The Dark Side of Connection?


Surfing. (2014, June 19). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from

The interfaces that let users interact with connected objects are limited. But by analyzing data, they can predict the user’s next move.


How does the internet of things fit in with connected learning values and principles?  Every learner is working on objects/products/processes all the time.  They are in some ways already connected with digital tools, collaborations, publishing, editing–connected in public ways that are able to be connected further.

And then there are the unknown connections.  For example, in our #clmooc we have known knowns–all of our seen and foreseen digital spaces (hackpads, blogs, twitter, facebook, and G+ among others).  A few folks connect to most of these spaces that represent the first ripple of activity out from our MOOC.

ripples in color
File:Ripple effect on water.jpg – Wikimedia Commons. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2014, from









But no one sees all of this primary ripple.  For everyone there are known unknowns.  In other words we all admit to ourselves that we can’t and don’t see it all, connected to it all.  We know what we don’t know and we live with it.

Then there are the unknown knowns.  These are the lurkers. We know they exists because they sometimes flip the switch and become known to us via the primary ripples.  These are the nodes on a Twitter visualization who have been connected to by others who are a part of the primary ripple but are otherwise unknown to use and who, more importantly, may not know about #clmooc. Often these are folks we cite in links or folks we quote.  They are known to us in our MOOC context, but they likely do not know us in that context.

Then there are the unknown unknowns.  Common sense tells us that this category is like dark matter–ubiquitous and representing most of the universe.  It is just a fact that #clmooc is invisible to most of the world.  We are an unknown unknown to them. Humbling isn’t it?

This brings us to the content of the post–connected objects and their predictive value.  I think the radical takeaway is that as we move more fully into a world of connected object the unknown unknowns may be more predictable.  What I am talking about here is reducing complexity and using connected objects to do so.

You step on your Withings scale while brushing your teeth with your Kolibree tooth brush–you get a message on your smartwatch that you need to implement a moderate fasting regiment already estalished at your Google Health site. Or you need to take a bike to work which you find by saying, “Ok, Google, find me a public bike.”  Or so says the auteur Louis Dorard.

Where does this leave us who are helping folks learn?  In what ways will connected learning principles enhance or exacerbate this ultimate connectivity.  Dorard’s example of Disney’s Magic Band is especially instructive.  Will schools be less about physical connection in physical spaces and more about living in digital spaces with both human and artificially facilitators whose job will be to predictively eliminate all the unknown unknowns, known unknowns, and unknown knowns?  Will the world of predictive API’s in learning  be all about reducing the world into known knowns?

Connectivity, predictaby, cuts both ways.  If it adds to the collective complexity without reducing our signals to those in an echo chamber, I’m mostly OK with that.  But what if we are connected to every object we touch and every person we see and every idea we share,  what happens then?  This is not the scenario we have read in fiction and seen on screens.  This is fer realz. This is machine learning in a wet world.  And our MOOC is a part of it.  Of these categories, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that the scariest is the unknown known.  These are the truths we already know but deny.  In the examples above we know that Acton’s Principle is a universal throughout human history- power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is demonstrable.  Separation of powers is the constitutional governance at the core of this universal.  Yet…technologies that connect and predict are given free and corruptible rein.

Personally, I agree with Nicholas Taleb that the unknown unknowns are potentially most revolutionary.  To me that means they are the most dangerous.  These “black swans”  emerge from the complexity of the world.  Taleb notes that before explorers went to Australia no one could have predicted  a black swan.  Then there they were, logically improbable.  I prefer another Taleb story, darker and truer for me.  It is the story of the turkey.  Is there anything in the turkey’s experience that would ever indicate to him that Thanksgiving Day would be any different than the days previous?  Thanksgiving Day is the black swan for every commercial turkey in the U.S.  What are the black swans of connectivity and connected learning?  Taleb  says we don’t know and, worse, it is impossible to know.  Unpredictable.   Charming.

soul mass transit system – This animated gif makes me happy. … (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2014, from

Vialogues : You Are Your Own Digital Universe. Live with It. [OR] How to Be the Sysadmin of Your Own Life

JIm Groom talks domain of ones own, trailing edge tech, and being the sysadmin of your own learning network.


Kevin Hodgson and I have been back and forth regularly discussing YouTube videos over the last two years.  Sometimes they are heavily populated with dense conversation, sometimes others join in. Sometimes it is observational, other times it has been analytical.  Suffice to say, we have made something together that is very like what Jim Groom speaks so passionately to in this video–a trailing edge technology.

Vialogues is a trailing edge tech.  There isn’t anything new here. Sharing video? That’s been around since the beginning.  How old IS YouTube?  Sharing comments?  If you can stand them, YouTube has those as well as annotations. Threaded discussion/Internet Relay Chat? I remember those from bulletin boards in the 90’s.  All the tech in Vialogues has the  feel of a police officer moseying a crowd along with the traditional, “Move along, nothing to see here.” But we all know there is plenty going on.


Vialogues takes threaded discussion, video sharing, and IM/IRC and makes a new conversational space.  It is an integral part of my user innovation kit.  Sometimes I just have sweet discourse with myself.  Sometimes I try to engage public figures.  Often it is just me and Kevin.  This is a new discourse space as the rhetoric folk call it.  But it is also a very old one as well.  It is the water cooler, the pub, the classroom before and after. It is a fallow, asynchronous digital lot that you can call a community garden and then seed like an urban guerilla space.  You tend it yourself or you get others to tend it with you as midwives and husbanders of annual and perennials flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

I think it is a feast.  You really are the sysadmin of your own digital universe. You really can share that universe.  Candide put it best, “That is very well put, but we must cultivate our gardens.”  These are our digital gardens.  Our students live in them although they often seems to be little monocultures  (with all the unsustainability that entails).  But they do live in them.  I live in Vialogues sometimes just as I work in my own gardens and workspaces.  Spaces like Vialogues remind me that the gap between the virtual and the real will be something the next generation will look at in this post and say, “What is he talking about?  Digital is real.”  Yes and my Vialogue gardens can be yours, too.