Time and the silver platter

I was recently wondering aloud on the Creative Good forum why it is that data aggregation is so popular. In this post, I consider data aggregation platforms and services as the silver platter, and consider them worth the time of evaluation because it could be argued that a large part of the surveillance problem lies in the fact that people engaging with the silver platter are so attracted to being served so decadently, and so we pay the price.

In contrast to the silver platter is a vision of the Internet as something to be explored, half through directed searches, half through the serendipity of allowing interest to highlight interest to arrive at a completely unforeseen destination (like when searching for unfinished phrases, like ‘poetry does not lead to’). This vision also depends on active, thoughtful contributions made to it that involve at least some knowledge of coding, or at least how to use Word Press.

This vision departs from Doug Engelbart’s own vision that computers should ‘augment’ our intelligence (e.g., by involving the ‘human problem-solver’ and ‘computer clerk’). Such a vision leads to experience, as it involves a process, inclusive of the deliberation of – and responsibility for – decisions, and involves time. Gulping down the firehose of information is immediately satiating. And illusory.

But another attraction of data aggregation services is to be seen, not just to consume. The problem of the silver platter here is that it invites corruption, by gaming the high-stakes system, as much as it does the time and risk of the attempt of work to become visible through relevance, which is to say, finding that which is helpful to oneself and others – and, by raising and lifting up, becoming visible to those who are also searching.

But most people want the silver platter! So end up being served by and serving a closed system of extraction that only projects an image of the process of knowledge. This self-perpetuating system never truly engages those who are engaged.

For those who want teaching, ‘extra’ [1] time investments are essential. As an aside, what needs to be systematized in teaching today is an interdisciplinary approach like that taken by Plato and Aristotle, the foundation of which being Plato’s keen eye for asking questions especially where things appear to have already been worked out. As the present is always changing, we cannot be so sure of knowledge that moves on its own, ‘going without saying’.

Plato said it first: serving knowledge, regardless of what kind, has never been enough – knowledge can’t be downloaded! By extension, a constructive Internet depends too on our ability to meaningfully relate and coordinate what we can find on or bring to it.

Just as we can criticize educational institutions for not giving us everything that is needed for the apotheosis of personal growth, so can we criticize data aggregation platforms/services. Part of root of the problem is not in education or programs or software as a service – but in our epistemological expectations.

As if learning shouldn’t take time. As if becoming relevant shouldn’t be more than gaming a matter of course.

But relevance is something more. It is taking the time to be helpful after first being willing to suffer to do the long work of striving. If we only harvest the limited kind of relevance that can thrive among data aggregation, this says something about what we mean as humanity.

That which is digitally relevant should fulfill a version of the (apocryphally?) proverbial ‘three gates’: is it true? kind? helpful? Simply put, the meaning of relevance needs to shift from that which is trendy to that which has good effect.

Individuals who operate effectively in our culture have already been considerably “augmented.” – Doug Engelbart


How do we safeguard time and space for the growth process that begins wherever we are or nourish the discernment of tools and their application through the myriad contexts of use cases; how can we cultivate the relevant over the automatic?

[1] For defense of ‘extra’ learning, see my paper, Pedagogy of extraneity.

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