ACLU: YouAreBeingWatched.US

You ARE being watched, US. Since 9/11 Homeland Security has pumped an enormous amount of money into public surveillance technologies (online and off). Yet, as most recent studies are showing, the presence of this surveillance does nothing to reduce crime or make people more safe. So, what is this surveillance being funded for?

To help ask this question, and to bring the public’s attention to the rise of a surveillance society, the American Civil Liberties Union has setup an educational website. Check it out:

goodbye learning, hello workforce training

Some sad news regarding the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project:

Microsoft has joined forces with the developers of the “$100 laptop” to make Windows available on the machines.

According to Wired, Microsoft has had their sights on emerging markets in developing countries for a while now and have viewed low-cost children’s laptops as ideal vehicles for distribution. Until recently OLPC has resisted integrating Windows into their XO Children’s Machine, insisting that free and open-source software was central to their constructionist learning philosophy and necessary to give “children the opportunity to use their laptops on their own terms” (for more background see here, here and here). Sugar, the Linux based operating system designed for the XO Children’s Machine, has been described by OLPC as the “core” of their laptop’s interface and to the sharing and learning affordances of the machine.

olpc's blue screen of death

Yet, according to OLPC, it now appears that Windows XP will be bundled with the XO. This decision has apparently been motivated by countries, such as Egypt and Columbia, demanding that the computers carry Windows before they agree to buy in to the program. Their reasoning seems to be that they aren’t interested in machines for learning and sharing, they want machines that will train a generation of children for a future tech-based workforce. Not learning how to think — learning how to USE Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc…

Nicholas Negroponte (founder and chairman of OLPC) claims that a dual-boot option, similar to Apple’s, which allows the child to choose between Windows and Sugar is in the works — yet Ivan Krstić, the former top security architect for OLPC argues otherwise:

The whole “we’re investing into Sugar, it’ll just run on Windows” gambit is sheer nonsense. Nicholas knows quite well that Sugar won’t magically become better simply by virtue of running on Windows rather than Linux. In reality, Nicholas wants to ship plain XP desktops. He’s told me so. That he might possibly fund a Sugar effort to the side and pay lip service to the notion of its “availability” as an option to purchasing countries is at best a tepid effort to avert a PR disaster.

Krstić goes on to write that this realization that learning was never part of the OLPC mission (i.e. the mission is about laptop distribution) is precisely what lead him to resign from the project. Krstić concludes his post, in part, by stating:

OLPC can’t claim to be preoccupied with learning and not with training children to be office computer drones, while at the same time being coerced by hollow office drone rhetoric to deploy the computers with office drone software.

Although disagreeing with a number of key points made in a recent post by Richard Stallman (founder of the free software movement), Krstić and Stallman appear to agree on what is at stake here. As Stallman puts it, this is about “whether the XO is an influence for freedom or an influence for subjection.” Indeed, close attention to the built pedagogy of the XO Children’s Machine is needed. As the XO shifts from an entirely free and open-source machine (with the exception of a proprietary firmware program for wifi access) designed for the promotion of open learning and sharing in the social and structural environments of developing countries — to one that increasingly adopts proprietary software for the vocational training of a future workforce — the lessons being taught are of great importance. Lets be clear, its not a mistake that the mesh networking capability of the XO, which allows the computers to talk to one another and share data, is not currently supported by Windows XP. And I don’t expect that problem will be “fixed” anytime soon. If it is ever “fixed,” the sharing component will be tightly controlled and heavily regulated.

In a previous post about the XO, I praised its mesh networking capability as a way to generate autonomous communication networks which might help afford a new media space for citizen power. Of course, such autonomous digital communication poses a threat to intellectual property enforcement and thus a threat to Microsoft’s entire business model. If information and communication flows freely in developing countries (aka “new markets”) it makes it more difficult to start charging one day. Immersing children, early on, in proprietary environments where information circulation is tightly controlled and intellectual property rights are strictly enforced, helps to socialize a generation that will continue to play by the old rules rather than one that will challenge them by imagining new rules. In fact, “play” is exactly what is being co-opted here. Children’s play in technological environments (in this case, the XO) is being shaped to socially reproduce certain behaviors for future work in an informational economy. Of course children are not passive recipients, they are actors in this equation. What they do in these proprietary environments and how they may (or may not) reclaim play for creative and innovative purposes is worth watching.

information assimilation and the life of the child

From Dewey’s The School and Society, p100:

It was forgotten that the maximum appeal, and the full meaning in the life of the child, could be secured only when the studies were presented, not as bare external studies, but from the standpoint of the relation they bear to the life of society. It was forgotten that to become integral parts of the child’s conduct and character they must be assimilated, not as mere items of information, but as organic parts of his present needs and aims – which in turn are social.

division of action

I was just reading through the Wired article on Facebook’s role in the Burma protests.

The marches, organized at a lightning pace by volunteers using Facebook, show the increasing power and reach of a social-networking site originally designed to help college students find drinking buddies.

An interesting theme which runs through the article is that of a “longstanding Burma Campaign UK” and a “fledgling Facebook group” – a theme of mature activism and immature activism. This theme is brought to the fore in comments made by the Burma Campaign UK’s acting director:

They’re able to do things that we can’t because we’re a small organization with a small capacity — they’ve been able to mobilize people, and there’s been a division of labor.

That there has been a division of labor in activism is an interesting thing to ponder. This narrative is not uncommon, in fact the article’s description of the facebook liaison getting a desk in the Burma Campaign UK office parallel’s Joe Trippi’s (Dean for America campaign manager) description of the creation of a MeetUp liaison desk at their headquarters during the 2004 presidential primary.

In Education and Democracy, John Dewey spoke of the need to bridge this critical disconnect between mature and immature experience. This begs the question of how to create a historically informed yet innovative and original activist movement for the so called informational society?

Space-Time: Affect, Struggle…Everyday

CALL FOR PAPERS: Space-Time: Affect, Struggle…Everyday
Annual Conference of the AAG, Boston, Massachusetts
April 15-19, 2008

Organizer: The Spatial Scholars Group of the CUNY Graduate Center (more…)


After reading David Pogue’s review of the XO – a $200 laptop created by One Laptop Per Child (O.L.P.C.) – and spending time on O.L.P.C.’s website, I’m absolutely fixated on the mesh-networking feature of this computer (check out the “mesh demo” here). While the XO is light, durable and energy efficient – all features that make the XO compatible with many 3-world environments – its mesh-networking capability appears to be the most revolutionary.

As Pogue writes:

The XO offers both regular wireless Internet connections and something called mesh networking, which means that all the laptops see each other, instantly, without any setup — even when there’s no Internet connection.

Even when there is no internet connection…. A while back I wrote about a chart in Wired Magazine outlining the price of broadband in various countries. At the bottom of the map was a question asking if the much promoted $100 laptop (now $200…) is really enough. Mesh-networking may not be ‘enough’ but giving people the ability to generate autonomous virtual networks or extend existing virtual networks appears a great start.

the xo

Following Katrina, a mesh network, originally constructed by New Orleans for surveillance purposes, was one of the few communicative structures that survived. In Myanmar, where the government has shut down its communicative infrastructure to prevent citizens from ‘leaking’ information about the atrocities being committed by the government, people – local people – have been generating autonomous networks to get information out of the country. Something like the XO – or any technology with mesh-networking capabilities, would only strengthen these autonomous networks and extend their reach. In Manuel Castells’ words, such technology would help them to “think local and act global.”

In sum – the XO has got me thinking that any discussions on public access to the Internet should include public access to mesh networking, or perhaps the right of the public to generate autonomous mesh networks. As government and commerce compete (and at times coordinate) to control the Internet, autonomous mesh networks could become the new media space for citizen power in the informational society.

child’s play in the NCLB era

I Just read through the Center on Education Policy’s “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era” report. The report examines the effect that the No Child Left Behind act has had on curriculum and instructional time in public education in the 5 years since it was enacted. Unfortunately, the affect hasn’t been good – as one could imagine, there has been a large decrease in time spent on subjects/activities that are not the focus of federal oversight (i.e. social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and/or recess) and an increase in time spent on those that are (i.e. English language arts & Math).

According to the report:

To accommodate this increased time in ELA and math, 44% of districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities (social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch and/or recess) at the elementary level. Again, the decreases reported by these districts were relatively large, adding up to a total of 141 minutes per week across all of these subjects, on average, or nearly 30 minutes per day. These decreases represent an average reduction of 31% in the total instructional time devoted to these subjects since 2001-02.

The report also indicates that the average number of minutes-per-week devoted to art/music, physical education and lunch/recess combined (among the school districts surveyed) was 490. Thats 13 minutes less than the total minutes-per-week devoted to English language arts alone (503 minutes-per-week). This is a large reduction in the amount of time dedicated to creative play during the school day. As the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) has noted, the role of play in development is an important one. Play, according to Vygotsky, creates a zone of proximal development which allows the child to act “above his daily behavior.” Through play, children can rework and act-out the social practices which they encounter in everyday life – particularly in school-life. What kind of learning can take place in an environment where children are only given the opportunity to receive information and spit it back out through testing? Its good to know that our lawmakers are hard at work reauthorizing this piece of legislation…

young people: victims, criminals… red herring

While reading Walter Lippmann’s “A Preface to Politics” my attention was mainly drawn to his discussion of the red herring. The red herring — a metaphor used to describe the obfuscation of, or distraction from, a particular object(ive) — is portrayed by Lippmann (1913, p261) as both “pest” and “benefit,” as a political maneuver which can be employed as “a matter of misrepresentation and spite” or as an “honest attempt to enlarge the scope of politics.” Having just given a presentation at the University of Surrey, which discussed the role of young people as both red herring and cultural innovators in current ‘debates’ over cyberspatial regulation, I took my unexpected discovery of Lippmann’s red herring analysis as sign of synchronicity.

Mitt Romney — former Governor of Massachusetts and current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination — has been noted for his upbeat, gee-whiz campaign style, channeling 1950s nostalgia and a return to the “good ol’ days.” A recent campaign ad titled “Ocean” (which caught my eye on c-span the other day) puts “the children” front and center. With imagery of children playing in the ocean, Mitt’s voice informs the public of his desire “to clean up the waters in which our children have been swimming.” Way to go Mitt!!! As a former Bostonian I’ve waited a long time for you to come around on environmental issues, so how do we clean up all the pollutants which permeate the waters in which our children have been swimming? What’s that Mitt – with censorship…?

Ah yes, pornography. Of course Mitt doesn’t want to actually “clean up” the waters in which our children swim, he just wants to “clean up” the media – to hell with the real water! Quoting a Peggy Noonan article (article here) written after the Columbine shootings, Mitt warns about the media “cesspool” in which our children are swimming and and states his intent “to keep pornography from coming up on their computers.” Hardly an instant of “enlarging the scope of politics” this use of young people as red herring serves as a distraction from the issues of media censorship and government surveillance and instead misrepresents them as a simple matter of protecting our children. Additionally, this discourse portrays young people as helpless victims who need to be saved — demoralizing their sense of agency — in order to rationalize an erosion of the public’s civil liberties. While Mitt’s commercial is just one example from a single presidential candidate, this discourse has been frequently employed by both media (such as NBC’s To Catch A Predator or Time Magazine’s “Cyberporn” issue) and the state to command the public’s attention. Look no further than the U.S. Attorney General and FBI Director’s recent argument that Google must turn over all emails, internet traffic records and internet search data to the government in order to battle the national threat of child pornography.Laying the civil liberties argument aside (for the moment), this “save the children!” harangue is having a chilling affect on childhood, particularly within youth spaces such as the home and the school. As Cindi Katz (2007) has argued, a sense of ontological insecurity is being socially reproduced in both parenting practices and childhood, transforming the home into a reflection of the state and thus normalizing the process of surveillance during childhood. Torin Monahan (2006) adds, that such practices — particularly within schools — portray young people as either “victims or criminals” who must be “protected or controlled.


But such a duality presents a false choice since neither option portrays the young person as a “citizen” who could actually be “engaged.” Either through processes of protection or control, agency is removed from the young person and feeds a citizenry that is either dependent on the state to filter its information, or one that is subjected to consistent “risk management” by the state. Under both conditions, a sense of ontological fear and insecurity is promoted, surveillance is normalized, and political disengagement becomes standardized. What was that about cleaning up the water Mitt???

Rather than using young people as a political ploy to prevent a real debate over the role of commerce and the state in surveillance and censorship, perhaps we should be engaging young people in the debate. After all, if they are the ones swimming in this “water” wouldn’t their input provide some much needed first-hand experience? Its seems to me that engaging young people as participants (not as victims or as criminals) in this “debate” would only serve to enlarge its scope and legitimate its outcome. What say you Mitt?

to catch a predator

Back in 2002, a school system in Tennessee paid Edutech Inc. a reported $131,590 to install CCTV surveillance cameras in its 7 schools. In at least one of these schools, the cameras were installed in the locker rooms. The recordings of 10-14 year-old boys and girls, which were produced from this covert surveillance, were stored on an unprotected computer which was accessible and were indeed accessed from outside and inside the school via the internet. Thus in their attempt to “save the children” one school’s careless surveillance actually produced and distributed child pornography. As one angry parent noted “It’s the parents’ position that no one … has the right to photograph their children getting undressed and no one has the right to make those images accessible over the Internet.”

a reading list: exploring theory and practice

Embracing the so called ‘cybercity’ as a specific unit of analysis, my second doctoral exam reading list will explore how processes of education and citizen participation are transmuted by the cybercity and how these transmuted processes in turn produce and reproduce the cybercity. In order for this exploration to begin clarification must first be achieved in regards what the “cybercity” is. Thus understanding the cybercity as both a physical and metaphysical construction is the objective of the first topic: “The Cybercity.”

The first subtopic (1.1) of “The Cybercity” is titled “identifying the cybercity” and focuses on understanding the cyborgization of the city as well as shaping a coherent definition of the cybercity. The second subtopic (1.2) is titled “identity and the cybercity” and explores what a collective cyber-urban identity might look like and how it is developed. The final subtopic (1.3) is titled “governance and the cybercity” and focuses on understanding the modes of governance which do (or could) assist in producing/reproducing the cybercity.


Exploring the link between the processes of democracy and education as well as understanding the mutual shaping of each process and the cybercity is the objective of the second topic: “Democracy and Education in the Cybercity.” The first subtopic (2.1) of “Democracy and Education in the Cybercity” is titled “education and democracy” and focuses generally on exploring the link between education and democracy particularly in regards to the Dewey-Lippmann debate. The second subtopic (2.2) is titled “citizen participation and the cybercity” and explores how the process of citizen participation is transmuted by the cybercity and how such a process produces/reproduces the cybercity. The third subtopic (2.3) is titled “education, development and the cybercity” and explores how the processes of education and development are transmuted by the cybercity and how such processes produce/reproduce the cybercity.

You can view my reading list by clicking here.

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