Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Untitled and messy: trust in the blogosphere

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

This post is gonna be so messy, but it really needs to get written. I don’t know how on earth I managed to read so many blogposts today, even though its the second day of Eid, and my kid did not nap, and I went to play with her outside today and then spent a lot of time cooking, but I also have my wordpress reader set to send me updates on blogs I follow on Saturdays, so that might be part of it.

So, trying to organize my thoughts here. I finished reading the novel Little Brother. There’s a lot I want to say about it (including about trust, which I will return to later in this post). But one of the quotes I wanted to remember is this one (p. 120):

“You can’t get anything done by doing nothing…. I can’t go underground for a year, ten years, my whole fe, waiting for freedom to be handed to me. Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.”

It sounds obvious, I know, but there are so many stories and and so much advice to the contrary. Advice about waiting things out, being patient (I am this really strange person who is extremely impatient and yet capable of infinite patience; I don’t know how to explain it, but I think it relates to my perception of the efficacy of action: if I don’t think the action will have the desired result, or is not worth the risk, I can be patient forever; but if I can see a light, I am impatient). Anyway, this all somehow clicked in with Simon Ensor’s Zootopia post. I repeat: George Orwell has got nothing on you, Simon. [the Orwell comment is inspired by today’s whacky #dailyconnect which is this funny google docs Master’s edition thing where you write a doc and you have it edited by ppl like Shakespeare, Dickens, Dickinson, Poe, etc. – and I was thinking, who said those guys write better than other people? Haha – but seriously Simon Ensor. Zootopia. Orwellian or better. Read it]

Simon Ensor’s post Zootopia was possibly the highlight of my week? It has to be a week, because Simon’s posts (and God help me he is publishing multiple times a day, so this is gonna take a lifetime of thinking) last so long in my mind as I reanalyze them and try to figure out what he means, then give up and try to reflect on how I want to interpret them.

Anyway, so there was loads in Simon’s post. The main things on my mind right now are:
1. The story of seeing a lion in a cage in a zoo, lazy, not even roaring, how that felt, how that’s a metaphor for life…
2. The evolution of this kind of thing, of animals roaming wildly, “as if”, because it’s still artificial, isn’t it? And how that’s a metaphor for life
3. People having their lives mapped out upon finishing university…

And then the quote by Chris McCandles from “Into the Wild”, I am just quoting a small part:

“…so many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”

And then there was Terry’s follow-up post on grand narrative (I like the idea of agriculture as grand narrative…hmmm). My mind was getting kind of foggy at this point (but really thought it might be interesting to take the snake story and talk about trust – I am assuming it was not a poisonous snake!) – and this quote he uses which he thinks is by John Berryman that “risks may be our safeties in disguise”. I love that.

Let me take all of this out of context and map it all onto gender issues that are on my mind lately. I don’t know how universal this is, but my experience with patriarchy in my educated, socially privileged Egyptian society, is that women are more like lions in a Safari park, with an illusion of freedom but really artificial and controlled by their ‘captors’, sometimes wearing benevolent hats. Sometimes taking out the cages without feeling shame. And most women’s response to this, once they notice the illusion, seems to be to “live and let live”, make the most of the boundaries, or escape the cages when the captors aren’t looking then sneak back in unnoticed, as if they’d always been there. That’s no way to live, and I don’t understand why people think this makes them happy, enough to be use it to give out advice. I guess the cage feels secure from the outside world, still, and maybe they’ve been indoctrinated to believe it’s the only way, not a bad way (this also resonates with Little Brother, which not-so-subtly portrays people’s compliant to State-controlled security measures that are outwardly anti-terrorism but are truly terrorist in themselves, and horribly imposing on citizens’ privacy and freedom – at one point one teacher says “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and says that if your life is in danger, the state has the right to restrict your happiness and liberty in order to preserve it… What a load of bull to justify control… But anyway!)… And then I saw Laura’s comment on Simon’s blog about rattling the cages (which I translate to mean… “Advocacy” and “taking a stand” – also similar to what happens in Little Brother; and Simon’s response about breaking the cages altogether… And it reminds me of the part in his blogpost where he talks about how future generations may be looking at our current “restrictions” as strange…)

But then this all brings me back to the topic of trust and openness. And it reminds me of something interesting in Little Brother, which finds resonance with a couple of blogposts I read today by Tania and Alan (coming up). In Little Brother, there are several instances (to the point of almost being a subliminal message in the book) where taking something out in the open is the best way to ensure its authenticity/privacy. It’s a little weird but it makes sense when you read it, like how you know cryptography stuff is strong when its process/algorithm is “open” and many ppl have been unable to hack it, then you know it’s strong. Keeping it secret does not help you know its strength. Also, how “public keys” are used to ensure identity (then again, there are private keys; never really understood how this all happened on the internet but i remember studying this stuff many years ago); then also how a lot of the rallies and stuff were done in really public places and meant to be visible to protect them…

Ok, onto the blog posts, then. Did you read about Alan Levine’s identity getting stolen? Well, ok, just his photo. It must be really creepy, but the joking side of it is, it was used for a dating site, so someone must find him good-looking πŸ™‚ The other (real) bright side of it is that even though Alan is no longer on Facebook or Linkedin, be is SOO connected, he could get other ppl to check those out for him, report back, etc. And in some ways, being more visible AS YOURSELF should help protect you from identity fraud. Well, at least since the person did not use his name (unlike Alec Couros, whose photo and name had been stolen).

Which brings me to an awesome post by Tania Sheko on trust (which I had started reading earlier in the day, but only just finished a few minutes ago after my daughter went to bed). In it, one of the things she talks about is how open she is about herself on all her online spaces (as am I) and I almost feel like being more open protects me (not that that’s the reason I do it, but I mean, the more complete your online presence is, the harder it is to impersonate you? I may be totally off-base, though). Tania calls this making oneself “transparent online”, and I like this term. We can’t and don’t obviously make everything about ourselves transparent online, but some people are more opaque than others, and I find that I tend to trust people who are more open, make themselves more vulnerable, though I assume that sometimes that is a function of them trusting me, somehow. I mean, yes, I write a lot of stuff on my public blog, so technically I am trusting the entire world with it, but each blogpost is still targeting a particular audience (often #rhizo14 or some other online community; rarely more local communities) – and I am making myself vulnerable to them at that point in time, but still in the hope that writing posts for particular times/people/contexts will have some wider benefit beyond that context – or else, it might have been better written as an email or a forum post, right?

I love Tania’s look at different dimensions of trust, and the focus on trusting in oneself. That’s a key thing, I think, in online interaction, to have both the humility and arrogance to believe that you have something valuable to say. To have both the generosity and selfishness to say it, because it’s actually both, isn’t it? It’s “contribution” but it’s also sefl-promotion. But it matters that you understand and believe that reciprocity in the form of contribution is more important than worrying about self-promotion. If you’ve got something important to say, then you’re promoting “it”, not yourself. It’s not like someone’s gonna “buy” it and you’ll make money πŸ˜‰ you’re just building social capital, and that’s reciprocal. You actually are unlikely to have good contributions online unless you’re also reading others’ work, or else you’re talking in a vacuum and you’re not gonna gain anything by promoting it anyway. If that makes any sense. Take this blogpost as an example. I’m linking to other people’s work, promoting them, connecting them, adding my own thoughts, but by doing so I am also getting their attention through pingbacks. That could be considered self-promo. But my intention is to connect. Yes, I want them to know I am responding to them. But not to promote. Rather, to take the conversation forward. Or laterally. Whatever πŸ™‚ Wherever πŸ™‚

Then there are questions raised by Tania’s post, about people who are less willing to make themselves open and vulnerable online. Laura Gibbs asks this in the comments, I did, too, before seeing her comment. I keep thinking about this: I understand that caution, and yet I keep wondering if people are “missing out” on something essential, a new literacy they need in order to survive (at least, younger people, or are they all more “open” than our generation and older ones?) or is it a personality, and they’re never going to value being here? These are really important questions to ask, because many of us “open educators” encourage our students towards openness, and I don’t know how comfortable they all are with it. And discomfort is not a bad thing, it’s normal to experience it when learning, but… πŸ™‚ incomplete thought, still. It’s a thought that’s been building for ages, and I think the answer is not in my head or on the blogosphere (though you catch glimpses, from people who sometimes venture out and connect, or people who become more comfortable connecting and then embody connection, like Susan Watson, for example, and I think maybe even Simon Ensor – both of whom have talked about going from less participatory to more and more participatory modes of interaction in MOOCs).

Ok… Too long, gotta stop!

It’s been a fun day on the blogosphere πŸ™‚

P.S. added later – just wanted to link to Susan Watson’s excellent blogpost which I read after publishing this post, and which I refer to in my replpy to Scott below, and this Zeega she created curating thoughts on trust from various people.

23 Comments

  1. Some speculation. Openness is a valuable thing because it allows you to say things that might be misunderstood–people don’t share your brain and can’t interpret exactly anyway. By stating the details of yourself and trusting they won’t torn to pieces allows you to BE a continually evolving person without hidden secrets, loyalties to “safe” behaviors or long nurtured toxic misconceptions.

    Living the best and most inclusive life a human can is a trait of openness. Can it be that we carry our private fears and faults unnecessarily hidden? In the open they may be neutralized by everyone recognizing themselves in them. Not reduced to commonplace emotions but held up to a richness of self–a wonder of complexity.

    • Wow, Scott, I had not thought of it that way (as always, you bring in a totally new perspective). I wonder though about something I read in Susan Watson’s recent post. I don’t think she said so directly, maybe she did… That others outside or not in tune with our openness may be seeing us as fools.
      And also: what makes a person willing to take those risks, of making themselves vulnerable? Because you can be torn to pieces. Salatia lost his job. People get arrested. Though this is of course less of an issue for what we do in MOOCs, but it can reflect on people’s careers, reputations, that they post incomplete thoughts. It needs a discriminating reader to recognize a blogpost for what it is…

      • Have to read Susan’s post though the term “fool” seems apt. My guess is contradiction rules us. We want control and to be clearly understood but then we love the stimulation of explaining ourselves out of the trouble we get into. At one time I thought being “understood” was vital yet thinking about it I’d rather not be my version of myself in everyone’s head. Being diversely “resolved” is a bit of Mimi Ito’s connected person model I think–part of a larger wholeness, less only a single self.

        I’m thinking about this as I venture into more chemo therapy. Being “known” counts to keep the chemo below destroying my heart. The two physical conditions of me. Emotionally I’d like the docs to understand my mistrust isn’t personal but grown of direct experience. Unfortunately, (or not?) I’ve managed to irritate almost everyone with my history-in-their-face and it occurred to me that they have my story wrong based on something I said that may or may not have been misinterpreted. Give that these people were never going to read my medical history why not be understood in many ways?

        The incident? Told the assistant oncologist I didn’t trust male South African doctors–5 of them almost let me die. On my record he wrote that I didn’t trust female doctors and especially South African ones. Rather than point out that ALL my medical team are females and the two South African women who are my family doctors have saved my life three times, I’ll stay with how things play out.

        • Your medical misadventures will never cease to amaze me. It’s unbelievable!
          But re what you said earlier… Thanks for pointing me to Mimi Ito’s model – will look for it and read more

  2. Hi Maha, thanks a lot for your post.

    You guys are really helpful for me because you enable me to see that what might be meant by what is written/said is much less important than the wondering which goes on. (probably a blog post brewing there)

    It has taken me a while to cotton on to how I am writing so easily but my memory is coming back little by little.

    When you write
    “Simon’s posts (and God help me he is publishing multiple times a day, so this is gonna take a lifetime of thinking) last so long in my mind as I reanalyze them and try to figure out what he means, then give up and try to reflect on how I want to interpret them”

    This is actually part of the process which goes on after I write a blog post, or post a quote, or an image or comment on a blog, I am continually readjusting my perspectives thanks to what I see appear in the connections. I throw out my own learning environment like throwing out contents of lego boxes, playmobil boxes and the cats which wander around.

    When I am writing I may have an outline of pictures, scenes with predefined connections about what concerns me, but I don’t concern myself with thinking about what any message may be. I

    t is a process like improvisation on stage – which is an art-form which I miss.

    You are taken over in the instant by something/somebody/a place which comes out. It is like being engrossed in play – in the play that I remember as a child. I am part of the scene, I may take on perspectives, characters, I can hear, smell, feel the lion in the zoo.

    That is what I love about the process of writing, it is one of discovery or creation of living fiction.

    I think that I am able to do this – and this is also how I teach – because of gaining confidence through psychoanalysis – again there was no prejudgement or even a particular idea about what would come out of the silence. It was at times totally wierd and at times quite shocking.

    As I was saying to a friend of mine the other day, it really is effortless, it doesn’t require any preparation any more than my daughter of five who is inventing her stories with her Playmobil characters.

    I think that that is also what I am talking about when I refer to ‘into the wild’ or ‘grand narrative’ it is the narrative of a child who is unrestricted by norms and forms of what is considered good and bad.

    So if you ask me what the posts mean, I would say they mean play.

    If you were to ask me what I think about what is written – well that is the other process which goes on after they are written.

    That however encompasses how the stuff is situated/connected to by others.

    I think that is probably also how children make sense of the world they throw out words/pictures/behaviour and then they see how others respond.

    So all that to say I am really happy that others like yourself can enjoy sharing my imaginary worlds with me.

    I suppose that is the most marvellous thing that I or any other child or adult of any age can hope for.

    Thank you very much.

  3. Love this post – lots to think about. It seems we are all a part of what Terry calls a recursive process – perhaps a meta-recursion, as we take each others words/ideas/thoughts and then create something that could not have existed without all of the previous people/ideas/thoughts. It’s all pretty cool.

    I also like what Scott said: “Openness is a valuable thing because it allows you to say things that might be misunderstood.” Here I am, with all my faults and foibles. And now here I am, with more or different faults or foibles, but also some improvements. Me 2.0. With nothing hidden, there is less to be misjudged by.

    I agree that we write with a combination of humility and confidence. We throw out our words into the wind and hope someone takes the time to listen to them. We place value on them, without assumption, but with hope.

  4. Thinking about how I become realized in the world brings me to Simon’s monuments as static objects. I’m not a representation of myself, I am myself. Wanting to be real but not confined to remaining in place or figured out like a dime-store puzzle.

    Oddly, my mission for years has been to be noticed for the damage done me. How it changed me and how hard it was and now I’m quitting narrative for the luxury of being “there”, uncertain AND alive. What can be undone anyway? I can’t / won’t go back and really this has all been learning of great benefit and my growth from it matters most. The ability to “know” others is almost as silly as “knowing” ourselves to some finite point. We’ll all be as real as we can. Vulnerable? Maybe with lowered barriers first.

    Fool, I jump, who will catch me?

    Why Connected Learning?

  5. Not too long, Maha, I’m so glad you managed to catch your thinking and questions after reading everyone’s posts – it’s not easy, takes some commitment to stay put while you draw all the threads together. So much reflection on so many posts makes a very dense (in a good way) post – very satisfying to read, and a prompt for more writing. I’m flattered you thought my post was worth mentioning – and there’s the tension between the self-centred part and the desire to be part of a dialogue. If we didn’t promote what we said, if we weren’t part of an online community, we would be keeping our thoughts to ourselves or possibly a few close people. And that kind of thinking either meets a dead end or goes around in circles (in your head). When it’s part of an ongoing discussion it branches out in all directions, like I’m watching my pine tree shoot out in 3 new directions on the one branch (it’s Spring in Australia).

    And more about online openness –
    We can be honest about what we say online but we are still selective. We’re not necessarily going to unburden the darkest depths of our soul!
    Do we get to explore our thoughts more in writing? I think yes, because in conversations we are interrupted, especially in group conversations. Here we read the whole post, then think, then follow hyperlinks to others’ posts (as you’ve done here – great idea), and comment, then read the other comments, AND comment. Then probably get inspired to write another post.

    • Hey Tania. Thanks! I always did think writing helped me think, but not because i don’t get interrupted (my 3-year old interrupts even at night as she sometimes awakens), but at least because i can continue and come back. I write posts like this one to capture and tale fwd my thinking on a particular day. Like my sanity depends on it, otherwise my mind goes crazy.
      Your response to this made me realize something: I was going to Diigo several posts including yours, then i realized i wanted/needed to connect all of them, rather than to focus on one in-depth, and i couldn’t do the Diigo thing: the post seemed more urgent, somehow. Glad I wrote it and that you enjoyed it πŸ™‚

  6. Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

  7. Maha, your wonderful post here provoked me to write up finally something the constellation of English words β€” care, security, curious β€” that all come from Latin cura. I’ve been meaning to do that for ages, and the ideas you shared here (esp. the great McCandles quote) crystalized that for me. Thanks so much! Here is my “curious” post πŸ™‚
    Curiosity or Security: What do YOU care about…?
    http://oudigitools.blogspot.com/2014/10/curiosity-or-security-what-do-you-care.html

  8. I am reminded of Emily Dickinson (for some reason it her in the fall and Thoreau in the spring):

    Tell all the truth but tell it slant β€”
    Success in Circuit lies
    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth’s superb surprise
    As Lightning to the Children eased
    With explanation kind
    The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind β€”

    I stand dazed in the aftermath of lightning, by all who have written this week. I don’t really think I can take in all the parts. The storm has blown through, the smell of ozone is a tang high in the nose, dangerous and clean. I am a hound catching the scent of what the zen folk call the Missing Ox. All I can do is to take up the trail and ‘give mouth’ to what follows.

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