Living in a “GAFA” world.

Think of what Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon services and products you use daily. How much are they a vehicle for communications, work, social life, purchases and tasks? How often do you connect to them? Count the number. How many? Surprised? Now, out of the 4 companies, how many do you use? Or do you not. The reality is that you probably use at least one, if not all of the four, very frequently.

Lac Leman, Rolle Switzerland -photo J.Mikton

Welcome to the “GAFA” (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) world. The”GAFA” world is where most of humanity’s internet users and consumers work, communicate, socialize, learn, entertain themselves, and share, in services provided by one, two, three or all four of these companies: the “GAFA” grids.

We have become comfortable with “GAFA’” being part of our lives in multiple venues, and as a result, schools, educators, students and parents are investing significant amounts of monies into “GAFA”. It is an essential component of our ability to function at school and at home, and the collective convenience and seamless experience of “GAFA” intoxicates us.

In Terry Heick’s (@TeachThought) thoughtful article “How Google Impacts The Way Students Think”,  he highlights how learners working in a Google ecosystem develop an appetite for a black and white information age.  The expectation? Immediate answers, 24/7. The convenience of this immediacy creates an illusion of thinking, but actually disengages the user from deep critical thinking. It does this by simplifying the process of gathering information and giving the impression it is all connected.

In order to have a constant infusion of innovation and creativity, “GAFA” also hungers for start-up companies. By absorbing these companies, they are able to facilitate the pollination of ideas, products and services and enrich their ability to generate more seamless methods of connectivity. In this way “GAFA’s” largeness and versatility is engrained in all aspects of our lives

This innovation also provides “GAFA” with opportunities to tie our lives closer together with multiple platforms and venues in a frictionless environment. Examples of this reach are Amazon’s cloud service, which hosts large architectures of company websites, services, and databases, including the CIA’s; Google moving into the home with Nest and pursuing the development of artificial intelligence (Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory); Apple’s acquisition of Affectiva, a company that specializes in emotion recognition, and investments in health apps and services; and Facebook’s expansion into virtual reality.  Making its services ubiquitous, as with the “free wi-fi-with-check-in ”in hotels and small businesses. Its purchase of “Whatsapp” is another example of how a “GAFA” company spent billions on an innovative service.

The algorithms provide a treasure trove of information with which to understand our behavior, habits, aspirations and desires.  In Raffi Khatchadourian’s  article “We Know How You Feel”, we are reminded that the hunger for data is tied to a hunger for emotional interactions. In Shelley Podolyn’s New York Times article, “If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?”,  she highlights the level of sophistication of writing algorithms generating news articles and books. In tandem, the growth of “The Internet of Eyes“ in objects we interact with, as part of the “ Internet of Things.” brings about a new dynamic to data mining. It is a reminder that many of these algorithms being designed within “GAFA” play an almost non-negotiable role in our lives.

Many schools believe that their curriculum’s should allow for authentic connections to the world around them. What about “GAFA”?  Should we as learners, guides, mentors, and facilitators highlight “GAFA”? Is this important? Should its presence be considered in our learning outcomes?  To ignore “GAFA” is to create a disconnect with present changes that are reshaping all of our lives. It sidelines a reality that is the future. What does “GAFA” mean, to us, our schools, community and educational institutions? Schools have a responsibility to ensure this is part of the curricular discourse.  We need to construct learning moments and scaffold time to pause, reflect, understand, explain and critically think about what it is to live in a “GAFA” world.

If personal privacy, independent thought, critical thinking, differentiation, balanced perspectives, mindfulness and our capacity to be unique are in our school’s mission, we need to address what it means to be curated by “GAFA”.  Will we not lose an important aspect of humanity, if we continue to ignore “GAFA”?

John@beyonddigital

P.S: Next time you are at a Starbucks drinking your coffee remember that the free wifi is a “GAFA” gift!

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, or Edgar M. Villchur

Tyne Cot Cemetery (Ypres)- Ieper Belgium

I did not know Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur, or the 500,000 soldiers who died in Ypres (Ieper) Belgium in the trenches of  World War 1. Last week on holiday, reflecting on their respective work and passing away, then visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery outside Ypres (Ieper) Belgium. I felt overwhelmed by the In Flanders Fields Museum and Tyne Cot Cemetery respective testimony. The shear numbers who died and  pointlessness of trench warfare, the leadership, story and narrative that lead to these deaths and suffering was mind boggling.

This visit marked me at many levels, and reminded me, that each of us are impacted by events, histories,relationships and connections, that give us a scaffold to build our own narrative and vision. To me Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie, Edgar M. Villchur, and the soldiers of Ypres (Ieper) Belgium put a mark in very different ways on my understanding of the world and contributed towards my own narrative.

Steve Jobs’ desktops, laptops, i devices, , and iTunes has always been part of my personal and professional media life, at work, home, … a fan, and appreciative user. Dennis Ritchie who brought to the digital world, we live and work in daily: C programming language and co-developed the Unix operating system. Edgar M. Villchur’s vision plays a big role in my adult life : the Loudspeaker. He invented an acoustic suspension woofer producing the loudspeaker as many of us have in our homes, car and ears:)

Each had a unique narrative tied to their ideas and vision. Their respective narratives transformed into concrete outcomes that changed the way we function in our world. The narrative built on a passion and a clear belief in the outcome where they wanted to go. Maybe not always clearly defined to others or all planned out in their own heads but this narrative drove the conversations, work,  time, creativity, thoughts, and collaboration that made their ideas a reality.

As for many of us who have a passion for what we do, our narrative and story is constructed through events relationships, collaborations and belief based on experiences. The key to the success of Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie or Edgar M. Villchur,  narratives was they each transformed it into some thing concrete that was operationalized to significantly impact people and change the way we do things.

This transition from idea to reality is the most complicated and challenging aspect of building ones own narrative and ensuring it becomes reality. Ideas can be generated, conceptualized, discussed, debated, and dreamed up.  The delicate process of making an organizational narrative engaging to others so they adopt it as part of their own narrative is in my opinion the true art of visioning.  The key is that there needs to be a strong buy in by all players associated or connected to the narrative even if translated or interpreted through a different lens. To often I witness rich and engaging visions, but so often the operationalization piece is missing. This is due to the  narrative being lost in the translation before it becomes others own narrative in any organization. Without people in an organization internalizing the visionaries narrative within their framework of understanding little will become concrete and have an impact on others . Once you have this common narrative throughout an organization the stage is set for the intricate collaborative mechanism of choreographing and operationalizing a shift that creates change with ever lasting impact. Each of these men did!  Do you have an i in one of your devices, using Unix and listening to it through a set of speakers………..What is your narrative?

John@beyonddigital.org

Where is the “off” switch?

Can we really disconnect from devices, email, social networks, the internet and digital life in general? Being caught up in a cycling trip for me is the easiest way to disconnect from all the rings, tasks, needs, wants, musts and maybe’s we get caught up in our digital life. An element of isolation and the tempo provide a good way to unwind and coach myself to be okay with the disconnection. The daily cycling, in an isolated environment, provides often limited cell reception, rare internet and few digital devices. This experience on the bicycle gives me the opportunity to create head space and day dreaming hours to clear out the mind and fall into a different time span and a grounded feeling. You generate in your head space for nothing.

Yes it is okay, and it feels good. Today it is getting harder and harder to disconnect…or find space for nothing. As we integrate our digital devices and social medias into every aspect of our work and home life we have developed a dependence, which is becoming invisible to our lives.  As new generations adopt this digital world as part of their social fabric, and consciousness, a collective dependency on seamless connectivity is embedded to our day. This level of subconscious dependency creates a new social bargain for the way we connect, disconnect and live our lives online and offline.

For my generation and others prior to the explosion of the internet, we experienced an environment of  limited connectedness, tied to a land line, payphone, letters, fax, face to face, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and then email. Our privacy was shaped within a connection of a friend or two, or small circle of friends/acquaintances. The norms based on word of mouth, hearsay, rumors, reputations forged live in front of  friends/acquaintances or through mediums limited to a small groups of folks for viewing or to interact with. Often it became an issue of our word vs their word. There was no digital footprint and it was harder accessing a paper trail.  This experience has equipped my generation and others with a counter-balance and point of reference of another option to our current non stop connectivity and diminishing privacy.

Today with non stop connectivity and diminishing privacy there is a different reference point for a new generation. A world of online social circles with friends and acquaintances in the hundreds, images, videos, wall updates, tweets, online hangouts all available 24/7 to potential huge audience not only our perceived friends/acquaintances but search engines, companies, governments, and a digital footprint not in our control.

The perception and understanding of privacy and non stop connectivity has changed. For many of today’s online users, there is no point of reference or experience of not having a digital footprint, not being connected 24/7 or understanding privacy in the context of the pre-internet world. A social media openness is the norm of privacy today for a whole set of children and young adults.

This shift can be uncomfortable for some, but is here. This has happened in the background of our awareness to certain degree.  My generations concept of privacy, balance and connectivity is framed with a memory and life experiences without these. Today children and young adults are framing their understanding and experiences based on a new social bargain where connectivity is a non negotiable ingredient to socialization both professional and personal. Connectivity is a must: cell phones to keep Mom and Dad in touch with your whereabouts, educations demands for mobile technology as a mandatory learning platform, commerce, entertainment, goverment and information delivered only online.

As with any changes in life you gain things and you loose things  Privacy and connectivity have changed and will continue to evolve in ways which will be be viewed by some as a paradigm shift, others the norm and for others a necessary evolution of our digital life.

Today the off switch is no more available! Even while we sleep or disconnect for a moment, emails, images, wall postings, and our digital footprints are active, being viewed, shared, forwarded, cataloged, and leaving a permanent digital trail. As individuals and a society we will need to carve and find the spaces to disconnect on our own. This ability to disconnect, find balance, and space for nothing will need to become a learned skill and behavior. For many of our students, with no point of reference to a unconnected world, their is no previous learning or points of reference to build upon.

As a society what does it mean when our digital footprints are available to anyone online, anytime, with any type of devices 24/7? This conversation needs to becoming part of our educators fabric and curriculum in schools. Even if a new generation has not experienced a disconnected world, it is part of our collective historical heritage the many moments when philosophers, artists, musicians, and thinkers  sat with space for nothing so they could create marvels. It is fine by me that there is no more an off switch, but it is not okay to let our students and young adults not have a skill set to be able to disconnect and create a space for nothing. A balance in life is a key, everyone should be exposed to this learning and have the opportunity to be mentored on how to develop this capacity: space for nothing.

John@beyonddigital.org