What Counts Can’t Always Be Counted


I loved the two annotatathons I have been a part of this week. Or as I told Jeremy Dean in a Tweet:

This “culminating moment” was a community of “practice” exercise in annotation that was a perfect model of Mimi Ito’s phrase “homago”–hanging out, messing about, geeking out. This Hangout YouTube is my evidence.

We ‘hung out’ a little beforehand to get our bearings and make sure we had set up a bare minimum of initial ‘rules’ (how to screencast as you annotated, what you might want to focus on, and how long we would go on). We then ‘messed about’ in this jungle gym of an article written by Katherine Schulten and Jeremy Dean on the subject of annotation tools and styles. Some spoke while they wrote, others were silent. All were shown on the Hangout messing about with annotation in real time. Last, we ‘geeked out’ with the affordances and adjacent possibilities of the tool and the idea of collaborative annotation.

The second annotatathon was the State of the Union Address organized by Hypothes.is.  I have never been so engaged with a speech. I was an agent who was annotating the text of the speech.  I was an audience member listening to an important and historic event.  I was a citizen evaluating the state of our union within my own local context.  All at once.  Memorable.  And the annotation was full and rich.  We created something that has not really existed before:  real time, online citizen participation in the culture of national politics.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I was mentally exhausted after an hour of this so I went to bed.  The next morning I woke to a tweet from Tom Scheinfeld scoffing a bit at Nicholas Kristof’s tweetstorm of the State of the Union address.  I didn’t quite agree that what Kristof did wasn’t a ‘column’ and by implication not worthy of the reader or the author.  What follows below is my Storified version of Twitter events.  


My point is that when we do our annotatathons and our collaborative annotations and our tweetstorming that we are only doing a part of the difficult work of engaging with the “text”.  We are generating signal.  At some point we reach a tipping point where that tribal signal becomes noise.  Our job, our role, our duty, our remit as teachers is to show others how to filter and amplify (and dampen) so that some signal breaks through.  If we generate then we are obliged to filter.  If we are part of a collaborative annotation, then we need to make sense of the that signal and share that sensemaking.  There are many ways to curate this noise into a beautiful gallery that we can then share with others.  If we don’t, the Tower of Babel  will take on brand new metaphoric power.  If we don’t, others with political and commercial agendas will do it for us.  That will be neo-fascism of a profound kind especially if our citizens are incapable of distinguishing among signal, noise, lying signal, and truthful signal.  I think that is a great reason to get up and teach every day.  We are needed.