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The liberty of the networked

Instead of an aversion to pain, I think I have a desire to walk toward it. Last fall, during CCK08, I was blessed with the opportunity to experience Prokofy Neva (Catherine Fitzpatrick). Many course participants found her distracting (rude). I didn’t find myself nodding in agreement with her too often, but I valued her contrarian voice. We should be questioning our assumptions, our broad frameworks. I find Andrew Keen to be an important voice – not because he’s accurate or on target with his criticism – but because he is willing to question what many assume as given (though he does so in order to sell books, but similar criticism could be directed at Shirky, Scoble, and others). Ideas in tension is a good thing. Whenever I find strong agreement on principles (such as is increasingly occurring at conferences touting the value of web 2.0 in education), I find myself wanting to push back and take the other perspective.
Anyway, Tony Curzon Price discusses networks, individuals, and the collective”: “we need to exercise our collective freedom to preserve our modern liberty…Society gave power to the individual, but also had absolute power over including or excluding the individual. Collective power was bought at the cost of individual rights and certainties. One of the most troubling aspects of the wired world, with its assault on privacy and its technologies of manipulation, may recreate and amplify this aspect of the world of the ancients.”
The comment by Fitzpatrick, complete with techo-communism references (such as Stephen and I were subject to during CCK08), raises an issue I’ve been thinking about lately. What will become of the individual? Collectives are great for many things. But any view of society that does not start with the individual is disconcerting.


  1. George, I completely agree with your gut feeling to push back at conformity of opinion – it suggests that we can’t have thought things through sufficiently.

    On the other hand, while I also agree that “Ideas in tension is a good thing” may I extend that thought?

    I would plea for: “Ideas in tension, but expression in civility”. It’s the latter part that is too often missing, I find.

    Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  2. Ron Lubensky wrote:

    This is why I believe that connectivism does align with deliberative democracy as currently conceived. Deliberation respects diversity and individual perspective, while searching for common ground (which I would reinterpret as the relationships we have as networked co-existing humans). Unfortunately, many misunderstand deliberation to necessarily strive for consensus or a collective mind. Or that facilitated problem-solving processes used by groups are coercive. Our common challenge is to defend normative theories against ill-informed critics.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  3. Ulop O'Taat wrote:


    ‘Expression in civility’ may suggest a set of norms that not all might subscribe too. What do you mean by this, Donald?

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  4. Steve Sorden wrote:

    Glad to see that this issue is starting to be raised or at least entertained in this space. Price raises some very important questions about our future. While I loved the CCK08 experience and learned a great deal, I have been very uneasy about some of the ideas I believe I’ve encountered since first becoming familiar with Connectivism. The biggest has been the assumption that if we don’t make sure that we are actively integrated in the best networks possible, as much as possible, that we will be disadvantaged in learning. In some ways this vision seems more elitist than democratic as many cannot engage this way, whether it is because of time, ability to express oneself well, insecurity, family commitments, shyness, etc.

    An equal goal for networked theories of learning might be to empower individuals to learn as effectively on their own as they do socially using technology such as AI and self-directed learning techniques. Maybe Connectivism needs to reconsider this as a balancing component in the theory. Maybe a re-evaluation of Romanticism in the 21st Century might not be bad either. (I’m betting its revival is just around the corner anyway.) Encouraging individuals to place equal emphasis on maintaining metacognitive skills for solitary reflection and learning helps to maintain a check on the power of the crowd, which can be surprisingly wrong at times and very susceptible to groupthink and the pied piper syndrome. Sometimes when I think about Heylighen’s global brain and hear all the gushing about the rush to connect every facet of our lives, I feel that we could just as easily be describing the early development of the Borg as some bright new future of increased human potential.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink
  5. Ulop O'Taat wrote:

    Hi Steve. I agree with your statements, particularly those surrounding the need to continue to develop and use metacognitive skills particularly in relation to what we are doing in these social networking groups.

    The herd instinct and lemming-like run to adopt social networking and tech applications frightens me a little. But for entertainment purposes, it does have some value.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  6. Ulop O’Taat, ‘Expression in civility’ just means ‘not being rude’. If someone in an argument doesn’t know what civility means in a particular group, then it’s only polite for them to find out first.

    Monday, February 23, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  7. Mark Landy wrote:

    Soon after the release of George’s online book Knowing Knowledge, I wrote a review for an online journal here in Australia-and I’ve been following discussions around ‘connectivism’ since that time.

    I’m very interested in the comments above as they connect with some points I raised in the conclusion to my review, especially the ones around the role of the individual and the development of critical-interpretive skills as a way to understand the world.
    Here is more of what I wrote:

    ‘Now back to the big question that runs through this work. How are we to make sense of a world of rapid and endless change? If we are facing a world where knowledge turns over at such a rate – where the relevant today, becomes redundant tomorrow- what then are the implications for schools and educators in particular, and society in general? How are we to understand ‘content’ in this context? Siemens grapples with these matters, and there is a great deal in this book that stimulates one’s thinking about these profound issues. His championing of the network, and certain networking skills, as the solution to the challenge of ceaseless and accelerated change warrants further discussion; an exchange he actively encourages.

    Overall, there is much in his analysis that I find persuasive, but I’m not sure if the solution to the knowledge dilemma, as described by Siemens lies in ‘offloading’ the ‘act of knowing’ onto the network (2006:33). This is not to underestimate the significance of the ‘network’. As Siemens illustrates, and our experiences tell us, the network – in its various permutations (eg. virtual, face to face or combinations of both) is becoming increasingly important as the generator of, and mechanism for, knowledge creation and distribution. But the network is only part of the story. Perhaps knowing when and how to be ‘disconnected’–and knowing what to do when you are – is equally important in trying to understand the world. In other words, to critically interpret the world, we need, for at least some of the time, to stand apart from it. How we manage to do this, in a world where we’re encouraged to be ‘always on’ or ‘connected’, remains to be seen. It strikes me that regardless of the knowledge ‘value-add’ of any network, first and foremost we, as individuals, have to make sense of the world ourselves. Either way, we seem to come face to face with an unsettling realisation; that with the emergence of the knowledge society we encounter a set of social conditions more fleeting and uncertain than ever before, where even the task of distinguishing the solid and permanent, from the transitory and shallow, becomes increasingly problematic.’ End of quote.

    I’d be very interested to explore these questions further-especially the empowering of individuals within the network, solitary reflection-which I dubbed, for want of a better term ‘disconnected’ or ‘standing apart from the world’, but that’s not quite what I want to convey.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  8. Ulop O'Taat wrote:

    I think ‘taking stock’, ‘stepping outside the mythos’, ‘taking a metacognitive view’, or ‘disconnecting’ as you have labelled it, to be very worthy tasks vis-a-vis connecting ad nauseum.

    Albeit rather dangerous tasks, as history has shown us….

    But, any more dangerous than surrendering your own learning and knowing to the network?

    Thanks for your thoughts Mark, well written, I think.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

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