Friday, February 13, 2009

Week 2: Freedoms, Vision, and Purple Cowness

It's midday Sunday and there's a little time to write. The kids are playing peacefully and it's raining as a southerly storm is blowing in. We had our second dm4change session last Friday. I felt challenged to maintain or maybe sustain the level of energy I experienced from our first session. The overall goal for this session was to bring to the fore a conversation about connecting with our work with a larger vision.

The night before class I spent a couple of hours reading and listening and following hyperlinks about Esra'a Al Shafei's work with Esra'a will be coming to Monterey and speaking about "Activism 3.0" on Tuesday, February 24th at Irvine Auditorium here on campus. I've arranged to have her Skype into our third session on Friday, February 20th for a conversation with us. I haven't met Esra'a but this workshop has allowed me to look differently at what people are doing and creating with new web tools. Often despite my own trumpeting for the world of possibility afforded by these tools, I still fail to find meaning or relevance for myself. Why should I blog, make videos, or twitter? What do I have to offer? Who is listening? Is it a waste of time? Like the participants in this workshop I'm exploring these questions for myself. No doubt that this is one reason the "change" in dm4change was purposely left undefined. What change? Who's changing who? How? Where? Why? I often suggest that digital and social media offer new possibilities for people to connect, to collaborate, and to communicate outside of the otherwise ordinary limits of time and space. I've heard uplifting stories, but I still have some reservations. Are we better off with these tools or are they a distraction? Do we have a responsibility to put these tools to a better use?

Down the Rabbit Hole
Originally uploaded by alister
I'm looking forward to the questions that are generated by the group. We're experimenting with the Live Question tool to aggregate and promote excellent questions for our talk with Esra'a. I learned about the LQT at the 2009 Educause Learning Initiative conference in January during a terrific presentation by Cole Camplese, Alan Levine, and Jim Groom. I've asked our workshop participants to go down the rabbit hole to learn as much as possible about Esra'a, with a particular mind towards exploring the impact of individual voices amplified by the use of digital media. There are rewards to late night web-searching. Mine was a link to a Reuters article about a music school in Iraq; this quote by young musician, Haneen Imad,
"When I play my oud, I defy violence in society... When I hear the sound of a helicopter droning over my head, I play louder;"
and by the story of Acrassicauda, a heavy metal band from Iraq. I was reminded of a documentary I saw by one of my favorite musicians, Michael Franti, titled I Know I'm not Alone.

Tip of the hat to PenPen Blog for help with embedding a video with a timestamp start!

So, my time reading about Esra'a got me thinking about freedoms that I take for granted. I feel fortunate to have access to the Internet, to cameras, to music. I feel fortunate to have connectivity when I need it. And I asked myself how I could raise this in our Friday session. It occurred to me that I could take this away from the group. We would simulate a lack of 21st century connectivity. Maybe we would awaken ourselves to something new. I had my doubts, but decided to give it a try.

We began the session with another mini-slideshow:
After everyone was settled in, the majority with laptops plugged in and open, very much like the group seen in the first slide, I asked everyone to stand up, remove their shoes, unplug their laptops, take out their cell phones, and bring them all up to the front of the room. We were going to remove our digital tethers for a little while and see how it felt. The forty pairs of shoes, the pile of cellphones, and the stacks of laptops were a sight to see. After a brief think-pair-share, reactions varied from:
"silly and naked," to "grounded,"
"re-c0nnected," to "appreciative."
With our shoes still off we watched a video mashup from that offers an alternative vision for Iran. There's striking contrast here between the video images and the audio track. Familiar voices from the past over images from recent events.

Why is vision important? As Lynn emphasized, it's so much more about the awesomeness of your 'gut,' and so much less about the tools. If we cannot express our core selves clearly, then we need to step back and re-evaluate. If we're looking to build the frameworks of possibility for the change(s) we want to see in the world, our tools should help us to amplify what we feel and know in our gut. Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander offer a set of criteria for visioning in their book, The Art of Possibility. A vision:
  • articulates a possibility
  • fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate.
  • makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things.
  • is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers measures, or comparatives. It contains no specific of time, place, audience, or product.
  • is free-standing... [and] gives over its bounty now.
  • is a long line of possibility radiating outward. It invites infinite expression, development, and proliferation within it's definitional framework.
  • [expressed,] transforms the speaker. For that moment the 'real world' becomes a universe of possibility and the barriers to the realization of the vision disappear. (p.169-170)
During our session, we took some time to sketch out personal visions for the class and to express ourselves. Each participant will create a visual representation of their vision by selecting a single Flickr image and adding it to our photo pool on the DM4change Ning. Use of Creative Commons licensed material will be expected, and good practice for copyright considerations. I took a stab at this the other night and came up with:
I am shaping and contributing to an elegantly connected, intelligent, and creative community of learners and agents of change.
With our shoes back on, laptops and cell phones back in our hands, we moved on to view Seth Godin's Ted Talk from 2003 titled "Sliced Bread and other Marketing Delights."

I chose this video because of his discussion of innovation. Although his content focus is in marketing, aren't there some generalizations we can make about being remark-able, about diffusing ideas? What does a purple cow have to do with the realization of our individual and collective vision(s)? Could 'being the change,' equate to seeing, creating or being the purple cow? I don't have answers to these questions, but I suspect, as Godin suggests that there is a learning process, there is trial and error, and ultimately breakthrough ideas in the pursuit of innovation. To paraphrase a line from his talk, it very well may be that it is risky to sit back and play it safe these days. We need to continue to adapt and to look to the horizons for future trends, but we also need to be sure that we always honor and respect our gut, our purpose, and our vision.

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