Confronting your digital self

2015-02-14

July last year I’ve deleted my Facebook account, but not just by deactivating my account, but by removing each and every post, tag and like. This was a head on confrontation with my digital self. The little information I believed to have submitted proved to be an overwhelming pile of data with serious privacy implications. This wasn’t just a rigorous action, it was a treatment teaching me about privacy. Being convinced I would be one of the few crazy enough to make the effort of deleting the individual scraps of information, I was surprised to find out that some of my friends did exactly the same thing. And more importantly, they had a similar mind-boggling experience. What if there would be a tools continually reminding you about the information you have shared, in statistics as well as by highlighting some of that information? Giving this feedback would certainly help to make people more privacy-aware, the initial step towards a better common practice.


Elizabeth Marincola on scientific research

2014-09-08

At Wikimania 2014 Elizabeth Marincola spoke about reconsidering the time-tested implementation of the scientific process of publication and peer-reviews by way of allowing a much more open access. As the CEO of PLOS she has a very insipring vision on this topic. I strongly recommend watching the video of her keynote.


Educational economics

Thinking about the brave new world of free education based on freely available information and educational programs, it became clear to me that there is a specific kind of economics to education. The basic time-tested principle of education is the chronological process of starting a suitable education, passing a cycle of learning and testing, passing the final test, getting the degree and finally enjoying the benefits it gives, and in some cases a  renewal process needs to be followed indefinitely. In practice this scheme is strongly effectuated by the public opinion which generally favors a degree over a loose education, and the fact that most educational programs are very structured and regulated by various authorities. To put it in economic terms, this scheme leads people from an educational mortgage to educational rental.

This scheme is contrary to how most people finance their houses, for which most people start out renting due to lack of money and needing the flexibility. If life has settled, a mortgage is a more logical step since it reduces unnecessary expanses on the long-term. So how about this principle of education? The bulk of the learning starts out as a mortgage, where a commitment is given to complete a certain educational program and only if you can deliver your promise the corresponding degree will be given, which holds the ultimate value like a house would. If you however fail to deliver, you would still have enjoyed the education (the living) but you would not end up owning the degree (the house). After obtaining a degree, an upkeep is needed to keep knowledge up-to-date and it might even be mandatory by way of taking regular tests or programs. So having gained the degree would leave you learning (paying rent) many times over.

Considering that we can only learn so much and that our time spent on education is rather limited, we have to either limit our educational commitments or rethink this paradigm. Let’s start with the first option: what if we would only learn what we really needed? That seems to be something which is contrary to our current process, since the young brain is fed a large amount of generic knowledge and since this knowledge predetermines the available options for work, the main decisions are already made in some regard. We could however ‘start with the end in mind’ and from the start focus our education in the direction we desire, and make it so that we prioritize depth over broadness, in order to reduce upkeep levels. This is again is contrary to current practice. In addition shifts in our preferences would have to be instantly translated into shifts in education.

This leads us to the second possibility of rethinking the paradigm. What if our culture would strongly value gained knowledge over gained degrees and would have people learning by doing in order to speed up the evaluation-cycle of preferences in work leading to desire for educational topics. This would imply a world of education concerning small incremental educational steps of complete topics which also cover the necessary additional information to understand the main information, rather than putting that information into a different course. It should be clear how certain topic relate to each other, in order to make thoughtful decisions on the next education steps.

This flexible way of educating would require a different student mindset, a different kind of study material and a different kind of degree valuation, but I’d like to think that with the aid of technology this is not only a possibility, but this will also become reality.


Putting your knowledge upstream

The concept of upstream commits is well known in the world of free software, since it is a very effective way of having others expand on your personal contributes, keeping it up-to-date and improving the quality. I propose to use this same principle on general knowledge as well. Consider just how many books and notebooks each of us have in order to keep track of our personally gained knowledge. In most cases this knowledge is very specific since it concerns our professional occupation, which is only one of many diverse occupations. This way of working is actually rather wasteful: information will be lost once the owners of certain information will dismiss it, information will only ever be available in those forms thereby making it hard for others to gather the same information, and the process of gaining information requires others to basically start from scratch.

Taking the generic part of your personal information and putting it upstream will help to solve this loop of waste and build a freely available set of information which can easily be improved upon. If nobody can add to it, it will remain static but if people can your information can be put into context and be improved upon. Taking this to a radial level would basically mean that sites like Wikipedia become your notepad. Of course this would require a different kind of note taking concerning proper phrasing and referencing. Also it wouldn’t be as easy to relate information to your other information as long as these ties are generally relevant as well. The only valid exception for this strategy I can think of it confidential information.


The smallest valid Wikipedia article

2014-09-06

Lately I’ve often wondered whether I should contribute my newly learned knowledge to Wikipedia by creating a dedicated article. Creating decent articles is however a lengthy and quite a time-consuming process. So how about setting a mental note by creating the planned article page and only contributing the most basic of information, with the intent of improving it later on. This begs the question is such a strategy can be considered good practice. Fortunately I found a Wikipedia page going in further detail on the definition of a ‘stub’, which basically is a short article of which the value can be questioned. A key point for me to take away from this article is the fact that Wikipedia is not a dictionary. This come down to the key distinction that a dictionary is about the word(s), whilst Wikipedia is about the subject. So in order to start a new article in a rightly fashion, some decent work will have to be done in advance.