(2015-10-17) Caulfield The Garden And The Stream A Technopastoral

Mike Caulfield: The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral. I’m talking about a different way to think your online activity, no matter what tool you use. And relevant to this conference, I’m talking about a different way of collaborating as well.

So when I see an article like this I think — Wow, I don’t have much in my wiki about gun control, this seems like a good start to build it out and I make a page. The first thing I do is “de-stream” the article.

what would make this page better? A link to the actual study. So I spend a couple more minutes and track down the actual paper and add it.

But now I look for things to link it to. I search my wiki for articles on suicide I could link this to.

reading it I realize it’s not the clean sort of support I was thinking about.

Note how different this sort of meaning making is from what we generally see on today’s web. The excitement here is in building complexity, not reducing it.

I have close to 1,000 articles in my personal wiki at this point. I have maybe 1,000 more scattered on other sites

when you get to that point, where you’ve mapped out 1000s of articles of your own knowledge you start to see impacts on your thought that are very hard to describe.

You can see this is tied via associative links

these things have meaning far more subtle and rich than one could get from a post or paper, a knowledge keeps its fluidity and continues to generate new insights.

This experience has radically changed me, to the point I find it hard to communicate with a lot of technologists anymore. It’s like trying to explain literature to someone who has never read a book

I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web — that amalgam of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Instagram — is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected

To talk about this effectively I’d like to introduce two terms representing different approaches to the Web: The Garden and the Stream

The Garden is an old metaphor associated with hypertext. Those familiar with the history will recognize this. The Garden of Forking Paths (Jorge Luis Borges) from the mid-20th century. The concept of the Wiki Gardener from the 1990s. Mark Bernstein’s 1998 essay Hypertext Gardens.

In the Garden, to ask what happened first is trivial at best

The Stream is a newer metaphor with old roots. We can think of the ”event stream” of programming, the “lifestream” proposed by researchers in the 1990s. More recently, the term stream has been applied to the never ending parade of twitter, news alerts, and Facebook newsfeeds.

It’s not that you are passive in the Stream. You can be active. But your actions in there — your blog posts, @ mentions, forum comments — exist in a context that is collapsed down to a simple timeline of events that together form a narrative.

If the Garden is exposition, the stream is conversation and rhetoric, for better and worse.

Whereas the garden is integrative, the Stream is self-assertive. It’s persuasion, it’s argument, it’s advocacy. It’s personal and personalized and immediate. It’s invigorating. And as we may see in a minute it’s also profoundly unsuited to some of the uses we put it to.

I’m going to assume most people in the room here have read Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay As We May Think. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to.

Now when people talk about Bush’s article, they are usually talking about the portion that starts around section six, which seems so prescient, so predictive of the web to come. He talks there about a machine he envisions called the Memex.

The web works very little like this. It’s weird, because in our minds the web still works like this, but it’s a fiction.

I’m blown away by the vision of this every time I read this. But not because this has happened, but because it hasn’t happened. I’m blown away because here, in 2015, there are elements to this vision that we still haven’t explored

Note that connections here aren’t banter, but the construction of a mental model of a subject area. And that model can be taken by someone else and extended, built on. Humanity can advance, not through argument by through a true collaboration.

It really is the ultimate garden.

What happened? Originally I had a long narrative in this section, and the story moved between the WELL and Howard Rheingold and Dave Winer and mailing lists, and Jorn Barger’s epic goodbye to the Kate Bush news group.

I’ll boil it down to this. It came down to who had the power to change things. It came down to the right to make copies

what a server-centric web is really good at is distributed conversation

A bunch of people frustrated with Usenet and mailing lists and BBS culture realized this, and they created something that was half-hypertext, half forum. And it was called blogging and it was beautiful, and it turned out to be the prototypical Stream. And when they added (RSS) syndication to that model it became amazing.

I’m not here to bury the Stream, I love the Stream. But it’s an incomplete experience, and it’s time we fixed that.

Let’s start with OER. I’ve been involved with Open Educational Resources many years, and I have to say that I’m shocked and amazed that we still struggle to find materials.

Everything else is either journal articles or blog posts making an argument about local subsidies. Replying to someone. Building rapport with their audience. Making a specific point about a specific policy. Embedded in specific conversations, specific contexts. Everybody wants to play in the Stream, but no one wants to build the Garden.

in nearly 25 years of the web, when people have told us what they THINK about local subsidies approximately one kajillion times we can’t find one — ONE! — syllabus-ready treatment of the issue.

This brings us to learning design

Kate Bowles, who graced us with her presence in both the fedwiki happenings, had a metaphor she liked for the learning environment of what we are calling gardeners here. She talked about Studio Space ([[design studio]), the idea of working next to people while building, of looking at their stuff out of the corner of your eye. Your work reacts and connects to theirs, not in this disposable or reactive way, but in this iterative way.

And it’s about getting back to the idea that our Personal Learning Network isn’t just our twitter followers, but is an effort to connect work together not just people. And maybe to understand the process of connecting and building and extending the work of others is as human and engaging as the conversational Stream.

what federated wiki is the Dynabook. It’s the crazy stuff you’d see if you had walked into Xerox PARC in 1977. You’ll see some of its solutions in tools in 10 years. Documents that choose proliferation over centralization. Page and paragraph level-forking. Edit and fork trails that travel with the document. Link resolution contexts that build off those trails. Page items as JSON, with serial numbers that can be tracked across a new sort of web. Page names that form semantic networks in interesting name collisions.

imagine a world where you write an article named Subsidies and Local Government in WordPress, and that pings a notifier that indexes that page. And immediately you are notified of all pages named this, and presented with a list of pages those pages link to.

If you understand what the distributed, overlapping garden looks like you can do this to your own tools. You could build these sort of systems in WordPress, Pinboard, Scalar, whatever. You could make your portfolio system more like this, your LO repository more like this

In 2015, out of nowhere, we saw web annotation break into the mainstream. This is a garden technology that has risen and fallen so many times, and suddenly people just get it. Suddenly web annotation, which used to be hard to explain, makes sense to people. When that sort of thing happens culturally it’s worth looking closely at.

Github has taught a generation of programmers that copies are good, not bad, and as we noted, it’s copies that are essential to the Garden.

David Wiley has outlined a scheme whereby students could create the textbooks of the future, and you can imagine that rather than create discrete textbooks we could engage students in building a grand web of knowledge that could, like Bush’s trails, be reconfigured and duplicated to serve specific classes and purposes.

I’ll leave you with this: we can imagine a world, I think, so much better than this one, if only we can get our heads out of the Stream for a bit, and build the Garden we need. So let’s talk about how to do that.

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