Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Untitled and messy: trust in the blogosphere

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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 🙂 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 😉 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 🙂 Wherever 🙂

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… 🙂 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 🙂

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.

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