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XX-A Personal Cyber what…?

March 27, 2012

This should be obvious by now, but this blog is written as a reflection on this article.

Where to begin…I must say that Professor Lock Scott’s lecture about this article was incredibly useful to me, not because I didn’t read the article previously, but because it simply didn’t make that big of an impression on me when I read it originally. I don’t think it would’ve been possible for me to write a blog post of any substance either supportive of or opposed to the “personal cyberinfrastructure” concept. It wasn’t until I heard a different persons views on it that I began to understand the original article, but this is most likely due to lazy reading on my part. (And in fact, I must deeply apologize, I did read it on an iPhone)

A good starting point would probably be to say that I agree with Campbell’s ideas in principle. I also find several flaws with them. That is not to suggest that Campbell himself is not fully aware of these, obviously listing an extensive amount of potential flaws with an idea in the same article in which you are proposing it is probably not a sound practice.

Campbell’s suggestions for what students actually do with their infrastructure are incredibly vague, which I initially saw as a flaw, but now I believe to be deliberate. He is trying to spur creativity and originality by giving students not only a space in which they can be creative and original, but arming them with the knowledge to make something coherent. This is, in theory, a good idea. The most appealing thing to me about this is that it would allow expression in the digital world that was completely autonomous. For example, currently if I want to express myself on the internet, I have to go through an intermediary. If I want to write a prolonged treatise, I could use a facebook note, but WordPress is probably better. However, WordPress completely and totally defines the parameters in which I can be creative. I am limited to writing blogs and posting pictures. On Twitter I am obviously limited to short burst transmissions of 140 characters. Facebook is particularly authoritarian, offering very little deviation from their assigned templates which they alter often. One good thing about this type of internet world is that it has become quite organized and easy to understand. But I think it would be really interesting to see what could happen if, instead of being my friend on Facebook or adding me on Twitter, you could just come to my particular space on the Internet in which I expressed myself completely independent of any second-party governance.

I’ve talked in here before about how the advent of social networks has changed (and will probably continue to change) the world. But, imagine how the potential for change could increase exponentially if everyone had a personal cyberinfrastructure!

But wait…here is where we come to the first flaw. It won’t be everyone. It will only be college students.

You could say that universities are supposed to be leaders of sorts, especially in science and technology, and I agree with that to an extent. But the notion (and I’m not saying Campbell subscribes to this notion) that only college students are capable of or interested in new and interesting forms of expression is of course ridiculous. Let us not also forget the socioeconomic implications of the decision to implement personal cyberinfrastructures only in higher education. The reality is, in the two countries concerned with TUJ, not everyone is capable of going to college for a variety of reasons. But since the advent of the IT revolution (I must disagree with Campbell and say it clearly has occurred) the Internet, and the knowledge contained within, is for everyone. So in that case, why not start earlier? The percentage of people who don’t attend high school or elementary school is extremely small. Therefore implementing this idea earlier would cover a vastly wider range of people, and by consequence increase the potential for change. I personally believe that a high school junior could easily be capable of accomplishing this…in theory.

But contained within the amendment I just proposed to Campbell’s idea is the same flaw that I find in his original idea….how well will this work in real life? A fundamental fact of the IT revolution is that it has made technology tools that virtually everybody is now required to use in everyday life. Many people are also required to use cars in everyday life. But many of those people do not care one bit for the inner workings of a car, have no passion or emotional attachment to it, and use it frankly as a tool to be used and then disposed of later. For every tech-obsessed nerd out there, there are 10 people who have never de-fragged a hard drive in their life and never will, and will simply throw their computer off of a roof when it stops working for whatever reason. And these people will be far south of thrilled when they are informed that they will be required, to maintain good academic standing, to build a personal cyber-whatever. Not only will people who don’t care about technology be unhappy, but also people who feel that this activity has absolutely no bearing on their chosen field of study will also be bored or annoyed. And honestly, I believe the History and French Literature majors out there would be correct to feel this way. And there will also be a third group of people (I should point out that none of these groups are mutually exclusive) who simply take issue with the fact that they have to pay for a web server (assuming the college doesn’t pick up the cost).

I don’t believe that Campbell’s ideas were solely intended for use in the United States, but one of the best things about America in my opinion is that the prevailing philosophy is not for the powers that be to grab society and pull it up to a certain standard, but rather to create an environment where those who desire success will have every opportunity to achieve it. I think this is applicable to the idea of cyberinfrastructure. Those who want it, who realize the potential, who are motivated to try, won’t have to be forced or sought out. They will come when they hear of it.

There’s one more thing that bothers me a little about this. As I mentioned before, Gardner Campbell’s ideas of what could happen with personal cyberinfrastructure is deliberately vague. So all that we can logically surmise is that change would occur. But we don’t know, and would have no way of knowing, what type of change. And this begs the question: is change always good? I don’t actually have an answer for this, but it’s another thought that occurred to me while I was reading.

I guess I was fairly hard on Campbell the last three paragraphs, so let me re-iterate: I do think this is a good and interesting idea. As I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the education world, I have no clue if it’s even close to being implemented or if it has gained any traction. But it’s certainly worth consideration.

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  1. Well said Sean. I can see how the notion that Personal Cyberinfrastructure is to solely for those involved in higher education seems to be elitist. And maybe it is.

    But I think a question worth considering is what is the purpose of the higher education project we are all involved in. Why has such an education been valued through the ages? Sure it’s a way to better one’s opportunities for career and perhaps to become more knowledgable and wise.

    I would also hope that society benefits in proportion to the number of students who pursue such an education. Part of that benefit is the new knowledge and ideas that the learners discover.

    And here’s where making use of the online tools to spread this learning and connect with other learners comes in to play.

    Don’t know if I’m making much sense – I feel all idealistic and vague here.

    I agree that Campbell could have been more precise in describing what a personal cyberinfrastructure would look like and what students would gain from it. But I don’t think that was his purpose. I think he was trying to spark our thinking. It’s clear from reading your post that he was successful in that. If my simple-minded comments in class in anyway contributed to your process in making sense of his ideas, I’m honored and grateful.

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