Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Plains Pops: How Teachers Can Approach Tech And The Web

At Lifehacker, Adam Pash advocates a fragmented approach. He notes that Facebook does everything competently, but requires a large investment:
Facebook is a microblogging platform, a blogging platform, a photo-sharing platform, a location-sharing platform, a chat platform, an email client, a pseudo-music-sharing platform, a gaming platform, and so on. It's an incredibly powerful service. For many, Facebook isn't just a site on the internet; it's the internet.

And that's why you're locked into Facebook; that's why it's so hard to leave. You've invested so much, not just in sharing photos or posting links, but in the whole ecosystem.

Facebook does about everything well enough. It's a full-fledged internet operating system. But like most operating systems, the stock applications aren't as good as the apps and services built by companies who are passionate about one thing.
Pash contends fragmentation offers the following advantages:
1. If, say, I decide Instagram has made some bad choices and all of the sudden totally sucks (a completely realistic but not necessarily inevitable possibility now that they've been acquired by Facebook), I can abandon Instagram and start using one of a million other photo-sharing services. If Facebook mucks up their photo sharing, I'm probably going to write a series of short, angry status updates, grit my teeth, and keep using Facebook.

2. You can easily define your communities based on what you're sharing. On Rdio, for example, I specifically follow people whose musical habits I'm interested in. I may be interested in your listening habits but have no interest in the pictures you're sharing. I'll follow you on Rdio and not on Instagram. Handy.

3. People who make just one thing tend to really care about it and have really great ideas about how to make it better. Cf. the discussion above about stock apps.

This whole discussion swings back to something we've talked about a couple times before: The Unix philosophy, the core of which surrounds the virtues of software that does one thing well. It's a fantastic philosophy that has implications well beyond software, and the more experience I have (with software, systems, people, etc.), the truer it rings.
John T. Spencer adds another reason to go piecemeal: one can use the technology in the "wrong" way:
I don't think I've ever known anyone else who uses a spreadsheet as a calendar. For me, it works, though. I have the date, the day, the task or event, the type of task and the location. For recurring events, I simply write "every week" or "every day." Then, I use the sort function to see what I need to do each day or to see the timeline of a particular project (sorting by category).  I like being able to ask, "When is Galileo testing?" and simply sorting it with one click. Calendars don't allow me to do that.
I'm not suggesting everyone should use a spreadsheet for a calendar. I'm odd. I get that. I like every event in one place and I find the calendar to be inefficient. But it has me thinking about technology and customization. It has me thinking that maybe acceptable use should be broadened to also mean, "Use the tools in the way they weren't intended to be used."
Too often, students learn a rigid definition of how a particular technology tool should be used. PowerPoint and Google Presentations are meant for presenting new information. Spreadsheets are for crunching numbers. Twitter is for telling people what you're doing. Blogging is for short writing entries. Google Docs should be used for writing only.
At one level, Pash's desire for the perfect tool and Spencer's urging to use tools in the "wrong" way may seem mutually exclusive, but both writers require and allow for user autonomy and experimentation. Both will get results that a do everything site like Facebook will never provide.

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