Instead of buying our way out of obsolescence, we program, adapt, and workaround. What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.

This post started as a response to a possible future of technology. However, it grew and grew, so I have split it up. This then is a response to my reading of James Bridle’s book The New Dark Age and the place of the future of the smartphone.


John Philpin recently wrote a response to a post from John Harris I shared discussing the destructive nature of mobile phones. He asked:

If we didn’t have them … what would the world look like … Can we definitively say ‘better’ ?

For me, this is such an intriguing question. My initial response was a little circumspect. In particular, I think the idea of ‘better’ is problematic and instead argue for difference. This particular change is captured by Vala Afshar in the form of emojis:

In less than 10 years, 📱 replaced: 📟 ☎️ 📠 💽 💾 💻⏰ 📷 📹 🎥 📺 📻📰 💿 💳 💼 📎 📄⏳ 🔦 📼 📚 ⌚️ 🎮📓 ✏️ 📁 🎤 📇 📆🎰 💵 📬 📝 🆘 🏧🎫 ✉️ 📤 ✒️ 📊 📋🔎 🔑 📣 🎼 🎬 📀📒⌨️🕹🎙⏱📿🗝📇🗄📁📋🗂✉️⌨️

There is no doubting that the smartphone has simplified so many actions and activities. When I think of my own habits, my writing and reading often starts with my phone, whether it be flicking through my feed reader or jotting down a few notes.

Yet I am left feeling something is still missing in the discussion. I wonder about the inherent design and consequence of smartphone use? I wonder about those places involved in the production? I wonder about the ethics involved?

This is something Adam Greenfield captures in his book Radical Technologies:

This is our life now: strongly shaped by the detailed design of the smartphone handset; by its precise manifest of sensors, actuators, processors and antennae; by the protocols that govern its connection to the various networks around us; by the user interface conventions that guide our interaction with its applications and services; and by the strategies and business models adopted by the enterprises that produce them.

I am not necessarily arguing we should ‘ban’ smartphones in schools as it often feels like such decisions are sometimes made for the wrong reasons, whether it be liability or control. Instead I am striving for more critical reflection.

Here I am reminded of Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacies. Rather than defining it as a thing in itself, Belshaw discusses eight different elements that come to play in different contexts and situations:

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed.

Too often the focus of mobile technology in education is on cognition and communicative, rather than the critical and constructive. We are often willing to talk about moonshots and wicked problems unwilling to let go of certain assumptions and certifications.

Clay Shirky suggests that workflows need to be a little frustrating:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

To return to Adam Greenfield, he argues that rather than being flexible and aware of our impact, we have bought into an ethos of efficiency of everyday existence.

Networked digital information technology has become the dominant mode through which we experience the everyday.

The question is at what cost? Should students be encouraged to use the portable over a more complicated device? Is it an ‘everything now’ cloud computing that we should aspire to? As I hold my old Nexus phone, I wonder what is it we actually need verses want? What next, phones inserted under our skin? As Douglas Rushkoff suggests, “What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.”

So what about you? What are your thoughts on the ‘smartphone revolution’? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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In an interview with Douglas Rushkoff, Pixar animator, Michael Frederickson, talked about the sensation of being awestruck, a moment where your mind has been cognitively blown, leaving you open to new sensations. As Frederickson explains,

When awe is positive, you are feeling something vast and novel, but not something that is morally threatening to you.

However, if this experience involves too much awe, it can provoke a negative response. As Frederickson summarises:

If there is a little awe, it is awesome, if there is too much awe, it is awful.

Focused on storytelling, Frederickson is interested in how such experiences open us up to new ways of experiencing the world. Taking this further, Rushkoff asked the question,

Is art meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

For Rushkoff, art and awe is about disruption and change. This conversation had me reflecting on learning and transformation. I was therefore left thinking about awe in relation to professional development.

I have had too many professional development experiences where presenters come in and take the mic. Although they approach sessions with the goal of creating awe, the focus on speaking rather than providing space soon turns things awful. There seems to be an unwritten rule that talking justifies the cost being paid. The problem is that this misses the point. What is important to me is the awe associated with self-determined learning.

I presented recently and took the approach to flipping the session. I created a series of posts and provocations to spur teachers onto addressing their own classrooms and context. For me, what matters is not necessarily the content, but the conditions created that provide the possibility for personal problem solving. To reword Rushkoff’s question, is professional development meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

So there are my thoughts, what about you? What has been your experience of professional development? Was it awesome or awful? As always, comments welcome.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

So often the debate around digital technology and literacies seems to be framed around whether we should all learn how to code. As if simply learning a few lines would solve all the world’s ills. Although Douglas Rushkoff touches on this in his book, Program or be Programmed, his main focus is on what it actually means to program. For Rushkoff programming is closely linked to the art of writing, just as the creation of the alphabet focused on hearing and the printing press supported on a rise in reading. This programming as writing is not just about programming as an act of engineering, but as a liberal art. As Rushkoff explains,

Even if we don’t all go out and learn to program—something any high school student can do with a decent paperback on the subject and a couple of weeks of effort—we must at least learn and contend with the essential biases of the technologies we will be living and working with from here on.

This is an understanding of the operating system of the world we live in and the inherent biases that are built into the platforms and devices we use each and every day.

Rushkoff’s discussion is broken down into ten modern day commandments:

  • Time and the push to be ever present.
  • Place and the disconnection with the local.
  • Choice and the pressure to forever choose.
  • Complexity and the ignorance of nuance.
  • Scale and the demand of the global spread.
  • Identity and the digital self.
  • Social and contact as king.
  • Facts and the demand to tell the truth.
  • Openness and the importance of sharing.
  • Purpose and the power of programming.

Each bias is unpacked, providing examples and elaborations to support an ongoing dialogue.

What makes Program or be Programmed the best introduction that I have read on coding and the impact of digital technologies is that provides a considered point of view. It balances between criticism and praise for the modern world, with a clear hope for tomorrow. Although we may not all build our own social media platform or a search engine to match Google, we have a responsibility to be aware how such programs and platforms are influencing us. For as Gary Stager says, “technology is not neutral.”

For more information, listen to this interview on ABC Future Tense or check out the following clips:


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

It is easy to be mesmerised by the purported benefits of the digital age. The ability to easily and efficiently communicate, consume, connect and create though often comes at the expense of older more established modes and mediums, such as telephones and newspapers. A vision of supposed freedom and hope has been converted over time into the poster child of digital industrialisation and growth-based economics.

Grounded on the operating system built by the chartered monopolies of the 13th century, companies like Apple, Twitter, Google, Pearson and Amazon are in a race to become ‘the one’ company to rule them all. Sacrificing sustainability, the focus is on cashing in on short term gains via acquisitions and public offerings. This culture of disruption, of sprints, start-ups and pivots, often leads to a scorched earth policy of success at all costs. Whether it be the automation of jobs or the decimation of communities, change and innovation is not always positive or productive for the majority of people.

According to Douglas Rushkoff, it is not all doom and gloom though. For just as we can identify where these ideas of capital at all costs come from in the past, so to can we look back to find alternative solutions to such perils. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus provides a vision for a future built around the exchange of value, rather than the extraction of capital. A future that focuses on a mixture of local and national currencies, as well as focusing on both family cooperatives and international corporations. A return to the ethos of the bazaar, that is spaces designed to maximise the exchange of value and the velocity of money. A digital renaissance if you like.

Similar in vein to David Price’s OPEN, Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is a story for our time. With eye to tomorrow, Rushkoff provides suggestions and solutions already being explored by some today.  The choice though is left to the reader to make the next step to link these seemingly disparate ideas to help form a better tomorrow together.

For a different view of the book, flick through the slides for a collection of quotes:

While for a visual introduction, see the following clips:


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