Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Social and Private

The more the data banks record about each one of us, the less we exist.  
 - Marshall McLuhan

Social Networks and Communities of Practice

Humans are social creatures, and their evolutionary success and survival has depended largely on collaborative social relationships. Each member of the tribe assumes a vital role creating a network of interdependence. As we return to the global version of the village, digital social networks have become an influential 21st century force. Today, Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa law professor and syndicated columnist discussed how social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, have been instrumental in shaping public policy. Parliamentary bills relating to copyright law, as well as issues of accountability related to the CRTC, have been reviewed, overturned or reconsidered due to pressure created by orchestrating individual through social networks. Author, academic, song-writer and broadcaster Paul Levinson also reminded us that the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements were also the products of social networks. 

In terms of education, social networks are already allowing teachers to collaborate across civic and national boundaries. There is still, however, a great deal of work to be done in order to leverage social network in a meaningful way for students. Ideally, students could collaborate globally, not just within the confines of the classroom, in order to solve problems and create meaningful cultural exchanges. In the best cases, a conversation will emerge that will allow students to have a hand in redefining the nature of their own education.

Privacy and Surveillance

All technologies are double-edged swords. They bestow benefits that allow humans to expand more effectively across space and time. Inversely, they can be equally destructive and counterproductive. Although the Internet social networks allow for global collaboration and connectivity, they also expose digital denizens to violations of privacy. 

McLuhan warned that technology is an externalization of our bodies, and thus these extensions of ourselves can become vulnerable by virtue of their exposure. He would have reasoned that the Internet, which externalized the mind, exposes our thinking process to the world. Andrew Clement, argues that we have to be cautious of being seduced by "cloud computing" and be aware of how our online communications are routed, as we could be monitored by official (NSA) or unofficial (hackers)  surveillance entities. Clement is part of a team that developed IXmaps, a useful site that allows users to see how their information packets travel across cyberspace. Furthermore, the most Canadians are ignorant to legislation, or the lack thereof, affects issues of privacy and Internet safety. 

More relevant to education, most Internet users have no idea how their online activities are being monitored by corporate, government or other entities. Most Facebook users are unaware what information is being used by Facebook, or even how some of their basic activities appear to other users. We now bank online, shop online, socialize online, play online and seek all forms of entertainment online. Each of these activities are fraught with potential breaches of personal safety and security, most of which our students are unaware.

Identifying these, and other issues related to media literacy, Mark Lipton recommends a national strategy to incorporate mandatory media literacy, with a compulsory element of Internet safety and security. OpenMedia and Openparliament are two excellent sites that educators can use to promote awareness, transparency and activism in matters related to Internet safety, privacy and legality.

Interestingly, privacy was scarce in tribal society due to the circumstances of communal living. It follows that, with the advent of the global village, we may be returning to a place where privacy is a thing of the past.

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