During a brilliant presentation on copyright and fair use in The Internet Course tonight, the presenters shared a relatively short video called “The Napster Phenomenon” (2000). It was filmed while Napster was in the midst of its legal battles. It’s a pretty fascinating look at how much the question of copyright is tied up with seemingly indisputable notions of the recording industry as the source of great music, and by extension music as necessarily a commodity. I felt like it got at so many of the issues around control in such an industry that perpetuates a model regardless of its relevance.
The Internet Course is rolling right along, and I’m enjoying this class tremendously. And it doesn’t hurt that the students’ blogging has become a late night rabbit hole for me. Last week Jessi Clark turned me onto an early 1980s Canadian kids’ show about technology called Bits and Bytes.
More recently she blogged about the final episode of the Bits and Bytes series titled “What’s Next?” (embedded above). It’s a little under 30 minutes, and proves to be a fascinating window into the world of computing in the early 1980s. A horizon report for the future of computing, and the list is really wild in retrospect. As Martin Wellernoted on Twitter the other day, what will the MOOC predictions look like to us thirty years later?
@jimgroom imagine how those MOOC predictions will look 10 years from now
I recommend watching the video, but knowing time and energy is short on the internets, let me take you through it really quickly below as a kind of teaser.
First up, the future is all about the Videodisc! Those lovable laserdiscs that I have a modest collection of in my basement—although the rest of the world has all but forgotten them. The highlight of this section of the episode was how the episode framed videodiscs as a great way to provide learning modules for training. The approach being showcased seemed somehow modern in some really depressing ways.
After that, at about 6:30, the episode transitions to the computer as a communication device, discussing the modem as a means of sharing information. What’s interesting is that communication with the modem was still very much conceptualized as unilateral. There was no mention of email, but rather the discussion focused on teletext and videotext technologies. They featured one in particualr, called Telidon, which was imagined as a means of marrying the computer and television to present “interactive” information in a graphical form. The graphcis are wild, and in many ways it was a very early vision of interactive digital signage. So cool.
Around 13 minutes in Adele Goldberg discusses Smalltalk, the programming language developed at Xerox PARCduring the 1970s that introduced the first true object-oriented programming language. And it came out of ARPA funded research, which it’s hard to deny defined much of the modern world of computing.
After that the episode talks about Pilot, what is described as an overhead projector for graphics/doodling. What we might think fo as an early smartboard. There’s also a whole segment on music finger painting by an awesome professor who is entranced by the idea of using these digital technologies to bridge the gap between sound and vision. So cool.
Finally, the last couple of minutes of the episode are dedicated to talking to teachers and administrators in various Ontario area schools about the future of computers in education. It’s truly amazing how similar the fault lines in 1983 are to those in 2014. The transformative power of comptuers to augment the classroom versus there presence as a distraction. It’s really sobering to hear just how controlled the narrative around comuters and eduation has been for more than three decades.
Tim Owens pointed me to the 1964 IBM promotional/instructional video “Once Upon a Punchcard”. It is yet another video in a growingcollection of mediaresources for the Internet Course I’m teaching alongside Paul Bond this summer. This one is interesting because it frames an alternative vision of computing in the mid 1960s. Rather than far out visionaries like J.C.R. Licklider imagining an integrated network of virtual connections, computing in this video is framed as a machine organized around the principles of business efficiencies, streamlining processes and scaling operations. Punching your timecard becomes metaphor for routinized factory work under the watchful eyes of the bosses. The punchcard became a symbol of power and control, and it was based to some large degree around organizing and storing information. In Wikipedia article about punch cards includes this bit under the cultural impact of punch cards:
In the 1964–65 Free Speech Movement, punched cards became a … symbol of the “system”—first the registration system and then bureaucratic systems more generally … a symbol of alienation … Punched cards were the symbol of information machines, and so they became the symbolic point of attack. Punched cards, used for class registration, were first and foremost a symbol of uniformity. …. A student might feel “he is one of out of 27,500 IBM cards” … The president of the Undergraduate Association criticized the University as “a machine … IBM pattern of education.”… Robert Blaumer explicated the symbolism: he referred to the “sense of impersonality… symbolized by the IBM technology.”… ––Steven Lubar
I love this, the UC Berkeley student protests were framed around the broader, data driven culture that makes students feel like an insignificant number within a lifeless, soul sucking system. At least the UC system had affordable tuition back then This instructional video belies a deeper discontent with the idea of machines as extensions of an increasingly impersonal and pernicious educational system.