Sunday, 20 May 2012

Masques and Technology

I'm going back to early academic enthusiasms - to some of the things that Ian Kemp pointed me towards when I studied music at Manchester. This was at a time when we were studying Tippett's (then quite recent) "Mask of Time". Why call it a mask? What was that all about? In looking for an answer to this my focus turned to the 17th century masque that Ben Johnson, Dryden and others were involved with (Shakespeare was on the fringes of this - although I suspect he was more interested in opening up the popular theatre market, rather than taking commissions from the nobility: interesting stuff here - When I started work at the University of Bolton, I initiated a project using computer games for storytelling writing some fairly simple software that allowed movies to be made of game interation, text added, and music created as players moved through a virtual world ( Now this feels like ancient personal history, but it was from here that I started thinking about cybernetics and issues of technology, control and coordination in experience and educational organisation.

What was interesting about 'Steps to Parnassus' was the rapid feeback between action, storymaking, music making, and then further action and reflection. Many of the movies that the kids produced were fascinating. In many ways I still think this is the most interesting thing I have done in e-learning. But after becoming involved in e-learning 'proper' and doing JISC projects, and focusing on (incredibly boring) things like e-portfolio, and (much more interesting) things like Personal Learning Environments, I moved away from this game-like environment for reflection (although aspects of it still were present in doing things like collaborative mind-mapping and agent-based modelling in the SPLICE project).

Now I'm reassessing things. Not just because it seems that the e-learning thing is over (especially in terms of the generous project funding that gave me freedom to do this stuff), and that I have to find new interesting things to do, but also there is a need to take stock generally.

Where are we? Quite simply: "Too much information - no capability for decision and control"

and some emerging questions from this... What do we mean by 'information'? What sort of decisions should we be taking? What does effective control look like in an environment of run-away information? (but this would be to use a cybernetic perspective on control, which (as so many fail to understand) has nothing to do with fascism).

"What do we mean by information?" is what I have been driving at recently. Where is the distinction between information and meaning? If information and meaning are co-present, does that mean consciousness is implicit in information (as some physicists are beginning to argue)? What is the ontology of information? and so on... lots of fascinating (and I think new) academic debate there!

"What sort of decisions should we be taking?" is related to how those decisions are taken and who takes them. It is dependent on the first question about information and meaning. It depends on how we coordinate knowledge - and what we think knowledge is. I think Hayek is important here, as is the Critical Realist economics. The deep issue is the relationship between axiology and information. Within this, issues of individualism and conviviality need to be addressed - particularly when we consider the locus of knowledge. We need to recognise the atomisation of individuals as something which frames our current experience, and may hamper our attempts to dig ourselves out of the hole we've got ourselves into. Maus's work on giving and 'potlatch' (particularly in the economic interpretation given by Bataille) may also be important here.

"What does effective control look like in an environment of run-away information?" that is a practical question which relates to technology, and an understanding of how technology relates information to experience. In particular, it focuses on how the relationship between technology and experience might be harnessed for the coordination of meaning and values. In other words, this is dependent on an understanding of the other two questions. And here (as I was suggesting yesterday) is where drama, masques and other such participatory devices become important.

I'm blogging a lot at the moment because a lot is happening. There's an opportunity to put things together. But the opportunity is always in the moment. If I don't embrace the moment and get it down, it will be lost. And that, in essence, is what I'm driving at with this issue of real-time feedback and coordination. Maybe I'm "playing with reality" through my blog?

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