Creating randomly distribute, dense forests of innovation

I like to write things down, especially when I think they’ll be important. A really cool aspect of Actor-Network theory (ANT) is that people respond to and are influenced by artifacts in the world, even if they created them. For example, I write down an idea. The paper with that idea, replicates the echo chamber effect of its importance to me, but if that paper is broadcast to an audience, I can be removed from the venue and still be impactful.

ANT should be popular with artists as often times an artist is trying to communicate a message and leave an impression behind. For example, I can no longer speak to Michelangelo yet I can “hear” his influence echoed throughout history in sculptures and paintings; inspiring for generations beyond the original conception of the idea and the person.

So too can we do this with code that’s been imbued with philosophical principles. Political Artifacts, is a concept that any technology created is done so with a certain set of ideals. This ideals, philosophies, politics all live on and are potentially enforced greater in impact then the person who held them. A powerful (awful) example comes from racist architects in the early 20th century who intentionally made bridges too low for public transportation. These road that buses couldn’t go on would lead to wealthier areas of the city and through this simple (yet intentional) design “flaw”, the “artist” (as terrible as he was) is able to ensure that poor people don’t go into rich neighborhoods.

So why do I lay this backstory and provide an obscure notebook drawing? I am very intentionally trying to structure technology to send a message. If the motive of the developer is important to understanding how and why one should use technology, it is paramount that you understand the motives if you are able to trust; otherwise, what’s to say we’re not just “building the new monster but at least it’s your monster” as someone framed it to me recently.

Because we’re setting things in motion to prevent the emergence of monsters. We’re not building just a platform, we’re building a platform to help you rise up out of the cave and to help bring your coworkers out with you (see Plato’s Allegory of the Cave). We know that you can’t fix government and education by becoming part of the problem, you have to forge a new path. We are trying to eliminate the possibility of such corruption emerging.

And in doing so, we come to our picture in question. “Big Seed Vendor” has proprietary seed technology and seeds intentionally engineered to not reproduce (terminator seeds as they are called). There are conflicting reports as to if this happens but the notion that these proprietary seeds blowing into someone else’s farm really stuck with me (true or not, the concept). IP right would still allow “Big Seed Vendor” to go after the farmer who’s land this has blown on to and started to germinate because, as I said, it is proprietary IP.

The visual is from a bus ride when I was early 20s and I knew it would be important. We don’t want to allow the seeds of elms to blow onto other farms simply to have someone come after another “farmer” for not using their flavor (Jewel2 much, “Open source” masqueraders?). In fact, we actively want nature to take its course and randomly distribute dense forests of innovation across the globe. This is the dribs and drabs I speak of and why I stick to the phrase. We want to be everywhere and in everything (eventually, everyone).

I, will not rest, until these unattainable dream are realized. That’s what dreamers do, they shoot for impossible “knowing” they will fall short. Every day since creating this I’ve felt I would die unhappy, knowing I could have just done more. I could have released more code, I could have solved more problems and made the world an even better place. It was at this time I grew up, and seemingly fell into madness (as I’ve detailed before) or maybe I just realized that the entire focus of my life is to advance the ball as far down the field as I can until I have to lay it down and allow my children to pick it up and run with it. Regardless, I have to tilt the playing field in their favor, in the favor of everyone’s children.

This world can be so much more to so many people, if we speak openly and donate freely. We were made to be so much more. Don’t let anyone limit your potential and ensure you always speak to unlock it in others. The endless (FREE) well of innovation in the educational technology market is not some utopian ideal (and if it were, I’d rather dream of bliss then dwell for despair).

Our children deserve the best educational experiences, avenues, and outlets. Let’s work together to ensure we allow others to germinate and breed new, better forms of pedagogy and technology that connect with students to avoid the emergence and propagation of more terminator seeds.

Collapsing information economies

I used to start my presentations with my kids and say, this is for them. I stopped as it wasn’t really professional and people didn’t really know what to make of what I was saying, cause they didn’t know me. I, didn’t know me. But I think this process that has seen lots of documenting nation building over the last 8 years has finally allowed me to be completely honest.

We’re not building a platform. We’re not building a product. Because to most people, most of society. Technology, doesn’t, matter. What does matter, is changing the way people think. Changing where they view power as stemming from. Who has authority to dictate their existence. These are ideals we can imbue technology with.

So when I get asked what I’m after (because it’s starting to become obvious that I’m not honest) I stop, and am honest. Change. We are building a change agent. Every day, every line, every support request. We are building what ever is necessary to challenge the status quo that would have you go into a vendor room and pick from the trinkets.

And then do it again the next year. and the next. Endless support contracts and nearly worthless code that you don’t own (you just rent silly). It is a platform intended to liberate, to open your eyes to new ways of thinking; to inspire and to enact change. A symbol.

The way to alter the face of markets is not to participate in them and simply lower costs. That works for a time and certainly helps people be able to afford and access technology. I’m not talking about lowering costs though, I’m talking about eliminating costs.

If the educational technology market worked like big Pharma; you’d see (yes I know they fudge things but it’s the idea) forced innovation and force progress through the inability to hold a long term patent. The same should be true of software.

It is morally reprehensible to produce a product, spin it out via Jenkins (free), on to servers running linux (free), with web requests handled by apache (free) or cached in any number of other free code bases / architecture (Pound, Varnish, Memcache…), then have people pay for code you wrote in php/python/go (free) that talks to a database backend (which is free) and then nicely delivers to the end user’s browser (which is free) and does some nice interactive things in Javascript / Jquery (WHICH ARE BOTH FREE).

The entire stack for a developer of the software you use every day is, and will increasingly become, free. How is it justified to copy and paste a command with a different name, hundreds of thousands of times and produce millions upon millions of dollars. For a time, yes, that’s absolutely required to recoup costs.

So how do we end the cycle? Do we join the system of control that others have helped establish a “customer base” for us? No. The information altruist would declare war against the system of control and effectively eliminate the ability for there to be a customer base.

Think I’m crazy? This is ridiculous, no one will ever do it and it’s utopian. Oh, that’s cool, ever hear of Wikipedia or an Encyclopedia? Or perhaps Mozilla vs Internet Explorer? No, no bells. How about David Wiley and Open Educational Resources? What’s the point of OER (if you ask hard liners)? It’s to eliminate a corrupt and dead publishing industry. eliminate. Not “Join the market and make money in a more ethical way” (non hardliner argument). It is to eliminate the ability to make money in the same way ever again (free book, want to print it? Ok, that costs a couple bucks; totally new relationship and information is “free”).

We are capable of amazing things when we join forces and see each other as equal partners, instead of cattle and ranchers. We can build amazing things when we don’t seek simply to join systems of control, but to liberate them.

Who will you liberate in your life time?

Live, Open.

This blog has become active again, because I’ve finally finished writing my thesis. Approximately 1 week from today, I will defend my thesis which this blog now takes the title from. The thesis is called Information Altruism, and follows the story of a large organizations fundamental transformation from within. It formulates that through interviews and observations, Tempered Radicals within the organization were able to apply activist techniques to change the organization from within.

4 years ago I had a moment of inspiration while taking a shower. I was wrong. Everything I was doing… was wrong. It wasn’t actually solving the root cause of the issues we are facing; we were simply building another big bucket and we were “right” because it was our bucket.

4 years ago, that inflection point was formed in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t shake it, that years of efforts were only there to help me grow into the developer I would need to be to take on the real battle; the thing I was born to do.

I realized I was wrong and then I made a terrible mistake; I sat on the idea for 2 months. I sat on my new idea, documented it, puzzled it over in my mind endlessly; it started to consume everything I thought about. An infinitely deep web of ideas and systems, interfaces, apis, and methods of structuring systems. This is the thing that would make me rich. I could take this and when work pissed me off one day, oh, they’d see. I’d take my idea and I would change the world, alone.

And then, something amazing happened. The more I became consumed by the idea, the more I realized that it wasn’t my idea, and I’d never change the world alone. I also stopped and thought about money. I like money, I like having enough money, but I don’t love money. And I don’t know anyone that’s been made happy or whole through money alone. So I made one of the most important decisions of my life; I gave the idea away.

I gave it up, I set it free. And in doing so, I found something greater then money. I found Love. I, Love, what I do. I love watching faculty get excited when we tell them we can build anything. I love watching instructional designers get excited about their jobs and the potential for helping faculty teach more effectively through their creations. I love to build systems that help people experience growth and collaborate.

I dropped out of the consumption economy in this way. I didn’t just want another thing that you consumed. Anyone can make money, anyone can throw VC money at someone, steal their efforts and have them sign away their ideals in the name of money and power. These are not the people we remember kindly; the power hungry and the money rich. Innovators, dreamers, and actual, lasting world changers, are not the people buying vaccines and jacking the prices up. They are the ones giving away the formula to liberate mankind of disease as Jonas Salk did with the polio vaccine.

The liberation of education from under the heel of the educational technology industrial complex. We seek the betterment of all humankind. We want to empower people to empower others. To learn, and grow. To build a better tomorrow.

I’m not here to just be another face in the crowd, and I don’t think you are either. You are the most talented, more special, best person in the universe (Lego movie paraphrase). And the best thing you and I can do to make this world a better place is to lay down our arms and unite. Put up your code, give up your war plans, and start actually changing lives instead of just shifting their contractual obligations. When we stop playing by the rules of the game, we are able to change the nature of the “market”. You can’t go into the market to fundamentally change it, you have to seek out how to make it behave differently.

I know why I’m here. It’s to fuel this movement from the inside. Because Products are Ephemeral, Movements are Eternal. As I said, I will not be the one to change the world, we will be. We surround them. We are capable of amazing things, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have an amazing story to tell, and we will continue to write it.

One line at a time, one friend at a time, one dreamer at a time, in dribs and drabs, we will change the world.

Be Jonas Salk my friends. Be someone’s Jonas Salk.