal autonomy. It constitutes a special kind of social control because it is enforced by means of the imposed consumption of a standard product that only large institutions can provide. Against this he proposes the idea of conviviality, the guiding idea for a convivial society being that everyone “should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others. People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative; while the growth of tools beyond a certain point increases regimentation, dependence, exploitation, and impotence”. Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision. Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others. Most tools today cannot be used in a convivial fashion.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 30

Tools foster conviviality to the extent to which they can be easily used, by anybody, as often or as seldom as desired, for the accomplishment of a purpose chosen by the user. The use of such tools by one person does not restrain another from using them equally. They do not require previous certification of the user. Their existence does not impose any obligation to use them. They allow the user to express meaning in action. This is the primary challenge that Illich left as a legacy: the challenge to imagine conviviality, to construct convivial tools, and then encourage their use in the service of democratic autonomy.

Community arts
This challenge was taken up by artists, and community activists in the UK, USA and Australia in the 1970s. Community arts movements grew up in each country, all (in different ways) committing to developing creative convivial tools. In Community, Art and the State, I defined the British movement as woven from three separate strands. Firstly there was the passionate interest in creating new and liberating forms of expression, which the Arts Labs both served and fuelled. Secondly there was the movement by groups of fine artists out of the galleries and into the streets. Thirdly there was the emergence of a new kind of political activist who believed that creativity was an essential tool in any kind of radical struggle. With the advent of groups such as InterAction, Welfare State and Action Space (whose concerns were as much to do with an alternative society as they were to do with art) these strands were woven into a distinctive pattern of activities. The fact that this loose-knit movement did not achieve the most utopian goals of its goals should not undermine its real achievements. In Australia in particular it made real changes and there, at least, a recognisable community arts movement still exists. Much of what community artists were doing was subsequently incorporated into the accepted practices of artists and educationalists, as well as local and national government programmes. In Britain the high water point of the community arts movement was the conference held at Sheffield Polytechnic in July 1986. This was introduced by a special paperback edition of the monthly magazine Another Standard entitled Culture and Democracy: the manifesto which named the ultimate goal as cultural democracy, and then provided a short definition of this. The ideas that embody cultural democracy both enable and depend upon direct participation, and take as their aim the building and sustenance of a society in which people are free to come together to produce, distribute and receive the cultures they choose. The emphasis here is clearly on bridging the industrially-created gap between producer and consumer, and breaking the stranglehold that the consumer has on the distribution of cultural meaning. This is made more explicit in a later passage. We must work for the decentralisation of cultural production and distribution. We must from a system in which ideas and products are transmitted from centralising sources. We must argue for systems to support ideas and products which are produced and distributed from many regional sources, where they occur, and support their subsequent federation or networking. We envisaged a situation in which people would stand between the poles of production and

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 31

consumption, participating in both and being alienated from neither. We were far from alone in this. Indeed, a few years earlier, Alvin Toffler had suggested that what we wanted was already beginning to happening; was probably inevitable; and that the people occupying the position that we were envisaging should be called prosumers.

The Third Wave
Alvin Toffler published The Third Wave in 1980, and it was there that he first envisaged production and consumption coming together again, with the consumer participating more and more in the process of production, until they adopted the very different role of prosumer. In 1990, in Powershift, he extended and updated that argument to describe “the revolutionary new way of making wealth” that was rendering industrial capitalism obsolete from the inside out. In this book he produced a twelve point list in which he outlined the key points involved in this “powershift”. The first point stated that The new accelerated system for wealth creation is increasingly dependant on the exchange of data, information and knowledge. It is “super-symbolic”. No data exchanged, no new wealth created. Clearly, before the advent of the world wide web, he has spotted a trend that will lead us to it. He argues that both goods and services are becoming modularised, and as this occurs, there will be a need for standards that ensure modules work together. He identifies the need to make, maintain and constantly revise standards as an important new battleground. Producer and consumer, divorced by the industrial revolution, are reunited in the cycle of wealth creation, with the consumer contributing not just money but market and design information vital for the production process. Buyer and supplier share data, information and knowledge. Someday consumers may also press buttons that activate remote production processes. Consumer and producer fuse into a “prosumer”. It could be argued that the arrival of services like Cafe Press exactly fulfil the above prediction. Ordering a book, a cd, a t-shirt, or a mug from Cafe Press does start a production process that produces exactly one book, cd, t-shirt, or mug.

Web 2.0.
In 1995 Don Tapscott looked at prosumption in more detail in The Digital Economy. He claimed that “businesses will be transformed, governments will be renewed, and individuals will be able to reinvent themselves - all with the help of the new information technology”. Prosumption, then, implies that market activity involves reciprocal conversations, in which both sides learn from each other. This idea gained increasing currency with the advent of interest in the idea of Web 2.0, a reinvention of the purpose of the web. Tim O’Reilly dropped the idea that the web was a new form of mass medium like television or radio, in favour of a view closely related to the idea outlined above. In Web 2.0 companies would make money by facilitating people to do things. They would cater for the increasing ways in which we enjoy by making, consume by producing. This had already been trumpeted in 1999 in The Cluetrain Manifesto which had argued that a “powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.” In this way the web has come to play an important contextual role in the long birth of the prosumer and, as we shall see, the prosumer is at the heart of the need for a new pedagogy for a new kind of

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 32

learning, and new tools to meet that demands of that new learning. Indeed, only recently in TechCrunch, Duncan Riley wrote that the prosumer “is a combination of producer and consumer that perfectly describe the millions of participants in the Web 2.0 revolution”. In this world all interactions are educational, and the questions of how to treat “formal education” in this context requires rethinking much pedagogical theory.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 33

3.4 A lifelong dataspace
I have defined a memi as a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace, under the control of its user, and capable of publishing to, and subscribing to, a range of networks simultaneously. At its simplest it can be seen as a combination of a diary, address book, aide memoire, personal library, expense sheet, notepad, and portfolio. Everything you might want to remember, or be reminded of, or reuse, can be found in one place, where it can be searched, sorted, linked and cross-referenced. While looking at the technical and cultural precedents for the memi, I described the negative reactions I got from some people when I described the idea. It “struck many people I spoke with as pompous, pretentious, or self-aggrandising”. I also realised that most people already attempted to keep most of what I am suggesting would be stored in a memi, but because they habitually use a variety of albums, boxes, cabinets, drawers, files and shelves to do so, they do not have an overall name for their collection, and therefore do not necessarily see the various elements as parts of a larger whole. This collection may consist of childhood photographs; holiday snapshots; old certificates, bills, and legal documents airplane boarding cards; menus from foreign restaurants kept as souvenirs; and even old love letters. It may also extend to memorabilia from years in a teenage band; a university theatre group; a football or hockey team; an orchestra; a political party; and more. These things could all be described as data. If a family were found dead with no apparent crime and no apparent cause of death the police would almost certainly treat the memorabilia, old diaries and photo albums as data. They (or descriptions of them) would certainly be entered into a police computer where they would be sort and analysed using different criteria to see what useful patterns emerged, or could be teased out of the material. If external agencies can draw useful conclusions that can lead to successful action from our unorganised detritus, then Buckminster Fuller clearly demonstrated with the 250 volumes of his chronofile that an individual can perform the same kind of task on their own life with equivalent or better results, and without the inconvenience of needing to die in mysterious circumstances first.

Primary benefit
This is the primary benefit of controlling a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace like a memi. It is a tool that, like the commonplace book and the chronofile, allows you to save and store whatever interests you, for no specific future purpose; and then (using its cataloguing, sorting and searching abilities) allows you to use material stored in the past to invoke patterns and relations that were not apparent at the time of collection. However, although we may fairly see the commonplace book and the chronofile as direct ancestors of the memi, there are some crucial ways in which they differ from it. Both the commonplace book, as used from the fifteenth to early twentieth century, and the chronofile were closed systems. They were unique, one-off editions that existed in one place,

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 34

usually locked away or at least stored in a nominally safe place. The memi is an online/offline dataspace; a tool that is built on the assumption that we will have peers who know things that we do not and that we will all know more if our memis are federated or networked so that we can learn from each other. The chronofile had clear borders, and something was either in the chronofile or it wasn’t. The memi, being federated or networked, does not have clear borders. Something from your memi that appears to me as a shared item in my memi is in an ambivalent half-state: it might be said that it is sort of in my memi. These, and related, differences raise issues that need to be understood as an inherent part of the memi’s ontology.

Privacy through radical transparency
Many of these issues can be immediately and intuitively understood. Most people that I have raised the subject with have, for example, countered almost immediately by raising concerns about privacy and security, branching out into generalised fears about what will happen to them should their data fall into the wrong hands. They recognise that the memi will, by its very nature, contain personal data, and that the more personal data it contains the more use it will have for its owner. They worry about this. In an age of increasing spam, ubiquitous CCTV, and the underlying threat of data thieves lurking in the wires, this is completely understandable; but there are several replies possible to this. The first is to note that “under the control of its user” in the definition quoted above means what it says. This, in turn, means that I am not secretly hoping that Google will take this idea and implement it as Gmemi. (Nor for that matter am I hoping to see Yahoo Memi, or the Memi application for Facebook.) The idea of the memi is not privacy-neutral. The second point I would raise is to point out how much privacy people happily hand over voluntarily without asking any questions. People hand over their data directly (such as all the times that you are required to give your date of birth and a valid email address before signing up for an online service), and indirectly (such as all those services from Amazon to emusic who amass enormous logs of your buying preferences, the frequency with which you purchase, the credit cards you use, and the price range you are likely to feel comfortable within). For many people who use free email and online photography and shopping services, most of the data commerce or government would be interested in is already available. It is worth noting, in this context, that Apple appears to be requiring buyers to buy iPhones with a credit card in order to track people trying to purchase more than two. If this is true then it is a fairly blatant attempt to use data gathered for one purpose (payment verification) for another (inventory control and creation of artificial scarcity). The third point I would raise is that the only genuinely effective answer to this is to embrace radical transparency. In brief this is the idea that businesses should expose all their inner workings, and turn their products into processes to which many people including users can contribute. It is, in fact, an attempt to envisage a way for businesses to embrace prosumers, and to remodel themselves so that they operate as prosumption agencies. However this could equally well be applied to the life and learning strategies of individuals, assuming that individuals have control over their own data in the first place.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 35

Transparency with an opacity control
Radical transparency, as I understand the term, is not the same as walking around the world naked. It does not require you to surrender every detail of your life, and shout from the hills about everything from the brief affair you had twenty years ago to the embarrassing fiasco that was your latest attempt to lead a team meeting. In fact it does not require you to surrender anything at all. Rather it requires you to approach the usual arguments about privacy from the other end: to ask not “why do they want to know this?” but rather “why do I not want to tell this?” As I noted above, most of us actually give out a lot of personal information that could be used against us in one way or another every day. We happily give our credit card details to a waiter we have never seen before in a restaurant we will never visit again in a town we are passing through. We notice that iTunes is refusing to let us buy something from the store because it is “not available in your region” without even pausing to think that this is positive proof that servers are extracting detailed information from our computers each time we log in.1 I would suggest that the reason we do this is because we do not think of the data we are given, or create and save, as having an inherent value. We worry about whether to lend our lawnmower to our neighbours or not, but we don’t even notice that every site we log into gets our IP address and hence, if they want, our approximate physical location as well as details of the browser and operating system we are using. You cannot lend information in the way that you can lend lawnmowers. Information, once given, remains given. You can, however, choose to give information, or not give it. You can also choose to barter it in exchange for services, privileges or rights. You can, in effect, decide the level of transparency that you are comfortable with and then seek to enforce it. Some data may be already publicly available. My Finnish social security number is necessarily public knowledge since social security numbers are used in Finland as a universal personal ID authentication code. Since everyone not only can find it, but has an actual right to be able to do so, then there is no point in being squeamish about displaying it in public. (It is 060551-291E, if you are interested.) Other data might be very leaky. Whenever I shop at a supermarket and use a loyalty card the supermarket retains data on my purchasing that it may well use to target me with specific offers. I may choose to store my own copies of this data, and use them for my own purposes, or I may not. Neither chose will prevent the data being available to others. Most data, however, could or should remain with the control of the user/creator. The owner of a memi can choose to include such data within the memi, and to make it more or less publicly available. Or to make it available to nobody else at all. The public decision not to release certain personal information publicly must also be an important part of radical transparency.

Hyperlinks change everything
If a lifelong dataspace is on the web then it will, almost of necessity, embrace hyperlinks. Insofar as portions of a memi are federated or networked then the memi itself can be viewed from a distance as a mere portion of a larger hypertext document. That larger document will be, in effect, the recorded knowledge of the entire federation or network. From a further distance, of course, the network itself may be perceived as a mere subsidiary node of a much larger network, into which its data may stream, or from which it may, in turn, receive new data, information or knowledge.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 36

This is the key difference between the memi and all of its antecedents: the hyperlinks remove the wall from around the garden and thus change the entire landscape. I cite many online sources here, and in the other entries on this site. I also use a standard footnote system when I am citing printed material. The use of these two systems in parallel reflects my concern that the different forms of citation have different statuses and require different acknowledgement. Knowing that what you are writing is simultaneously a self-contained essay and a piece of a larger mosaic changes the style and tonal range with which you can approach writing. In a self-contained essay then the tone and style can be adopted to suit the intended purpose. A piece intended as a chapter in an academic book will read differently from the same topic discussed in a magazine article, and both will differ from the style and tone of the blogger. This is, of course, an absurd generalisation and no doubt thousands of exceptions could be cited with little or no effort. The point remains, however, that most people, however successfully or unsuccessfully they manage it, tend to adjust what they perceive as their style, and adopt what they see as a suitable tone, when writing with a particular destination in mind. This becomes difficult when you know that you may later choose to link pieces together to form a trail that you had not even envisaged when you originally wrote them. It becomes nearly impossible when you realise that an essay such as this one could well be included in a trail that begins in some other memi entirely, passes through here, and then moves onto a third memi, before returning to the originator where there is a concluding essay. I have spent some time looking at how this might be resolved, and some longer time wondering whether it was, in fact, a genuine problem at all. We could simply say that a trail is like a collage, or like the wildly contrasting sounds you might hear on the radio over fifteen or twenty minutes. We could say that, just as movie audiences have become so familiar with jump-cuts and rapid changes of point of view, to the point where they no longer consciously register them, so web surfers have become used to disjuncture and discontinuity, to the point where the idea of a consistent style is not even something that it would occur to them to look for. I think it is a problem, and I think that embracing discontinuity is, indeed, part of the answer. But, for a reader to embrace discontinuity (and by embrace I mean: accept the discontinuity without registering it as an interruption in the flow of data) certain conditions have to be met. The style of the writing has to be sparse, cool and informal. It must be written in small chunks, because a clever reference on page 157 to a subject previously discussed on page 56 might well work in a book, but will almost certainly be missed by someone who has never even seen page 56. On the web, and thus in a memi, you would be a fool to believe that the readers attracted to “page 157″ will have arrived after a journey that has taken them through the 156 previous “pages”. The definition of small chunks is admittedly problematic. I have experimented with splitting essays into very small units, displayed almost like postcards, and then assembling these through links. I have experimented with placing the entire essay on a single page. In theory the first method should work, but in practice, most of the people I have shown the essay-in-chunks to have found it difficult to absorb. The rough guideline that I have developed suggests that each entry here ought to cover one topic. That is what has given birth to the underlying logic of this essay - an essay designed to live in, and exemplify the use of, a memi. It has a single overview essay that discusses one topic under three headings. Each of these headings leads to an overview essay that takes one of these headings as its topic, which it also discusses in three headings. Each of these headings leads to a more freeform essay that contains the majority of the detailed arguments, as well as the external and internal links. I am still not sure that I have solved the problem yet. I think that some of these nine essays have become too large and should themselves made more concise with the detail sent down into a fourth

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 37


The reason that I am concerned with all of this is because reusability is a clear advantage of digital memory extension, but it can only work with materials that allow it to work. Let me give a simple example of what I mean. It took me several attempts over several months before I managed to define the memi clearly enough. The definition originally occurred in an entry ostensibly about something else. I removed the definition and placed it in an entry of its own. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, had I left it where it was, I would have undoubtedly have had trouble finding it later, when I wanted it. The whole point of memory extension is that this should not happen. Secondly, when I wanted to use it, it would make more sense to link to it than to quote it all again. It would make sense to link to an entry whose topic was “definition of a memi”, not an apparently unrelated topic that happened to contain such a definition in an aside. Reusability is important because if a memi contains short reusable building blocks then an analysis of those blocks, and their use over time, should uncover quite significant data. These will be even more important if these building blocks are published, or made available for others to use. The ebb and flow of their use will tell us about the interests over time of the federations and networks to which we belong.

Publication and subscription
Publication and subscription are the means by which access can be controlled or filtered. Any web page can be linked to but, to be linked to, it must first be viewed. In many web applications it is possible to keep entries private; to allow specific named people to view an entry; to allow specific named people to edit an entry; to publish an entry so that everyone in the world can view it (and thus link to it). A memi needs this level of publication control, too, since the very purpose of a lifelong dataspace is to store everything (or as much of everything as is possible) for the unknowable future purposes of the storer. The federation and networking literally comes after that. To see this imagine parents starting a memi for their new daughter, with a digital copy of her birth certificate, a photo album of her first few weeks, some short video clips, and a weekly journal on her progress. This would truly be a lifelong dataspace, but it would not be until much later that the little girl moved from being the subject matter of the memi to being a participant in the content creation. It would be even later before she was handed the account, given the administrator password, and told that it was now all hers. That would be the point when the memi began to reflect her federating and networking, as opposed to her parents’ and later the whole family’s networking. Arguably, publication and subscription should not be switched on until this point has been reached. Viewed in this way, the memi becomes a learning tool such as we have never seen, enabling an adult to look back at their childhood using a rich array of contemporary data that can be examined with the forensic thoroughness of an imaginary police force. 1. You can see some of the scope of this by running an online Anonymous test at Audit My PC, and looking at the results, and the discussion that follows. You can get a quick idea of the kind of services commercial suppliers offer that take advantage of this information by looking at the Abika web site.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 38

3.5 Software, hardware and relations
When the world wide web began it was a world of static text-based “pages”, the main advantage of which was that the “pages” could be connected intuitively through hyperlinks made using HTML. Later the web came to include images and, with Director and then Flash, full multimedia experiences, including sound and interaction. It was still, by and large, static. A site was designed by web designers and it looked and acted the same until, some time later, it was redesigned by more web designers, whereupon it looked and acted the same until the cycle repeated itself once again. Dynamic web sites look and work very differently, and today almost all web sites, except for a few personal home pages, are dynamic web sites. These replace standard web pages written in HTML with pages that are assembled using php from a store of material stored on a database. The pages contain elements that can query the database and thus cause the page’s content to update itself or alter completely. This is how news sites work. Whenever you connect to the front page ofa site it may show you the five most recent news stories entered into the database. Every few minutes new stories are added and, as the page refreshes itself, it too updates with fresh news - all without the intervention of web designers, who could not possibly work fast enough even if they tried. This is also how wiki software, and blogging software like Wordpress, work.

Wordpress as an underlying architecture
This web site began as a wiki, running using Wikawiki, and then started again as a site built around WordPress. There were several reasons for switching, some of which I have discussed elsewhere. Importantly it became clear quite early on in the project that neither Wikawiki nor WordPress had all the functionality that I required. Each, in effect, had approximately one half of the whole that I envisaged. Wikawiki had a lot of attention paid to easing the creation of internal links, and sorting and structuring them. It was fantastically simple to use, and very easy to style. It had a simple plug-in structure to extend its functionality but there were not many contributors, and most of the plug-ins added even more abilities to the internal linking. It made it very easy to create sites with a lot of depth. WordPress had a lot of attention paid to categorising entries, and getting entries noticed and commented on. It had a plug-in structure and a lot of eager contributors whose main concerns seemed to be about extending its facilities outwards - linking, for example, from WordPress to Flickr, Twitter, Digg, and other social networking sites. It made it very easy to create sites with a lot of breadth. I switched because I decided that solving the problem of simplifying internal linking in WordPress would be simpler than solving the problem of linking my Wikkawiki site to the outside world. (I was also concerned about the use of the idiosyncratic, non-portable markup language used to make the internal structure of Wikawiki - and indeed all the other wikis I looked at.) I could have abandoned both and set off to write my own php/MySQL Memi system, but that struck me as foolish for several reasons, other than the obvious objection that I would not have the time to do it. Firstly, I would be throwing away a very valuable existing resource, that consists of thousands of

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 39

hours of donated development and testing time. In that tired, old phrase I would be reinventing the wheel. Secondly, I would be throwing away the opportunity to use the efforts of literally hundreds of plugin writers, unless I engineered my system in such a way that it was able to use WordPress plug-ins but if I did that then I may as well use WordPress in the first place, since I would have to keep my application in sync with WordPress to prevent the plug-ins from breaking. Thirdly, I would have to find an audience and user base from scratch and persuade them to forget WordPress and learn something new. It would be much better, from their point of view and from mine, to show then a new approach to Wordpress which they could employ using the skills they had already learned. This is especially true once you realise that the idea of creating a new use for WordPress is not itself new. Broadly speaking, there are two ways that people use WordPress. Some use it more or less as it comes when you download it. They use it to blog, and it works very well. Other people use it for something else, and to do that they use it as the underlying architecture upon which they can build an additional layer. In this way, for example, you can run an e-shopping site, with electronic shopping cart, that uses WordPress to power it. Other people run image galeries organised by theme, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to blogs, but are nonetheless powered by Wordpress. Finally I decided that, logically, the time to build something from scratch was when the memi was fully developed and it became clear (if it ever did) that aspects of it were incompatible with WordPress. At that point I would know exactly why I needed to build a new application, and could make plans based on that knowledge. I should add that I have not yet come to such a point, and I currently see no reason why even the major, unfinished aspects of the memi (such as the online/offline syncing) could not be accomplished with the WordPress framework. A syncing plug-in would undoubtedly attract much wider initial interest than the memi, and so building it to work with Wordpress might also serve to introduce more people to the concept of a lifelong dataspace.

Themes & plug-ins
WordPress has been created to use themes to change its look and feel, and plug-ins to extend its capabilities. Themes are made using a mixture of HTML, css and php. Apart from a working knowledge of these, the only other requirement is an understanding of the conceptual structure of WordPress and its actual workflow. This can be learned fairly quickly by anybody with web design experience simply by going carefully through the seven files in the Classic theme that comes with the default download. Anything else can be found in the massive online documentation. Having said that, creating a theme is not easy, since what you are doing is effectively taking control of the graphic user interface, and thus defining the ways in which the user will access the material on the site. As part of my research for this project, I have led three groups of students in building themes for their personal portfolios and although some students find the structure of Wordpress hard to handle in the beginning, and some students are uncertain of their abilities to tame php, almost all the students have difficulties understanding the site from their users’ point of view, and of understanding how a theme can be used to give a site a personality. The theme of this site is called (not surprisingly) Memi One and was designed from scratch by me. This is its fifth incarnation, and during its development I have added and removed features; altered the category structures; and improved the navigation and sign-posting. It is not yet completed because each insight into the functions and uses of the memi necessarily impacts on the usability of

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 40

the current version of the theme. The theme is unusual in at least one sense. It will only work with a particular configuration of plugins. That is because the theme and the functionality of the site are tightly bound together. Plug-ins are built and maintained by individuals or groups outside the core Wordpress team. They work because Wordpress has standard APIs which are simple and well documented, and allow authors to create bundles of php scripts that can send to, and retrieve from, the database. They can also intervene in the workflow to process or manipulate the data. In principle they can be used to accomplish anything that can be done anywhere on the web using php or a similar language. They can retrieve information from other web sites, for example, for display on yours. During the course of this project I created a working plug-in which is used to display the main story and image on the front page of the site. I wanted to be able to specify a story and image in the Admin Panel, and have them automatically displayed. This is not a particularly complex problem but I genuinely could not find a plug-in that did this, and so I treated it as a research problem. Because it was a clear, and relatively simple problem, it was an ideal way to explore practically the inner workings of Wordpress. I also made substantial changes to two existing plug-ins, and some changes to a third that were including in the official release versions.

Blinded by the light
One of the problems that my students had when they were trying to design usable themes was what I termed an inability to see beyond Wordpress. This is a problem that I have had to try to work through in my own research. Let me explain what I mean by use of an analogy. If I showed you my Ford Mustang and asked you for suggestions as to how I might customise it, you might spend some time pondering; you might then research my personal likes and dislikes; make sketches; and finally present them to me along with a list of ideas. You would almost certainly have made an initial and unshakable assumption, though: that what I wanted to end up with was something different but not too different. If I had wanted a tractor I would have started out with a tractor or something very tractor-like. The fact that I started out with a Mustang must mean that I wanted to end up with something better, but still Mustang-like. In the physical world, where materials cost money and nothing is infinitely malleable, your reasoning would probably be correct. Turning a Mustang into a tractor would be more expensive than buying a tractor, and the final result probably still not as tractor-like as the real thing. That is because the Mustang has a ‘true shape’: it has been designed to act and look a certain way and each part has been designed with this in mind. This kind of reasoning gets carried across into the digital world where it has no logical basis at all. Wordpress has no ‘true shape’. Its Classic theme is not what it is ‘really’ like. Similarly it has no ‘true actions’. If we do not want entries displayed chronologically (which I don’t) then we can tell it not to. My concern has been to develop a portable, personal, lifelong dataspace and, while using Wordpress is both convenient and in line with the ethics of the project, I do not wish the memi to be defined by what Wordpress apparently can and cannot do. I want it to be defined by the outcome of research, analysis and experiment.

Online & offline usage patterns
I was forced to contemplate this when I realised that Wordpress, in its current form, could not

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 41

provide a complete solution since it only worked online. If I was really to use the memi as my central databank then I would need almost constant access to it. I have been using a Sony Clie PDA since 2003 as a personal information manager. It carries my diary, address book, notes, and a variety of other data. All of this syncs with my laptop, but the point of it is that it is available to me day and night; to the extent that I also use it as my alarm clock when I need one. This led me to look in detail at the usage I make of my Clie, and the relationship I have with its Palm-powered interface. I have listed the software on my Clie, and the reasons for using each application, in some detail. My concern here is with the way the pda is actually used. I notice that I do not use the pda whenever I can refer to the same information on my laptop. On the laptop it is easier to write, edit and add to. The screen allows me to see more than one document at a time and to move information between them more easily. Examples of this include the fact that the sensible view for the calendar on the pda is the daily view, while the sensible view on the laptop is the weekly view. The weekly view is much more useful since looking at the week tells you a lot in a single glance. On the other hand my laptop has decided to take up to four minutes to start and so it is only when the laptop is already switched on and happily running that I am in this position. Since the pda starts instantly at the screen you were viewing when you shut it then it has the advantage in many situations. My use of the Clie relies upon its ability to start instantly, and on its clear and simple interface which lets me get to anything in a few clicks. Apart from the obvious diary and calendar functions, I use it to add short bursts of notes at the very moment that they occur to me. In this way I retain a train of thought for expansion later. The structure of the linked essays that form this thesis was developed this way. I used a specifi program, Bonzai, that allows me to create tree-like lists, which I can manipulate and move around. In this way I was hopefully able to move beyond the point where I had a mass of relevant material scattered throughout the site, to one where the key points had been assembled into a navigable structure, with the rest added as linkable appendages that are also available as entries in their own right. This function cannot yet be entirely web-based since, even in Helsinki I am not always within a wifi area and, when it comes to recording a fleeting thought, almost-now is not now.

The question of hardware
If the memi is not solely web-based then it will require some hardware on which it can reside and be used locally. Wordpress is capable of running locally using a special distribution of Apache called XamppLite, although syncing the local and online versions is a problem still waiting a solution. (I know it can be done because I have done it. I would not, however, like to talk somebody though the process, let alone attempt to write notes to enable a stranger to attempt it.) This hardware cannot be a standard laptop for the reasons outlined above, nor can it be a pda unless the screen quality and the character of the input improve rapidly. This leaves several intriguing possibilities. Firstly Palm announced the Foleo, an ultra mobile PC with instant on, and then cancelled it several days before the much publicised launch. They have subsequently promised to relaunch it next year, and it might conceivably offer a hardware platform. Secondly, Splashtop was announced recently. This is software that is designed to be burned into the laptop’s motherboard. It appears as an option 3 second after the machine loads and if it is chosen it

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 42

suspends start up procedures and instead loads a Linux-based Firefox web browser and Skye client. Not having seen it, and not having read enough to understand whether its current limitations are merely stepping stones or inherent flaws in the concept, I merely point it out as a possibly interesting innovation. Thirdly, the One Laptop Per Child machine, and the new Acer EEEPc sub-laptops are supposed to have “near instant-on”, whatever that means. Fourthly, since Palm devices already sync to the desktop, it might be possible to break off a part of the memi for use on a pda, and then sync that part to the complete memi, via a desktop intermediary. Solving this problem is not within the scope of the present thesis. Being aware that the problem exists most definitely is.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 43

3.6 Functions and options
As I have explained previously, this verson of the memi uses a particular configuration of WordPress as its underlying architecture. This configuration consists of a theme, and a set of mandatory plug-ins. The theme is called Memi One and was designed by me and then slowly evolved through monitoring the ways that I was using it. It has a small set of main colours and type faces which are detailed in an entry listing the design specifications. This also explains how the design grid works. The page is divided into five columns. Each column is 144 pixels wide with a 24 pixel margin, so the site is a fixed width of 864 pixels. There is an additional entry concerned with the history of the site. This details the five versions so far, from the Wikkiwiki site that was launched in May 2005 to the current version which went online on May 15, 2007. In its current form the Memi One theme has a menu bar, at the top of the page, in which each item has a sub menu. The menu and sub-men items are then listed as links at the top of each post. Clicking on these takes you to a page listing all the entries in that category in alphabetical order. There is an option to display them in reverse chronological order. This is an important feature because, left to its own devices, Wordpress displays entries in reverse chronological order, which is not particularly useful for our purposes.

One important difference between a memi and a standard blog is that entries will not get out of date in the same way. Many blogs share much of their focus with newspapers: they are concerned with what is current, and what is likely to happen next. What was about to happen next in February 2005 is not usually very interesting anymore, and so articles disappear into the archives where they can sleep harmlessly. In a personal lifelong dataspace, however, what happened in February 2005 will never cease to be important, although the ways that it is interpreted, the patterns into which it is fitted, and the conclusions that we draw from it, may change drastically over time. This means that it is vital that the user can navigate through the information and data in the memi, using a range of tools and techniques. The memi is a personal encyclopedia and we expect encyclopedias to be signposted and laid out differently from a pile of old newspapers, simply because we use them differently. We need a clear taxonomy to guide us through the larger structure and other techniques to guide us through the fine detail. The Sections and Categories displayed on the menu form a predetermined taxonomy, that has needed updating from time to time. To be useful the taxonomy needs to be general enough to make sense at a glance, yet specific enough to be useful as a way of dividing entries. This has proved to be a difficult balance to achieve. However entries also have tags at the end, and these are added more or less arbitrarily as an entry is written. Clicking on the tags at the end of an article will display a list of similarly tagged entries. In this way the tagging system can be used to carry much of the weight in terms of categorisation. The sections and categories tell you what kind of entry something is (it is a piece of writing and it is an essay, for example) whereas the tags tell you about its content (it relates to McLuhan, television and Web 2.0 for example).

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 44

I have discussed questions of taxonomy and folksonomy and data mining in several entries over the past year, as I tried to find strategies for storing and retrieving information, while allowing it to degrade gracefully. There is currently a menu called Data Mining which pulls together a variety of different ways of querying the material in the memi. This includes a tag cloud that provides a visual guide to the topics that have been tagged and the frequency with which they appear. From this it is easy to deduce what the main topics of interest here are, at least currently. “Culture, design, epedagogy, memi, Second Life, the web, Web 2.0″ seem to be the areas that have most entries at the moment. Since the tag cloud is interactive (you can click on a word and get shown a list of entries tagged with that word) you can also use it to find entries that you might be interested in, without knowing anything about them in advance. There is a page of Greatest Hits, which simply lists the entries that have received most hits: both overall and for the last month. This is useful in two separate ways. I can use it to see which pieces in the memi people have found out about and chosen to read. I can use it to remind myself of items that I wrote that attracted some interest, and may therefore want following up. All The Entries uses an AJAX (Asynchronous Javascript And XML) plug-in to display the names of months, each of which can be expanded. This is the best way of searching chronologically that I have yet found. Additionally, because it works so smoothly, it is possible to use it to dip into the content at random.

Structured blogging
As part of the research I investigated a plug-in called Structured Blogging which was actually a conceptual approach to the publication and distribution of information on the web, wrapped into a plug-in for WordPress. The aim of the plug-in is to enable users to write reviews, reports, and so on, in a standardised form that can be aggregated. To do this it uses an xml protocol in the background, which poses some technical problems with later versions of Wordpress. You can see a review of a seafood restaurant at Charlotte-Douglas airport that uses this plug-in to structure the page. The plug-in does three things. Firstly it presents you with a form to fill in when you write the review, guaranteeing that you will put the right information in the right places. Secondly it saves the data twice, in effect: as text to be used by Wordpress to display the page, and as xml to be used by passing spiders to grab the information and reuse it. Thirdly it offers the option to have the review automatically entered onto a server. Unfortunately the microformatting that this was proposing has not caught on, and so only the first part, the visual display, is of any actual use at the moment. I have customised this considerably, and will try to find the time next year to reinvigorate the plug-in. My tentative conclusions about it suggest that a sensible approach will be to modularise it, and make the inclusion of the xml on the page an optional extra. (There are two other entries that look at structured blogging in some detail. The first entry is a description of my initial reactions, while the second looks inside the plug-in at how it actually works, which is unusually complex in terms of its approach to the data). Nonetheless, this plug-in points to a very important need: the need for a regular and predictable structure. This occurs at the simple level of titling entries. Initially I was in favour of amusing and whimsical titles for pieces. Later I realised how much harder it was to find something that had been titled in this way. Later still I realised that it was still difficult to find a piece called Six things I think about blogs, even though it seemed to be titled sensibly. Alphabetically it would be filed under S, and how intuitive is that?

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 45

In the end I decided that an entry such as the one above should be called Blogs: six things I think about them, because then (if every entry follows the same simple code) it will be found under B along with all the other entries such as Blogs: I hate them, and so on. This may sound self-evident but it is easy to overlook - as I did for ten months or so, until I had to retitle a lot of entries so that I and my students could find them.

I have experimented with almost all the social networking and data manpulation plug-ins and services that I have found, in the expectation that most of them would prove of little value to me and a few would prove extremely valuable. Twitter falls into the first category, as does co-Comment and Plazes. Clipmarks definitely falls into the second category. It simply allows you to “clip” up to 1,000 words from a web page and then save it to the Clipmarks web site, or post it to your blog. When you post it to your blog it arrives with styles in place ready to be assigned values through your own stylesheet. It is perfect for collecting facts or statistics where they appear buried inside a long article. The ability to style them means that they appear as clearly structured information, with an automatic link back to the source article. There are many examples here, including a complete list of the winners of the Eurovision Song Contest, and a set of figures about the development of free digital television in the UK.

Trails and pointers
It is important that data should be structured in ways that permit it to be queried, searched and sorted. However, it is also important that individual entries should be able to be linked and highlighted in various ways. I am using several plug-ins to achieve this. I have established a series of trails through the memi, and indeed this thesis consists of a set of interconnected trails. The idea of trails developed slowly as I grappled with how to link articles and entries without forcing them into long and unwieldy pieces. Partly the answer was technical and partly it was conceptual. (The original conception saw them as “excursions”. For the sake of historical completeness, the original page describing these is available here.) Technically, entries are linked in a series and the complete list of entries in the series appears at the top of each entry. This lets the user navigate through the series, without compelling them to do so. The normal navigation is complemented not replaced. The layout of the trails guide provides a clear visual signal, but one that can be safely ignored. Conceptually the trail consists of articles that can be read in their own right. In other words the pieces in a trail do not presume that you have read all the preceding chapters in sequence. They assume that you might be coming to the entry for any number of reasons, and from any starting point. This results, by necessity, in some repetition and redundancy. Minimising this is part of the challenge that a user faces when she attempts to develop a style for writing her memi.

Definitions: the two stage shuffle
One need, which I am currently developing here, is for a category of entries which are definitional. To minimise redundancy I can, for example, avoid describing what a memi is each time I use the word, and instead refer to a single entry that defines the term as I intend to use it. There are several advantages to this technique. It will build up a short dictionary of key terms. It will enable a development in one of these terms to be reflected across the whole site easily and

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 46

quickly. It will avoid unnecessary duplication. I am currently experimenting with applying this technique to almost all of the external references and links. I have come to believe that, for the sake of the integrity of the data, important external links should always be a two-stage process. Currently, when I refer to Marshall McLuhan I use a plug-in that automatically turns this name into a link pointing to an external site. I now think that I should point towards an internal definitional entry which provides a short summary and a set of links to related sites. In this way, even if the external links no longer function at some time in the future, the question of who McLuhan was and why we should be interested in him is still answered here. These are the kinds of functions and options that need to be built into the heart of a memi, if we are serious about it being a genuine lifelong dataspace. Some of them require coding in php or javascript, but many of them simply require understanding the implications of entering data in one way rather than another.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 47

3.7 Heads in the cloud
In Phaedrus, Socrates wrote that The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves… You give your disciples not truth but only the semblance of truth… They will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing. Socrates was not wrong, in his own terms; he was merely approaching the issue from a starting point that we almost certainly find impossible to imagine. He was watching as the alphabet was perfected and offered Greek society a new medium, and he was predicting that Greek society would be the worse for embracing the new medium. What is certain is that Greece, and all future societies, were dramatically changed by this new medium, just as they were later changed by the printing press and electricity. The alphabet did create forgetfulness, if by that we mean that people no longer bothered to learn thousands of lines of verse by heart in order to recite it. However it also offered new opportunities which changed the very nature of the social game, until almost nobody except a professional actor would consider spending their time learning thousands of lines written by others. Every change, every shift, in the cultural landscape, whether large or small, has produced similar cries. What is coming is less worthy than what we are used to; less “real”; less human. That this is being said about Web 2.0, “the cloud”, and other aspects of the new datasphere is therefore not surprising.

Amateurs and experts
Andrew Keen’s book The Cult of the Amateur takes a disparaging look at the web and the effects that it appears to be having on licensed expertise. (In case this is not clear, the full title of the forthcoming paperback edition is: The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values). He has recently debated with David Weinberger, the author of Everything is Miscellaneous, in the online Wall Street Journal, where he claims that We’ve lost truth and interest in the objectivity of mainstream media because of our selfinfatuation with the subjectivity of our own messages. It’s what, in “Cult of the Amateur,” I call digital narcissism. A flattened media is a personalized, chaotic media without that essential epistemological anchor of truth. The impartiality of the authoritative, accountable expert is replaced by murkiness of the anonymous amateur. When everyone claims to be an author, there can be no art, no reliable information, no audience. Michael Gorman raises a similar argument more cogently in an article on the Britannica Blog entitled Web 2.0: the sleep of reason. He states that Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do. The second kind of learning comes from either personal contact with living people—teachers, gurus, etc.—or through interaction with the human record, that vast

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 48

assemblage of texts, images, and symbolic representations that have come to us from the past and is being added to in the present. It is this latter way of learning that is under threat in the realm of digital resources. This cry has been heard many times throughout the twentieth century and, as I showed in Community, Art and the State, it has never yet proved true in the way that the doom-mongers predict; and nor will it.

The nature of the cloud
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, these arguments are based on shifting sands. Secondly, the very nature of “the cloud” that they are criticising will act to prevent this “digital narcissism” from flooding our channels of communication. The arguments are based on shifting sands because they conflate and confuse different activities by refusing to acknowledge their differences. Experts in the etchings of Goya (an example Gorman uses) are not being buried alive under a mass of ill-informed nonsense on the web, for the simple reason that the exchange of knowledge involves people seeking out expertise and then seeking to learn from it. The bewildered who are drawn to Goya’s etchings and then fobbed off with a load of nonsense posted on a thirteen year old’s web site are straw men, or convenient myths. Nobody gets drawn to the etchings of Goya randomly and instantaneously. For most people such an attraction would be one step on a long journey - and almost certainly not the first step. A decision to investigate the late string quartets of Beethoven would similarly be one step along a long road, and not the first step. People in that position will not randomly google Goya or Beethoven and accept what they get as authoritative and complete. People do that when they are arguing about who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1984, or the World Cup in 1966. Most people are capable of understanding the difference in kind between these two kinds of enquiries and using appropriate techniques to gain the information they feel they require. The second point relates to the nature of the cloud itself. The networked world is not a uniform network in which people are all linked to another four, forty, or 4,000 people. As Philip Ball has suggested in Critical Mass the web has the shape of a scale-free network in which the probability distributions of both incoming and outgoing links…were power laws. That is to say, the probability of a random page…having a certain number of links to or from it depended on the number of links according to a power law relationship. Most pages had few links; a few had many; and each time the number of links was doubled the number of pages with that many links decreased by a constant factor. This tells us that the network is formed of clusters that are connected to each other through certain hubs which each have a lot of links. This is what we might expect where the ability of people with similar interests to locate each other is increased exponentially. There will be a group of Beatles fanatics closely linked; a group of Rolling Stones fans closely linked; and a few people who are in both networks and thus link them. Thus, it is not true to say that “everybody is now an author” if by that you intend to imply that everybody is suddenly assuming that they have something to say about the etchings of Goya. It would be truer to say that where people have knowledge, however arcane or trivial it might seem to others, they are likely to be able to find people who want to share it. Thus if you imagine that the cloud is a library or Barnes and Noble then it appears to be a chaotic broken version. If, however, you imagine it as a lot of loosely connected networks all coalescing around things that are important

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 49

to them, then the picture changes dramatically for the better.

Natives of the cloud
For the last decade these networks have been populated by people who, like Aristotle, approached them as adults experiencing a new and strange phenomenon. They could clearly remember the time before the internet, and they were thus available to feel ambivalent about it. Increasingly, though, the web is populated by people who have grown up with it: the people that John C Beck and Mitchell Wade have termed the Gamer Generation. In The Kids Are Alright they point out that ultimately, just about everything follows culture. Look at corporate culture. The boomers’ fathers and mothers were thrilled to be “organisation people”. Boomers themselves wanted something glitzier, more focused on the individual with more upside. That desire brought us the go-go environment of the 1980s and 1990s; mobility was in, security was out. The dot-com era, fuelled of course by gamers, took that focus on the individual to a whole new level. Employers and employees agreed suddenly, implicitly that every employee, every executive, was really just a free agent… The game generation will not change business just by their business skill, their work ethic, or even their leadership potential. The will change business by who they are as a whole. How they grew up, how they see the world, what they want, even how they rear their own children - all these qualities matter too. In short, sooner rather than later, it will be the game generation’s culture. The Kids Are Alright looks in detail at the game generation from the perspective of business. Its conclusions are similar to those reached by educationists such as Marc Prensky. This generation is different, and their cultural behaviour is different. They live in the cloud and feel happiest there. The game generation did not just believe it to be true, the felt it as reality, when Manuel Castells wrote (in The Internet Galaxy: reflections on the internet, business and society) I imagine one could say: ‘Why don’t you leave me alone?! I want no part of your internet, of your technological civilization. Of your network society! I just want to live my life! Well, if that is your position, I have bad news for you. If you do not care about the networks, the networks will care about you, anyway. For as long as you want to live in society, at this time and in this place, you will have to deal with the network society. The cloud, then, is the metaphorical place where data lives when it is stored non-locally, in ways that can be retrieved and reused from multiple points, and when its physical sources no longer matter. It is no longer possible to ignore it, or merely rail against it. As Castells points out, it is our environment now and, even if we do no feel comfortable there, there are others who do.

The shape of data
When data was habitually stored locally its topography was usually defined by the imagined documents that applications produced. This data was a spreadsheet; that data constituted a database. If I wanted to combine the information I had to undertake some often complex sequence of exporting in a specific format; manually editing the fields on the document that was due to receive the merged data; and then merging the data. In this way information came to be seen as having distinct boundary edges, even though these were always, in the final analysis, illusory. This was the database of company employees. That was the financial records of the last month’s transactions. This were comfortable signs, and examples of

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 50

what McLuhan termed the rear-view mirror effect. We acted as though the data was in discrete files, just as it had been fifty years ago when it was housed in leather-bound ledgers. In the cloud this distinction is no longer possible. All data stored non-locally is available to be mashed up at any time, and one of the cornerstones of the Web 2.0 phenomenon is the myriad ways which people are finding to monetize this mash-up process. Non-locally data has no shape and is infinitely malleable. It is this that is at the heart of the question I have asked in several different ways: what is a memi and where is it? In the end, like everything else in the cloud, it has no permanent shape and no definable borders. Yet, at the same time, clearly my memi is not the same as your memi; because in the end a memi is itself a trail through a much larger cloud of data, and it matters very little whether the data is, or is not, all stored in the same physical location on the same servers. What matters is not ownership in the traditional sense of having the physical machine with the zeros and ones stored on it in a room in a building I own. What matters is permissions. Data can be encrypted and many types of data usually are. What matters is who has the necessary permissions to encrypt and unencrypt it. As the recording industry have realised, and failed to act upon, the ownership of permissions is the key to publishing and distributing in the cloud.

Distributed publishing
The record industry have spent several years alienating their own customers by various attempts to prevent the purchaser of a compact disc doing anything with it except playing it in an approved compact disc player. This is an attempt to create artificial limitations through programming. The obvious problem with this is that, once sufficient people see this as a challenge and a game, then the game can never be won; and the consumer gets trapped in the middle. There are many other models for approaching the idea of publication and distribution in the cloud, and one of these is to make files available to be embedded in other web sites. This technique, which I termed distributed publishing would create peerticles: small files that could be copied from place to place and then embedded anywhere, since they carry their attributions with them. I have written an essay about Zoho for distributed publication. In the summer I discussed this idea with the development team of Zoho Writer, since all it would require of them is a slight change to the HTML that Zoho Writer produces, which I detailed in a separate essay. I described distributed publishing as offering an opportunity to never do anything twice that should only be done once. The memi is supposed to be a life-long personal repository, along lines suggested sixty years ago by Vannevar Bush. If you possessed such a thing and you lived in a connected world of shared networks then a question would naturally arise. Why would you do anything twice? Doing things twice simply guarantees inaccuracy. For example, if I have my curriculum vitae in my memi, why would I want to copy it to give to you? If I did that then the next time I altered or updated it you would be in possession of an outdated copy. Either I would have to remember to send you an updated version, or risk you continuing to distribute an old version. In the same way, if I write a paper for an academic conference why would I want to send a copy to the organisers so that their web-master could format it and put it on their site? When someone kindly pointed out a factual error or typo I would be obliged to forward corrections to the organisers, hoping that they would ask their webmaster to

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 51

update it. They might not and I might end up patiently answering emails from a growing crowd of conference attendees all helpfully pointing out the mistake I had already tried to correct. This problem will not be solved by sending my contacts a link or an RSS feed. The conference organisers do not want to put a link to my paper on their site. They want to publish my paper, and all the other papers, in a uniform format on the conference site. Then, when the conference is over, they want to have them available in an online archive of papers. The problem will not be solved by wikis either. Neither the organisers nor the authors are offering the work up for alteration and adaption - at least at this stage. They want to present the work as completed, while somehow allowing the author an easy way to correct, enhance, expand it or syndicate in the future. What is needed to fill this requirement is a form of distributed publishing. This would allow me to publish my paper in my own memi, and then provide a simple mechanism that would allow other people to have the paper automatically published on their sites, using their style sheets. The paper would appear as a standard page on the site, but would be linked back to the originating site, and would be updated automatically to reflect any changes in the original. The distribution of the linking mechanism would form the entire process of publication. In the cloud, then, using techniques like these, there is little meaningful difference between publication and distribution. There is only production and consumption; or prosumption.

Strategies for distributed publishing
Zoho is not the only way in which this concept could be enacted. offers a broadly comparable idea. It offers unlimited storage of uploaded documents; the ability to share them and have other users comment on them; and the ability to embed them in any web page. offers storage space in the cloud (free up to 1gb and by subscription thereafter). It now uses the widgets that both Zoho and Scribd make available, to enable you to manipulate your files without leaving your Box. In other words, you can go to your box; create a new file with Zoho Writer; publish it to Scribd; and maintain it from your Box. In this way it is possible to minimise the inconvenience of using a myriad of best-of-breed services without attempting to “own” the data by storing it locally. As we might expect there are elements of the Web 2.0 ecology that see their business as providing nodes in the network that act to reduce complexity and thus increase usability. Services that become complex get mashed up into a greater simplicity. This is the culture the gamer generation have created or colonised, and this is the culture that learners will increasingly inhabit. It is the nature of activity in the cloud that means that, hard as it may be, we need to rethink pedagogy for a culture where the prosumer is normal, and the remixing and mingling of data is commonplace.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 52

3.8 Rethinking pedagogical theory
This essay begins with the axiomatic assumptions that there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the network society is actually here; that a world of networked information will lead inexorably towards a knowledge economy; that learners will inevitably bring new demands and requirements to learning, and institutions that offer to facilitate learning, as they live in the cloud.

Defining pedagogy
I want to start by looking at some of the conventional definitions of pedagogy, so that we can understand what it is that we think we will be rethinking. The InTime web site defines pedagogy as the pedagogical (teaching) skills teachers use to impart the specialized knowledge/content of their subject area(s). Effective teachers display a wide range of skills and abilities that lead to creating a learning environment where all students feel comfortable and are sure that they can succeed both academically and personally. This complex combination of skills and abilities is integrated in the professional teaching standards that also include essential knowledge, dispositions, and commitments that allow educators to practice at a high level. a definition that includes material adapted from a 1998 document from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This might appear to be more concerned with the teacher and teaching than with the learner and learning. This connection is drawn explicitly at L. Herod’s Adult Learning site. He defines pedagogy as an educational approach characterized by teacher-centredness. The teacher is viewed as an authority figure and students are not generally involved in decisions/actions in regard to learning. Related concepts include: directed learning Directed learning is then described as Educational environments that are characterized by the teacher in the role of expert and authority figure, transmitted knowledge and passive learning, standardized curriculum, and mastery of content It might be argued that these are not definitions so much as pieces of rhetoric, and indeed there are some apparently more neutral definitions. The most nearly neutral that I could find on the web is from Crede, the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence, and it says that pedagogy is teaching; assisting students through interaction and activity in the ongoing academic and social events of the classroom. Even that definition clearly begins with the teacher and ‘teaching’, and only then turns its attention to the students and classroom. I am not suggesting that this is in any way an authoritative or complete set of definitions. I am aware that there are many other uses to which the term is put; and I am aware that there have been, and are, forms of ‘radical pedagogy’ keen to reclaim the term. This is, however, a reasonable crosssection of definitions found on the web, and a clear example of how many people are currently

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 53

using the term, whether they attach positive or negative feelings to it. I am concerned with this issue, in this way, because pedagogy is the implicit purpose of the memi, but at the same time I also believe that the memi is a tool to help usher in a new pedagogy which may not involve teaching at all.

Digital natives
In 2001 Marc Prensky introduced the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants in two interlinked essays: Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and Do They REALLY think differently? In the first essay he argued that there was a genuine problem of understanding between many teachers and students that was rooted in the fact that their experiences of the world are so different that they are, in effect, different creatures. Digital immigrants approach the web clumsily and try, however absurdly, to carry their old habits over to the new environment. They telephone people to check that they got the email that they sent. They insist on doing one thing at a time. They believe that, like television, being online for too long, or too often, is bad for you. They persist in dividing online activities into the ’serious’ and the ‘trivial’. Digital natives regard life online as just another part of life and don’t ask what Facebook is ‘for’. They regard multi-tasking as normal and see no reason not to flip between writing an essay and playing a game. In the second essay, though, Prensky moved beyond merely pontificating to argue that he was not speaking metaphorically when he said that digital natives were different. Evidence from recent neuroscience, he said, backed up his claims that stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people think, and that these transformations go on throughout life. The brain is, to an extent not at all understood or believed to be when Baby Boomers were growing up, massively plastic. It can be, and is, constantly reorganized”. Prensky’s later work includes Twitch Speed in which he looks in detail at the differences he sketched out earlier. Every parent, educator, and manager knows that “Nintendo children”–those born after 1970 and raised on video and computer games, Walkmans, the Internet, etc.–are different. Unfortunately, the Gen-X discussion has focused mainly on the youths’ supposedly short attention spans and attention-deficit disorders, ignoring or underemphasizing what is perhaps the most crucial factor–that this under-30 generation thinks, and sees the world, in ways entirely different from their parents. An example: This generation grew up on video games (”twitch speed”), MTV (more than 100 images a minute), and the ultra-fast speed of action films. Their developing minds learned to adapt to speed and thrive on it. Yet when they join our companies, we typically begin by putting them in corporate classrooms, bringing in poor speakers to lecture at them, and making them sit through an endless series of corporate videos. Speedwise, we effectively give them depressants. And then we wonder why they’re bored. I don’t mean to suggest that Sega and Sony have created new intellectual faculties in under-30s but, rather, that technology has emphasized and reinforced certain cognitive

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 54

aspects and de-emphasized others. Most of these changes in cognitive style are positive. But however one feels, it’s important that managers (as well as educators and parents) recognize that these changes exist so that we can deal with the younger generation effectively. It is not the case, though, that every child born after 1970 is a digital native. Nor is it the case that every person born before 1970 is a digital immigrant. The Digital Natives wiki, which is a joint project between the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, makes this very clear. Though we frame digital natives as a generation “born digital,” not all youth are digital natives. Digital natives share a common global culture that is defined not by age, strictly, but by certain attributes and experiences related to how they interact with information technologies, information itself, one another, and other people and institutions. Those who were not “born digital” can be just as connected, if not more so, than their younger counterparts. And not everyone born since, say, 1982, happens to be a digital native. Incidentally I believe that Prensky has got his dates oddly wrong here. The Nintendo NES (the first Nintendo games console) was released outside Japan in 1985, after several years in which Nintendo made arcade games machines. If we accept Prensky’s dates then the first digital natives saw their first games console at the age of fifteen. 1980 seems a much more reasonable date to begin the game generation, for those children would indeed have grown up from the age of five in a world in which people increasingly played digital games at home.

Dreaming up evidence
J Allan Hobson offers some additional evidence concerning the plasticity of the brain in his book Dreaming: an introduction to the science of sleep. It is already clear that the brain does not store information like a tape recorder; a microfilm filing system; or even content-addressable memory - in other words it doesn’t simply take experience and lay it down somewhere in its depths for future reference. What the brain does, instead, is to keep a rather impressive record of experience for a relatively short time, probably in the hippocampus and directly related cortical structures, which is accessible for about one week by day but inaccessible by night. This model can explain how and why I never dream of daytime experiences that are easy to recall the next day. The brain uses sleep to make bit-by-bit adjustments in its long term repertoire of learning and memory, in a way that guarantees both efficacy and efficiency. This proposes a view of learning and memory that requires the brain to be continually plastic as it adjusts its inner networks on a nightly basis. This in turn suggests that Prensky is correct when he claims that current neuroscience is overturning the view that we have a limited number of brain cells and that we stop learning, or find it increasingly more difficult, as we age. Hobson also points out that we learn a myriad of procedures without being able to describe them verbally. Most learning is unconscious. We call this kind of learning procedural memory to distinguish

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 55

it from episodic and semantic memory. The dream science that Hobson has been proposing for many years is also, then, an insight into the deeper structures of the learning processes, and might offer evidence of how young people who have grown up in a world of rapid, streaming information flows, might process this information differently without being consciouslly aware of this. Beck and Wade are clear that their survey-based data clearly shows that this generation is literally growing up in the world of videogames. That world is completely different than the one all of us grew up in. And growing up there is making this generation - our kids - visibly, measurably different. They can handle reality alright - in some ways even better than we do. All those hours spent playing video games are actually teaching them important skills. But they don’t see things the way nongamers do, and they don’t maneuver the same way.

Microlearning and action learning
Microlearning is both a regular conference and a web site. According to the front page of the site Microlearning emerges when new media keep breaking the world into work, knowledge, communications … all is falling into small digital fragments, loosely joined and permanently rearranging to form a multitude of new patterns, tasks and threads. We have to learn to live in the micro-cosmos. According to Theo Hug, in his book Microlearning and Narration, the following dimensions can be used to describe or design micro learning activities:

Time: relatively short effort, operating expense, degree of time consumption, measurable time, subjective time, etc. Content: small or very small units, narrow topics, rather simplex issues, etc. Curriculum: small part of curricular setting, parts of modules, elements of informal learning, etc. Form: fragments, facets, episodes, “knowledge nuggets”, skill elements, etc. Process: separate, concomitant or actual, situated or integrated activities, iterative method, attention management, awareness (getting into or being in a process), etc. Mediality: print media, electronic media, mono-media vs. multi-media, (inter-)mediated forms, etc. Learning type: repetitive, activist, reflective, pragmatist, conceptionalist, constructivist, connectivist, behaviourist; also: action learning, classroom learning, corporate learning, etc.

• •

• •

Mircolearning, then, can be seen as one response to the challenge that Prensky laid down: if the new generation really is different from us, and acts differently and expects different activity, then what can we do about it? One answer is to recognise that, for an increasing number of people, learning is an activity that happens at any time in many surprising contexts. In a networked world even experience can be networked and generalised. When I have learned to use a word processor I already have some of the

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 56

knowledge I need to use a spreadsheet. When I can use both, learning to use a database should be relatively easy. Much in the digital sphere shares an underlying logic, and much of this logic can be learned through experiential microlearning. Arguably the use of language baths to teach German or Swedish have always followed a similar logic. Once you have learned to manage ordering lunch in a restaurant then you know a lot that you need to know to order breakfast. In this way microlearning may be seen as the realisation that in a digital age much more knowledge and experience is generalisable than in the mechanical age. Learning to operate a washing machine did not increase your ability to learn to operate a television by very much at all. Action learning has a longer history, since it was developed by Reginald Revans in the UK in the 1940s. In his 1980 book Action learning: New techniques for management he described the formula for action learning as L = P+Q, where L is learning, P is programmed (traditional) knowledge and Q is questioning to create insight. Action learning is a group endeavour that is usually carried out using real problems. It is used to

focus on learning, not only about the issue being tackled but also on what is being learned about oneself. This is essential to turn developing understanding into learning that can be transferred to other situations. To be aware of group processes and develop effective ways of working together.

It has usually been practised as a business training tool, and was originally developed to train staff in the coal industry, and later in hospitals; both places where Revans considered the convential training to be completely ineffective. Because of this it avoided drawing any of the hostile attention that the proposals put forward by John Holt and Ivan Illich did. Nonetheless it proceeds from many of the same assumptions: that people learn best when they have a personal stake in the outcome; that people are always learning; that it is the fault of theorists that much informal learning is discounted from discussion; and that teacher based pedagogy can actually be harmful.

The visual in knowledge building
Much pedagogy that is characterised as teacher-based could also be characterised as obsessed with texts and measurable outcomes. As McLuhan has pointed out many times the balance in the social sensorium has shifted dramatically in the move from the linear and mechanical to the digital cloud. McLuhan pointed out that “we never see objects we only see the relationships between objects”. The creation of an epedagogy that is based on the idea of learners moving in fluid networks, must necessarily have a visual component at its heart. We need more than ever to envisage the relationships between the data that comprises our social wealth and the permissions we give and receive. Knowledge can no longer be seen merely as flat representations on pages, although that is still an important aspect of what we know, and what we need to know. With increasing frequency, however, the knowledge which we need to access is of indeterminate shape in indeterminate locations to be accessed through networks whose complete shape we can never know. The ability to map this space as we explore it is becoming the functional equivalent f literacy one hundred years ago. The ability to envisage and manipulate these maps is a new form of creative cultural activism. For this we need tools and a clear goal. I suggest that the tools we need include a memi - a lifelong, portable, personal dataspace - and the

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 57

goal we seek for this networked epedagogy is cultural democracy.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 58

3.9 The memi and cultural democracy
Rethinking pedagogy is a perfectly pointless activity unless we have a clear reason to do so. Many of the reasons that are currently cited are, in the end, sadly negative reasons. “Children no longer want to go to school.” “Adults don’t have the time to attend full-time courses anymore.” “People think the lessons are boring (because people are different now).” These are reasons given by professionals who find their jobs slipping away from them; who recognise that the market has changed and want to work out how to pitch their goods in the new marketplace. The problem with this approach is that it makes a careless and dangerous assumption. It assumes that, although the marketplace may have changed, the underlying demand from consumers is still there. It therefore never questions the fundamental purpose of pedagogical activity. Thinking that people now want teaching in a different way, it hunts around for new tools and techniques. It does not ask: why did people want teaching in the first place, and do they still want teaching at all? There is, however, always the possibility that we can seek positive reasons for rethinking pedagogy, by searching out a goal that we can believe in, and then seeking to discover the part a reinvigorated pedagogy can play in moving towards that goal. To do this is to admit that pedagogy is not neutral but since it never has been, this should not be too hard an admission. Cultural democracy provides a goal with strong historical antecedents, and clear ties to the emerging information age. It both makes sense of what we are seeking to do, and provides a framework within which we can develop our ideas and practices. Ideas of cultural democracy were first discussed under that term in the early nineteen seventies.

The nineteen seventies
In Community, Art and the State I suggested that cultural democracy necessarily involved “access to social input as well as social control over the state’s output”. I suggested that this was necessary as part of a social struggle towards competence to “oppose those practices that are part of a consciousness that is fragmented, bewildered and defeated”. This fragmented consciousness is the consciousness of the trained consumer, the compliant purchaser who has been taught that democracy is being allowed to choose between the different packets on the supermarket shelves, and that the choice of what should be put on the shelves in the first place is a job for experts. If this consciousness is to be opposed and superceded, then the separation of the producer from the consumer must itself be challenged This was a position that emanated from the British community arts movement and drew both from practical experience, and the theoretical conclusions of Friere, Holt, Illich, McLuhan and others. It was an attempt to place culture and “the arts” into a wider social and political context that included education and government, in order to uncover a set of underlying conditions that might indicate the path a radical cultural programme should take. In this, we were attempting to do for cultural activism what Illich, in particular, had already done for education. In Tools for Conviviality, for example, Ivan Illich wrote that the “industrial mode of production was first fully rationalized in the manufacture of a new invisible commodity, called ‘education’, which he claims can be traced back to the history of alchemy, and the desire to find a formula to transform base material.”

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 59

We often forget that education acquired its present sense only recently. It was unknown before the Reformation, except as that part of early upbringing which is common to piglets, ducks, and men. It was clearly distinguished from the instruction needed by the young, and from the study in which some engaged later on in life and for which a teacher was needed. Voltaire still called it a presumptuous neologism, used only by pretentious schoolmasters. The industrial mode of production was first fully rationalized in the manufacture of a new invisible commodity, called “education.” Pedagogy opened a new chapter in the history of the Ars Magna Education became the search for an alchemic process that would bring forth a new type of man who would fit into an environment created by scientific magic. But no matter how much each generation spent on its schools, it always turned out that the majority of people were certified as unfit for higher grades of enlightenment and had to be discarded as unprepared for the good life in a man-made world. The commodity called “education” and the institution called “school” make each other necessary. The circle can be broken only by a widely shared insight that the institution has come to define the purpose. Values abstractly stated are reduced to mechanical processes that enslave men. This serfdom can be broken only by the joyful selfrecognition of the fool who assumes personal responsibility for his folly. The assumption of personal responsibility that Illich suggests here is an act that has powerful social and political consequences. It begins by demanding a recognition that, as Krishnamurti wrote, There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. It then involves recognising that society is not currently configured to permit this. At the very least, society will not recognise this learning as real, and is almost certain to demand that it is accredited. “The fool” cannot proceed on her own. She needs to find other. like-minded people also willing to take similar personal responsibilities. From this perspective self-learners are not merely a hobbyist, nor an autodidact. They are engaged in an activity with a lengthy history, that was suppressed under industrialised Taylorism and had come to seem an act of cultural opposition. This expressed itself in the nineteen seventies in terms of learning networks and The Whole Earth Catalog in America; a resurgence in Workers Education Associations and community arts activities in Britain; and a growth in radical educational initiatives in Latin America.

The twenty-first century
These activities were all rooted in the mid-century assumption that the industrialisation was an historical force that was consolidating its worldwide grip, and would need to be overthrown as, historically, tyrannies were always overthrown. This turned out to be a dramatic oversimplification. Those people who claimed that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction turned out to be correct - but not in the ways that they had imagined. Instead of a move towards a benign workers’ paradise, or a totalitarian distopia, industrialisation moved from heavy machinery to digital networks, and from no choice to the targeted selling of infinite choice. Instead of an oppositional band engaging in a lengthy struggle to overthrow “the separation of the

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 60

producer from the consumer”, the technical and economic developments tracked by Alvin Toffler and others resulted in the rise of the prosumer who expects her consumption to be give her productive power. I am not suggesting here that all is right with the world. Far from it. I am pointing out that some aspects of the world that seemed to be fixed in place have proved to be malleable, and hence some ideas that seemed to be unfeasibly utopian now look considerably more like practical suggestions that can be acted upon. The learning networks that John Holt developed and wrote about were cumbersome things that depended on geographically distributed noticeboards which people could walk to in order to ask questions, offer help or send messages. Today millions of such networks exist on the web without even being noticed. In the early twentieth century Taylorism did not just change the techniques used for building cars. It created a new view of what people were and how they should see themselves. Huckleberry Finn, in Mark Twain’s nineteenth century novel, has no concept of “wasting time”. He does not watch the clock in the way that people were taught to do by Taylorism. In the early twenty-first century we should expect to find similar shifts as the tides of Taylorism recede; centralisation is superceded by the global network; and information becomes the true source of power. In the rise of prosumption; the flattening of hierarchies in multinational corporations; the spread of work-as-play and play-as-work; the slow demise of networked television; the increasing use of continuous informal learning; we do find similar shifts. These shifts are both the result of, and the cause of, large-scale institutional shifts such as have been documented by Tom Peters and many others. In The PSF is Everything, Peters says that I decided a couple of years ago that organizations were … NOT WHAT THEY HAD BEEN. They were not … “enterprises to do stuff as we’d always known.” They were AND I’M KEEN ON THIS … Itinerant Potential Machines. That is, enterprises that … RE-FORM THEMSELVES … to do … WHATEVER IS NECESSARY … WHENEVER. This is his introduction to that idea that all companies need to reinvent themselves as a “Professional Service Firm”. “PSFs,” as I call them, sell one and only one thing: Creative Intellectual Capital. The dramatically changing global economy admits but one answer: More & More & More “Value Added.” Fast. Value-added based on the development and deployment of scintillating intellectual capital alone, as I see it, will make me/you/us “better than the next guy.” (For a coupla days, anyway.) “The” answer: the PSF. That PSF is … that’s right … EVERYTHING! Peters’ hyper-excitable typography is (like that of McLuhan in The Medium is the Massage) part of his message. He is arguing that the changes unfolding in the business world are profound and will overwhelm everybody who is not prepared for them. By “prepared” he means “converted to the new way of thinking”. Like Marc Prensky he is suggesting that there has been a sudden and fundamental shift in the way things are. However, where Prensky suggests that some teachers are digital immigrants, and then seems to suggest that they must simply live with it, Peters’ message is considerably more uncompromising. Adapt or die, is what it amounts to.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 61

There are signs that Peters may have the more accurate message.

Where are we going?
In the nineteen nineties many academics believed that the rise of the internet would result in a generation of isolated, unsocialised young people who were only happy sitting on their own staring at a screen. It turned out that they were really describing themselves and their parents - the television generations for whom the term couch potato was coined. They made the classic error of assuming that the future would be the present with the volume turned up a bit. In McLuhan’s terms, they used a rear-view mirror to peer forward. As John Beck and Mitchell Wade, and others, have pointed out, the gamer generation are tightly focused, very sociable, ambitious; but equipped with a different set of goals and values. They expect to learn the whole time and they differentiate hardly at all between work and play. Networking seems natural to them, and they approach issues of privacy from a very different starting point. None of this should be surprising. Every child who has grown up with a games console, has probably had to learn how to operate several new consoles during her childhood. Many games, such as the various Super Mario adventures, have made working out the rules of the game one of the main points of the game. You explore and learn by trial and error which objects are good and which are bad. Or you generalise your experience from previous games. Or you trade information with friends. In this kind of exchange credentials do not count. What counts is whether the person you ask has the information or not. Most children who play games build up friendship networks that exchange such information, and to be valued in such a circle what counts is having the information. I have personally known children who read games magazines voraciously, memorising the tips and hints for games in which they have no interest because information is tradeable and knowledge is generalisable. This applies as they get older and become students. Media students study in an environment which is subject to constant change. For example, the two year process that has evolved into this site, and this set of ideas about the memi, has seen me go through three major upgrades to WordPress, and several minor upgrades; deal with compatibility issues that result; watch as plug-ins arrive, and sometimes stagnate; switch hosting services, and contemplate a second switch; and many more such changes. Browsers themselves have changed during this time, and the current roadmap for Firefox 3 sugests that it will include built-in facilities for offline working, raising the question of whether I should try to solve the problem of using the memi offline, or wait to have it solved for me in a way that might become standardised. This kind of perpetual change is spreading throughout most working lives and will, in all likelihood, continue to do so. Supermarkets have switched from using traditional warehousing methods to complex, computer-monitored just-in-time delivery services. The business of storing goods in warehouses was subject to rare, incremental change. Just-in-time computer systems are subject to regular upgrading and replacement, as they are rewritten to meet new standards in order to engage with wider networks. A similar movement has occurred in many areas of consumption, where the replacement of atoms by bits, in the phrase of Nicholas Negroponte, has brought about an increased role and importance for brands. Brands can be seen as a branch of fashion, a set of signs and symbols signifying a set of values that hover around a product, rather than the product itself. These signs and symbols are in a

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 62

state of more or less constant flux, and the consumer is encouraged (or trained) to keep up with this: to engage in a process of continuous learning in order to be able to decode the current meanings in the changing environment of consumption. In this kind of environment we are all students, all the time, whether we think of ourselves in those terms or not. However much of the learning we do is either self-taught or informally guided. As children, we teach ourselves to use the Super Mario games, although the adult designers and programmers have structured them in such a way that they offer informal guidance to us as we play them. The opening level is easy, and gives us a chance to practice some of the observational and manual skills we will need. The ‘teaching’ here is built directly into the game. The child is not first taught how to play the game, and then allowed to play it. Instead it plays a very simple version before graduating onto a harder level. It is worth noting that this reflects something John Holt once said. He loved to play the cello, and when how long he practised each day, he answered, “I never practise. I simply play badly in the belief that if I do it often enough I will begin to play better”. In saying this he was anticipating what has now become normal. In the networked world everybody is becoming used, once again, to being trained on the job - even when that job is consumption.

What will we need?
What we need in this environment can be described simply. We need to be shown what we are doing; we need to be shown how to do it better; we need mentors or guides; and we need to be offered all of this on our own terms. If the networked world is more than a passing delusion, if cultural and economic structures really are undergoing permanent deep changes that will leave them in a state of perpetual change, then we need most of all to learn how to learn. We need to have access to ways in which we can monitor what we are doing, learn from it, and then generalise from what we have learned. Arguably the recent popularity of Brain Gym games is connected to a realisation that these skill, like any skills, can be honed by practice and exercise. We need a pedagogy that recognises these changes and builds upon it. This pedagogy will not try to ‘teach’ anything, but will offer tools and techniques to help people in their self-learning. It will meet people where they are, and embed itself into spaces where they want it. Apple’s iTunesU, which allows the distribution of lectures as audio or visual podcast, is one example of a way this could be organised. Here the student does not sign onto a course unless they want to. They have the ability to make their own trails through the lectures and upload these as playlists. This is an epedagogy - a pedagogy that is not located in a geographical location and does not expect students to absorb knowledge from teachers. Instead it offers guides, mentors, specialists and enthusiasts, and allows everyone involved to form networks that are not radial - from the institution at the hub out to the students on the spokes - but are interwoven transient scale-free networks that can be started and joined by any participant. This, in turn requires that each student has her own hub, or potential hub, to which others can be invited. What is required for such an epedagogy is not standard software but agreed, standardised protocols. In other words it should not matter what software I choose to use. All that should matter is that it reads and writes in a way that can communicate successfully with the other members of the network. This peer-to-peer networking will include mentors and specialists, and will make use of all the knowledge at their disposal. This is where social networking sites such as Facebook are so potentially useful. Not because they can be used to organise courses, but because the information

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 63

they reveal about network members can substantially broaden the members’ knowledge of each other. More exactly, they can substantially deepen the feeling member have that they know each other, by making available completely unpredictable “off-topic” information, of the kind that would arise naturally over coffee after a face-to-face meeting. Making use of all the knowledge at the network’s disposal is where a tool like the memi becomes invaluable. Facebook, Bebo, and other such sites, offer snapshots of network members’ activities outside the specific learning network. The memi offers an almost complete autobiography of the network member.

The memi, epedagogy and cultural democracy
The memi is a tool that brings the commonplace book into the digital age, and gives it a depth and breadth similar to Buckminster Fuller’s chronofile project. It enables people to look back over their previous beliefs, decisions and networks; to reconsider or research these; and to learn from them. It also allows them to offer this information to others tothe extent that they see fit. Currently the memi is imagined as a set of data living in the cloud, and accessed through a WordPress front-end. This is, necessarily both an incomplete implementation of the underlying concept, and a provisional one. In a world of change, however, there is no point waiting for the perfect time to start or the perfect set of circumstances. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” The memi is a tool for an epadagogy that reimagines learning so that it occurs throughout people’s lives. Potentially it occurs at any time, in any place, and under unpredictable circumstances. In this scenario, the role of epedagogy is to provide practical and theoretical tools to allow people to maximise their learning abilities to the extent that they want. People will have an increasing need to develop their learning techniques since only those skills will allow them to participate in a cultural democracy where they have an ability to have their output heard and respected. The alternative is to remain at the back of the line, consuming silently. Learning, and participating in a democratically created culture,necessarily involved formal and informal learning. Epedagogy is a site where the two can network and interact on their own terms, and for their own reasons. The memi is, I hope, a key tool that will facilitate that.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 64

4.1 The site today
The current version of the web site that forms the basis of the above discussion can be found at It is built upon Wordpress 2.1. The site is a fixed width site that has been designed deliberately to be simple to use. The process of simplifying the user experience is ongoing, and I am currently in the middle of another (sixth) major overhaul of the site. The site has a menu-bar at the top of each page. This never changes, and is designed to ensure that it is never possible to get lost in the site. Wherever you are it is possible to return to one of the main sections in one click. The site has been designed to be used as a personal hub. It has sections where articles, conference papers, and essays can be stored and displayed. It also has sections where information from elsewhere on the web can be clipped and stored for subsequent reference. Each entry on the site is catalogued using a taxonomy and a folksonomy, in the form of predefined sections and topics, and improvised tags. These can be accessed in many ways. Clicking on a category, topic or tag will open a page displaying all the entries catalogued using this term. The next version of the site, which will be ready by the end of December, will improve the cataloguing system by introducing another level. At the moment the taxonomy consists of Section and Category (for example Writing -> Essays), leaving the tags to describe the actual subject matter. In the next version the taxonomy will consist of Section, Category and Topic (for example Writing > Essays > Culture), which will enable the tags to deal only with the more specific subject matter. The site has a photo gallery, which is being upgraded to incorporate albums as well as galleries. In the next version it will replace my Flickr account. There are various options available for syndicating entries. I have been experimenting with two possibilities. The first involves the kind of distributed publication that I have been discussing with the development teams at Zoho. The second involves using the services of Scribd. This is in addition to making documents available as pdf files, or as printable pages, using the HP Tabblo plug-in. Each entry also features other enhancements for syndication and exploration, including a list of related posts from within the site, as well as a simple arrangement for posting to Digg or other social sites. In addition, in the background, there are several plug-ins responsible for automatically generating internal links from keywords. Thus every time the word memi is used anywhere in the site it is turned into a keyword pointing to one specific introductory page on the site.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 65

4.2 The site tomorrow
The new version of the site that will be online before January 2008 consist mainly of technical implementations of ideas that have arisen during the latest period of research and thought. Beyond that there will be further conceptual development. I intend to take this set of essays and rewrite them considerably to offer a chronological discussion of the commonplace book, the chronofile, the educational and philosophical ideas that prefigured the digital age, and the possibilities of combining these into the emi. I will place these onto their own domain, in the hope of stimulating further discussion and debate. One of the topics discussed tangentially in the thesis is the issue of giving a memi to a child, and then using it as a way of building up a consolidated set of childhood memories. I intend to put this into practice next year with my two daughters. I intend to provide each of them with a (locked) memi where we will store their writing, drawing, family photographs, school reports and so on. This will serve many purposes. Among others it will raise the issue, in clear practical terms, of the need to make sure that the data is all in a form that they can access and use when they are adults. I also intend to develop both the theoretical and practical strands of the argument. In theoretical terms I wish to tie the memi more closely into certain emerging strands of pedagogical thinking. In practical terms I intend to devote the time necessary to making those extensions to Wordpress that do not currently exist, but will prove invaluable for the project. This includes reviving the Structured Blogging plug-in in such a way that different sections of the site can be given distinctive looks, with their own finely tuned reference tools. This is a first step towards making all the major external links into a two-step procedure that first refers to an internal, definitional, link; and then refers to relevant external links.

Owen Kelly: Memi: a tool for cultural democracy

Page 66

4.3 References cited
The following is a list of the most important references cited in the essays above. Please consult the online version at, which contains detailed links for each citation, often to the full text of the works cited, or to an authoritative exegisis.

Philip Ball John C Beck & Mitchell Wade Ernst Cassirer Mark Dery Paolo Friere Buckminster Fuller Malcolm Gladwell Paul Goodman J Allan Hobson John Holt

Theo Hug Ivan Illich Andrew Keen Owen Kelly J Krishnamurti Marshall McLuhan

AS Neill Ted Nelson Marc Prensky Reginald Revans Thomas Swiss (ed) Frederick Taylor Don Tapscott Alvin Toffler

Critical Mass: how one thing leads to another The Kids are Alright: how the gamer generation is changing the workplace The Problem of knowledge Escape Velocity: cyberculture at the end of the century Pedagogy of the Oppressed The Buckminster Fuller Reader The Tipping Point Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System Dreaming: an introduction to the science of sleep How Children Fail How Children Learn Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better Microlearning and Narration Deschooling Society Tools for Conviviality The Cult of the Amateur Community, Arts and the State Culture & Democracy (with John Lock & Karen Merkel) Digital Creativity This Matter of Culture Understanding Media The Medium is the Massage War and Peace in the Global Village Take Today Summerhill – a radical approach to childhood Computer Lib / Dream Machines Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Action learning: New techniques for management Unspun Principles of Scientific Management The Digital Economy The Third Wave PowerShift

2004 2006 1950 1996 1972 1970 2000 1956 2002 1964 1967 1976 2005 1973 1975 2007 1984 1986 1996 1964 1964 1967 1968 1974 1962 1974 2001 1980 2000 1911 1995 1980 1990