Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 20 – “Community and contact drive good online learning”



The Ni To Ichi Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man’s knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.

In the Way of strategy, also, those who study as warriors think that whatever they cannot understand in their craft is the void. This is not the true void.

To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.

Until you realise the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.

Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existance, principle has existance, the Way has existance, spirit is nothingness.

Twelfth day of the fifth month, second year of Shoho (1645)
Teruro Magonojo


The Greek philosopher Parmenides (510/540 BCE) identified “the void” with nothing, and therefore (by definition) it does not exist. He asked of us not to consider non-being at all, but this does not stop Martin Heidegger in The End of Philosophy (2003) reiterating Leibniz when he says, “Being is an insurrection against nothingness.” He also asked the central question of philosophy “why is there something rather than nothing?” The notion of nothingness or emptiness has played a central role in philosophy from the start in both Western and Eastern philosophic traditions. Community and contact imply that something, that somebody, is out there in the world. Community is an abstract form of contact. Only by contact with more than one does community begin to form.

In the practice of living in settlements humans began to realize the need for diversity and mutuality in their daily routines. Before, as hunter-gatherers, they lived in a world with no human-defined boundaries. Enmeshed in nature they found or hunted what they knew or could, trying different things as moved on when food or water depleted. Settlements became enmeshed within circuits of crops growing, and animal husbandry, the growing and maintenance of livestock for eating. Each household made their own tools and made their own pottery and clothes. Surplus production in agriculture drove changes. Not only did rapid population growth happen, but cultivators and those raising livestock could exchange part of their harvest for the specialized services and productions of those making tools, ceramics, cloth and processed food such as bread. Not everyone was needed to produce the wheat that made the bread, not everyone was needed to make the bread from wheat. Thus human communities became differentiated on an occupational basis. Roles and hierarchies formed. Political and religious leaders arose who eventually formed elites that intermarried and became involved in ruling and staging ceremonies on a full-time basis. Militias formed to protect land and stores. Demarcation formed. Homes and lands became private.


Beyond farming and local trade, the utilization of localized natural resources in which the village and town was enmeshed came also to feature in the prospect of exchanges of materials. This denoted regional specialization and interregional trade. It further identified the prospects of one region over another, just as the fertility of one area over another become of focus to farmers and those now dependent upon farming.


Much later during feudalism when land had been apportioned and designated to elites, serfs became tied to the ground, the manor, in which they were born in, their roles fixed by their rank, and typically orientated by their parents or family occupation. Cities had grown and in them merchant and craft Guilds. Guilds have been defined as “groups of individuals with common goals.” If you check this definition on the internet you see that ‘groups of individuals with common goals” has been applied in a definition of ‘organization’, ‘a team’ ‘community’ including ‘virtual community’. Motivating, drawing together individuals under a banner is not a forgone conclusion; it is a difficult task, which requires a variety of social skills and great investments of time and other important resources. Guilds provided a social group not only for the sharing of matters regarding business – new tools, products, prices etc. – but also social welfare for member’s families and so forth.


Where the tendency is individualistic and self-seeking, self-conscious etc. trying to optimize the group towards a single goals let alone multiple tasks can prove trying (c.f. my earlier piece on such experiments at the School for Independent Study).


What people performed in those early communities and under serfdom was held within certain rules and reciprocations which were mutually, and to some extent, necessarily, attractive. Whether it was the earlier ‘free market’ of possible non-agricultural occupations or whether it was rigidly and legally enforced by law, people had to by necessity and need to organize themselves to survive and prosper. But as layers of complexity arose in terms of supply chains, trade, and occupation and power, as education, training and re-training arose, as industries and their markets have creatively destructed and those remaining shifting in their geo-economic locations in search of markets and cheap labour, then a very different sense of community arises.


My home town a real and virtual and imagined community


A few years ago I had a trip back to my home town, Arbroath, on the North East Coast of Scotland. I had a trip to the public library, still one of those foci within the local community in the center of town. In a display cabinet was an open copy of one of the local weekly newspapers – The Arbroath Herald (est. 1838). It was from the 1950s. It told a story of a very rich and vibrant social community, with a considerable amount of church activities, social clubs associated with local industries, hobbyist clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys Brigade, their as Rifle clubs, swimming clubs, schools of Dance, cycling clubs, Folk music clubs, amateur theatrics, clairvoyant evenings, three cinemas (one with 1500 person capacity), various supper-dance halls, many restaurants, including fish and chip shops where one could sit down to eat, which and hundreds of public houses. All in all, it appears as a highly social place, with many opportunities to join ‘different communities’. And given that this small town boasted its own fishing fleet and a wide range of engineering from foundries, through precision engineering to electronics, a slaughterhouse and many distributed time-served butchers and bakers, and all the other trades.


I contrast this with now. It is where a couple of ‘chain’ pubs dominate the landscape, as does the ‘out-of-town’ supermarket and other practitioners of highly systemized supply chain management of homogenized, prepared, processed, frozen and pre-packaged goods. All of course offering a pint or a chicken, or a ‘boil-in-the bag. Pub meal at a fraction of the cost of that offered by a private local seller. These communities are always open to changes wrought upon them from outside.


McDoanldisation and franchising of all forms of commerce is seductive to local and regional entrepreneurs. It includes the deskilling and ultra-rationalising of production, packaging and movement and distribution of communications and goods, even government service, by shifting to and ruthlessly applying optimisng strategies and technologies of administration. These strangle the life, the humanism, the sociability out to communities and cocoon and contain both them and their constituents in ever further tighter spheres of consumption and participation. There is no democracy at this level of ordering society and activities as everyone knows that they cannot really denote where the new supermarket should go, why it is there, what its impact will be, and the penalties and inconveniences caused if it is not allowed to go ahead. People may look around in a despondent sense and shrug and say it’s all wrecked anyway and fail to register their dissent. Imagine a new university comes to town. You believe its claims and the reputation that precedes it in all the glossy brochures and publicity. When you and others sacrifice your time and money to go there and its glossy promises are not realized you at first complain as per your democratic right [if you are fortunate to live in a place in which your ‘right’ to complain is tolerated]. If people do not listen you may protest. Afterwards the leaders of the protest are targeted for persecution. Not only do you have no-one to fearlessly and adamantly lead or represent you are threatened that if you continue your grant or allowance will be stopped. You must ‘shut-up and put-up’ that is become complicit with the order of the day, which in most respects favors the profits, political clout, and public image of those facilitating or producing the impoverished opportunity or experience. The punishing of the representative or leader is testimony to what will happen to you and your family if you choose to continue dissenting. You then learn acquiescence, going with the flow, after all, its only a couple of years and they have promised to pass you regardless of effort as long as you remain quiet. Indeed what is the incentive to now denigrate the institution from which you will receive your degree or diploma. No, better being complicit with the programme and salvaging what you can from the bad, poor or impoverished experience. It is a ‘catch-22’ or ‘double-bind’.


Jane Jacobs in the 1960s was a staunch and ardent critic of such processes of rationalization applied to town planning with its top-down perspectives and its separation of zones, activity and the people living in neighborhoods and communities. She stands alongside other of that period including Ralph Nader in his condemnation of the auto industry, “Unsafe at Any Speed”; Rachel Carson drawing attention to environmental issues, Michael Harrington’s “Other America,” Vance Packard and The Hidden Persuaders” and Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” all captured a growing disillusionment with the status quo and exposed a system they believed disenfranchised people. The too had to move against powerful commercial concerns which did not want the order of the day messed with. Hedrick Smith builds a case to argue that public policies that favor the rich have decimated the economic strength of average workers and enhanced the power of the wealthy. He shows how the United States has changed from a fairly level society to a plutocracy. So it beggars the question: “What would an economy built on principles of fairness and sustainability look like? How do we model it; where is it emerging; how do we collectively plan its strategies to fully implement it?”


Much of the data and case studies that Rachel Carson drew from were not based on original research. The scientific community had known of these findings for some time, but Carson was the first to put them all together for the general public and to draw stark and far-reaching conclusions. “Silent Spring” begins with a myth, “A Fable for Tomorrow,” in which Carson describes “a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.” Bill McKibben was the first to make a compelling case, in 1989, for the crisis of global warming in “The End of Nature.”


Arbroath suffered this in the 1970s when a new road blitzed through the old part of the town in an effort to improve the through-put to North Sea oil. It was termed a ‘by-pass’ but it came to cut through most of the older part of the town essentially making the town an urban freeway. It was supposed to genuinely by-pass the town and a road was started but it stopped in its tracks when it reached the cricket pitch where it was rumored that the more prominent middle-class members of the community were able to pressure and lobby to have it go elsewhere [I wonder if they carried the persuasive clout of the US Chamber of Commerce led business lobbying industry – an industry that now has 130 lobbyists for every Member of the Senate and House of Representatives?]


And so pretty much the heart of the ancient town round the harbor area was ripped out. The town also took the opportunity to develop ‘modern’ housing estates and destroy swathes of dwellings and local retailers which had grown pretty much organically and ad hoc as the town had industrialised. The fact remains that in many towns and cities buildings of the Victorian period were lost not least due to a general distaste for the style during the 1950s and 60s, but as time moves on we can look at the past more clearly. One need only consider aberrations of architectural style like the Appleton Tower in George Square to understand this.


The grandson of the provost of the Arbroath at the time of this by-pass, and now webmaster of a local website community which I draw upon for some of the following quotes, is quite hard on those (like myself) who no longer live in the town, to lament such decisions in hindsight.


“just because something has “always been”, does mean it always has to be. This would be where the councils judgment in planning policy, etc, comes into play.”


He clearly places responsibility for change in the hands of ‘betters’, the ‘good and the right’ those elected top public office and who have a better tap on the times and trends. This is held out in a further post where he claims that those wishing to preserve ‘character’ are verging on a romantic nostalgia which prompts him to reiterates his determinist stance.


“My point in general is that things will change, because they have to change – times change, needs change. People who lived in Arbroath 100 years ago would probably be shocked by the “state” it was in 50 years ago, and so on.”


His views are not borne out by all and contrast with that of other commentators.


“The thing is that character is one of the things which encourage people to love their surrounding. It maintains a sense of belonging and pride. While roads may have been clogged, it could have been improved. Without wholesale demolition.


Last time I was here I saw photos of the Wyndies [note: this was a dilapidated but old part of the town which most likely would have been renovated if it were in a shire town in the home counties of England]. I couldn’t believe it. My uncle was from there and while it wasn’t the bees knees at the time, by any means, it could have been such a great part of the town now. Done up and really adding to the character of the town. This place and the part of the town demolished could really have maintained a real sense of belonging and would have brought more people into the town, just as the east neuk does.”

The very reality that there are networks and flows at all is because human beings themselves are dynamic entities physically and psychically, and express themselves as such. They move about representationally online, sometimes with virtual alter-egos and in the real visceral world by subconscious default, and/or with intention. Consciousness [of something] is always intentional, and they report, share and express opinions and beliefs that can influence the perceptions of each other and to one another. These perceptions and expression concern their thoughts and feelings regarding things, inner states, and other people in the world, in their community. The community of ‘The Shoppie’ is interesting here as it is evidence of how a real community finds a mechanism to gel their memories of a time when there were perhaps more social activities that brought people together. The reality when you glance through its fascinating contents (for me due to personal experience of course) is that instead of people getting together and discussing these things – such as in a pub – they are each of them sitting at home, alone together as Turkle has it. It is a very different experience of the local then that offline, or that offered by the local newspaper.

Then there is the absence of things in locations, the absence of people and community, and contact, and even jobs or reason to get together. A programme on the History Channel, Pickers, tells the story of two men in a van who go round looking to buy for mainly 20th century Americana from collectors and hoarders. The by-line to the program is: “We make a living telling the history of America… one piece at a time.” Indeed there is a rich history of multitudinous, diverse and obscure manufacturers, retailers, toy and oil companies which is preserved in signs and objects. Each represents a world on its own. But consider places where this does not happen, where there is not the same richness in artifacts and graphic design. For instance I cannot compare this to the Cambodian town in which I live. Certainly this was settled for hundreds of years, with fishermen and others most likely hewing out their existence much in the same way at one time they were in Arbroath. But this actually material place which is now the major port for the country was fabricated with French help only in the 1960s. There are no records in this country that nevertheless is site to one of the world’s wonders ‘Angkor Wat’. However, in daily life what is remarkable is that one can see in the local markets and in the countryside the very distinctive remnants of a culture which having suffered a great deal in the attempted ‘renovations’ of the 1960s-70s where modern buildings went up and regimes were toppled leading to the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, that people still go about daily life very close to description offered of Angkor hundreds of years ago. It is an outstanding comparison to the rate of reform, change of practice and community in my home town.

This is how the world of difference is created, not just with adjectives and nouns, but also with verbs and creation and consumption of the material culture. The ethnographer Jared Diamond was set on a path haunted for 25 years by the question posed to him by Yali, a local politician in Papua New Guinea. It culminated in the influential publication of Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997).

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” (Yali, quoted in Diamond, 1997; p. p13-15).

The fact remains that contact and community, as applied [neo-]liberally to ideas, goods and services and people vary differently between locations and locales. And while there may be a Death of Distance (aka. Francis Cairncross) or a global village (McLuhan) the way one approaches the world is through the local, the grounded, the experiential reality of daily life whenever you are, wherever you are. You pass the rice paddy and see the worker in the field. Do we know for sure that given the opportunities and prior knowledge that this person could or could not become an astrophysicist, or is this something that is passed on through the genes? Meanwhile on my bus through whose window I observe the man in his field, conversations in the next row of seats are being made about the local Ice Cream. They are being voiced in the manner of entry for Nicaragua in the Lonely Planet Travel Book (a book is aimed at western coffee tables, with carefully selected and beautifully shot pictures, matched with concise details regarding 229 countries, including ‘why you should go there’):

“I’d spent my days being lectured by former Sandinista rebels and meeting three-year-old orphans, my nights getting loaded on Flor de Caña rum and dancing with gorgeous Nicaraguan men. It was and overly romantic 23-year-old leftist’s dream come true.”

This is a world where poverty and torture prisons and orphans now feature as commodities to be consumed and as a motivation to go there. I let my son play in the park once on the Riverside in Phnom Pehn. He was playing with some other kids when some western 20-somethings came up and befriended them. They lifted them up and the young western women took photos of them smiling and laughing on the young western men’s shoulders. Before they left they handed out money, alms really, for the kids. I leapt up and went across and took the money from my son’s hand and politely gave it back. The young girl came back; “Oh are you the father, she ventured suspiciously, “we thought he was kidding us on that his parents were here… and that he is British…” The middle-class Cambodian parents whose kids also didn’t need hand-outs just sat and watched. On reflection I wonder if they would do this in a park in Arbroath, and if they did what the reaction would be then?

The Zen of Exchange and Mart

In February 2009, The Exchange and Mart, (formally the Bazaar, Exchange and Mart and the Journal of the Household) newspaper collapsed. After 141 years it died and entered the void. Its virtual manifestation, shadow, its ghost if you will, remained and is fully functional online with the added benefit to users that it is now free.

The wife of Edward William Cox, “the greatest entrepreneur of ‘class’ journalism,”, a lawyer and keen collector of Orchids and with interests in psychology, faced a problem. Like many others of her social stature at the time she also had an interest in collecting. Her collection of Lepidoptera was missing a crucial specimen. In hindsight we can sympathise with how bothersome this would have been, indeed a problem needing solution. She had a brainwave and publicised her needs and requirements in a periodical called ‘Queens’ that her husband owned. Other people copied her requests and even started asking for an even more diverse range of items and products. An exchange department had to be built as the journal’s offices to handle the widely increasing scope and scale of queries.

Noticing this new development Mr Cox realised that considerable opportunity lay in starting an entire journal dedicated to the exchange, advertisement and sale of nearly everything that could be categorised and articulated. And so he produced a paper which would foster the “possibilities of this new development” and “supply the want that had been indicated in so singular a manner.” Two divisions were formed one for barter and exchange of items and the other for the sale of items. As its popularity grew it came to be published twice, and then three times, weekly. A piece regarding its origins ends with a proud proclamation that of the “81 imitators” which entered their market, all “have met the fate that such plagiarism so richly deserves.”

And so 141 years later the print newspaper finally joined those imitators in the void. This was largely due to the decline of the classified ads market in print and by the rise of online competitors such as eBay and Craigslist, new and powerful competitors against which its own online version must co-exists with today.

But in 1974 I was an avid fan of martial arts, and was scanning through the Exchange and Mart looking for rare books which could give me an edge in my practice. An advertisement from someone in Sussex wetted my interest. Although following the popular mood at the time which was skewed towards Chinese marital arts, over and above Japanese I read with interest the advertisement for a Jaanese book. I ordered it. About a week later a package arrived A Book of Five Rings: A Guide to Strategy
translated by Victor Harris (Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1974)

I was disappointed. Although a good looking book, with some artistic illustrations, the author, Miyomoto Musashi, a Japanese ‘sword saint’ rarely goes into specific details on techniques or actual tactics but rather gives advice on the philosophy of how one should react in a given situation. The books ambiguities might be compared to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, another book on military strategy from the East Asian tradition. While these books have been accrued the distinction of guiling Japanese corporate managers to their phenomenal industrial success in the 1970s and 80s, the message for one wishing to learn the fastest and strongest methods of grappling and punching and kicking was lost.

But as my interest, and general interest (yes it was a ‘fad’) in martial arts waned over the years I still had that book in my possession and found that unlike those tomes informing me how to do one finger press-ups while breathing properly, the messages held in the Book of Five Rings resounded and have stayed with me through life. Miyomoto Musashi’s ‘ voice’ if you want, remained sticky. The style of this writing is very similar to McLuhan probes or manifesto aphorisms, or Socratic methods of teaching, or even indirect hypnosis, or even Rogerian therapy they are meant for you to flesh out and to make of things as they are without necessary recourse to the comments, criticisms, approvals of authorities and interpreters. They provoke you to draw upon your store of experiences and associations to interpret them, rather like how Rosharch ink blobs work.

They are meant to invoke the spirit of critical thinking (do you agree with the claims or evidence?) as well as creative thinking (how do you join the dots?). There is a poetic licence in all of us, clearly enabled or hindered by the programming we have received by those who had influence upon us as we grew (authorities, parents and media) and by us exploiting and exploring whatever free agency we have in this pre-fabricated, pre-ordained designed environment (of thought and of action). Free will and human-computer interaction even movement within the built environment are each challenged by the available store of knowledge which helps us not only to know what is useful, relevant and meaningful, but perhaps more importantly, how to recognise what is useful, relevant and meaningful. Furthermore, free will and human-computer interaction even movement within the built environment are also challenged by the available pre-designated attributes of the environment, culture or society, interface elements and doors, halls and passageways. These define and also shape each other in the meld between what we perceive, what we think and do about it, and what is common, available and possible. Constructivist notions enter the equation as we draw upon universally accepted manners, schemas and ways of seeing that connect and unify us to varying extents and permit any semblance of a notion of community. Phenomenology is there also, as one examines how things situations and events present themselves to consciousness articulated in recurring themes, which again have social relevance.

The central theme of The Book of Five Rings (五輪書, Go Rin No Sho) is ‘strategy’, it could be ‘intentionality’ and the lessons that for me leave a lasting impression concerned ‘true understanding’ and the importance of practice; of practising one’s arts, one’s discipline, one’s techniques. Practising until third nature becomes second nature, becomes first nature. It reduces the risk of your intention being contaminated with the opponent’s randomness or discipline. It seems that in this age, when knowledge is plentiful and experience lacking, I believe there is much to be learned from Musashi’s wisdom. As he says in The Book of Five Rings: “Do nothing that is of no use”.

Does data really go to the void mother?

In the 1980s I was deeply involved in computer music dabbling in the rock and pop industry then moving to the production of film and video tracks and even music for therapy. I composed music in my London based studio using an Atari 1040 ST. As my projects were rather large I started to experience storage problems. Floppi disks were simply not large enough. I managed to get hold of an external SH204 hard drive. It held 20mb of data. With no internal memory one had to save work on a standard 3 12-inch floppy disk with a capacity of 720 KB or 1.44 MB.

I had been working on a project pretty much flat out for several months, when one day I switched on the machine and googly-gook appeared on the screen. After switching off and switching on again, re-booting, the desktop returned but it also informed me that the disk was unreadable and needed formatting. I felt inconsolable that my flow, my work in progress, my creativity had stopped, it had simply disappeared.

I visited a friend more knowledgeable in computers than me informed me that the data was unrecoverable. I was left to ponder how I could recreate something like 3 hours of music composition, months of careful symbol manipulation and sculpting, gentle jostling of minute elements, could just evaporate, go to the void. It really set me back as considerable investment had been made on this project. I had some recordings on tape that had been made, and I had considerable knowledge of how to operate the software – that is I had learned. I had also some idea of how the tracks were made, but all the ‘doing’ had evaporated. All the nuances, the fiddly parts which I spent time perfecting, iterating, the detail would never return, even the mistakes which became accommodated into the piece, the chance operations, the serendipity which often happens in the most rational acts of creation were all gone. Just as when someone dies and nobody knows what happens when they do, and ultimately why they do, the question was left – where did my data disappear to exactly? It was the first time someone asked me “didn’t you back it up?” Yes, and with that incredulous tone of chastisement for someone supposedly so intelligent to act so incredibly dumb.

I had to begin again and try and recreate. The second time around was not really like the first, I was way past my deadline and I had to take my work for a temporary relocation to Australia, where my son was being born. He couldn’t wait. In the moving I left a box of my recordings in my London flat which was being care taken by some friends. It was by accident as most of my other possessions I took back to Scotland to put in storage. That box should’ve been on top of the pile. When I finally returned a year later, it turned out that the caretakers had a house guest who had used some of the cassette tapes to record some acting renditions they were doing. What were left were mere fragments of my earlier work going back to the late 1970s, including my very first recordings, then it would cut to someone chanting or a satanic ritual.

Losing stored material is not just digital it affects all storage media. I felt cheated and denied, stripped of my assets, my identity, my life, my work, my experiences. I wore it as the price you pay if you are not signed as part of a major record deal and lodge a copy of your work on every bookcase, album collection or, now, hard drive.

Later I saw how my early websites, my email addresses, my server spaces, all evaporated as I left institutions or failed to pay my fees. I lost about a hundred addresses when our idea crashed in the wake of the bubble burst. There is no permeance online, only change.

In the 1990s with the advent of writable CD-ROMs the problem of back-up seemed to have been solved. I took to backing up my files. When I travelled abroad in 2002, I brought the two 20GB hard drives with me from the desktop PCs in my home. I also lodged various CD-ROMs with my son in Edinburgh. When I tried to retrieve the material using an external hard drive connection, both disks, due to some technical malfunction failed. It turned out later that the drive company Maxtor admitted that this model had in fact manifested some problems. This wiped out several book ideas I was working on, and when I tried to locate the disks that had backed-up my son, who had just moved house with his mother, indicated that the box was no-where to be seen. This meant that the sum total of my creative assets were now only in hard copies as part of my library which was in a container storage in my home town in Scotland. This contained all my archives, including such personal stuff as photographs and videos, paintings that I had done at art college, as well as all my accumulated research materials, and my music which was stored on various media 24- 16- 8- and 4 track magnetic tape, cassettes, DAT, and Iomega zip disks. There were also all the plans I had made for a restaurant project I had designed, branded and had worked on, and reviews I had written for the Good Food Guide, many other things which I had done.

In Nov. 2010, I had relocated to head up a university in Botswana and later Lesotho, ironically a university of creative technology. My things were shipped out from Scotland to Africa and took a year to arrive. They arrived 3 weeks before I was informed of my wife’s sudden demise in Cambodia. I had to return to look after our then, 5 year old son. To date the firm I worked with has not released my possessions and to all effects, they are lost, as is my degree certificates (last reported to be in Malaysia), the broken hard drives which I was waiting to repair.

On the 10th Nov. 2012, less than a week ago at the time of writing. Someone had crept into my hotel room on a visit to Phnom Pehn the Cambodia capital where I was visiting a school as an advisor and researcher. I had, since bringing this process of addressing the Online Manifesto’s aphorisms taken to writing a considerable amount of notes and work which I hoped to condense into a book. I had also written a draft on a book on The History of education in Cambodia, with a view of its offering a commentary on the state of global education today. That and much of my accumulated research data and materials were lost. For each of these aphorisms were as much as a hundred pages of notes. Some of them were already being polished.


All I could imagine was reaction of the recipient of the stolen device.


Shaking his or her head and indicating to the selling thief that this is an out-dated model in not very good condition and offering a fraction of what I paid to the thief. The I imagine their bemusement as they boot it up and find the open browsers in 5 windows each with an average of 15-20 tabs open and flicking through without any recognition of understanding, the pages depicting anything from Heidegger’s idea of time, through marital arts philosophies, theories of consumption, user experience pages, medieval art, experimental music, discussions of geo-politics, Greek recipe ideas for octopus, sustainable architecture, government reports on education initiatives, and so on and on – all of these things would move to other constellations of thought and symbol mashings tomorrow – but they would not see sense. They would like to maybe see pornographic images, or better still clues to how to access my banks accounts. I would have paid double for the computer to have my files back; in fact I would have saved them on an 8 GB removable drive and given them the computer and a bounty to have my work back. But I had no control over this. And the next scenario I envisage is the delete button being pressed again and again, or windows being reloaded.


I can put this data loss with all the micro operations I have done. Filling out online forms only to have them return with the data missing because I have not submitted in the manner the system prefers. Doing this again and again and rewriting and inputting until you give up and think it is a javascript or cookie or other local problem. What happens to all that wasted energy? It goes to the void.


I still have no answer to where all that energy and work and thought goes, apart from the void. What remains is the skills, some inkling of the knowledge gleaned in discovery, and that which is left deposited online.


In one act of taking stock like Robinson Crusoe, of what can be salvaged, I noted that one of my wordpress sites which I used to support my teaching had been suspended. It only took a quick message before the situation was cleared up. An automated anti-spam routine had suspended it and now it was restored.


It came back from the void. This piece written in the aftermath of the loss by the indomitable author is also not backed-up. I like living on the edge a little, within limits.

Digital strategy defined in Wikipedia as @ the process of specifying an organization’s vision, goals, opportunities and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of digital initiatives to the organization.” It is like any design and creative activity future orientated as an activity. This no different, it demands no clutter, it demands agility and streamlining. But there also has to be burr, chaos, time spent selecting at first mentally and then physically just what one should do. I remember my supervisor on the Ph.D. remarking that the first year is spent scratching the head just probing what it is to be researched. This is the non-productive, humanistic, ‘pure’ university modality defended first by Bishop John Newman in his ‘The idea of the university’ and which remains defended till today by the likes of Stephan Collini as a reason not to place the academy under further reigns of economic relevancy and scientific management. Finding problems, making problems, situating problems, problematizing suffers under the pressure, the lust for ‘managerially relevant’ results, whether this is tips of ‘best practice’ that industry can understand, or ever more mundane and irrelevant academic publishing in order to further careers and contribute to research assessment exercises and by extension league table rankings. As Einstein noted – ‘we cannot solve problems using the language that created them’. It is important that metadesigners try to re-language new concepts and to create possibilities that go beyond what was previously ‘thinkable’. These then can never be relevant to the future, but only to the present or the past, as innovation and ingenuity is culled in favour of short term meaningfulness.

The very nature of these concepts being applied in education have arisen through the mashing of management school theorists, consulting companies and engineering philosophies and techniques of industry (i.e. Demings influence on the reorganisation of Japanese industrial thinking) melded with the traditional wisdom as explicated in eastern philosophies as captured in Japanese and Chinese classical texts and religions. So it is no surprise then that Larry Ellison, co-founder and chief executive of Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s leading enterprise software companies the third wealthiest American citizen, views himself as a Samurai warrior in business. [elision japnese]
 [take down notice]

But there is a danger in that too mechanistic a view of education will create an implosion. At worst it can focus too much upon ‘ performance’, ‘effectiveness’ and ‘efficiency’ – terms which derive from already disputed notions of ‘scientific management’ in industry. Rote learning has been viewed as crippling education in Asia. While it has produced good results when applied to the learning of foundational knowledge such as the alphabet and basic numeracy, practices which rely of the application of heuristic and algorithmic thinking, it wanes when encouraging the kind of fluid, creative, entrepreneurial and inventive thinking which leads to innovation and re-visioning problems in the world.

What is worse is that this overly restricted view of education also takes place in sites where academic fraudsters of varying hues and colours are also working. Some are out and out degree mills with elaborate websites, and offering prestigious and official looking transcripts and documents for little work. Others add stage props, buildings, tables, chairs, computer labs, the ostensive trappings of a school or university, but fall short on investing in proper curriculum design and hiring properly qualified or motivated teachers. All effort is focused upon getting those enrolment fees and extras upfront, which means more concentration on branding and marketing than teaching, learning and assessment. Anyone pulling them up on weak teaching, learning and assessment are faced with incredulous retorts that they are 21st century, moving towards the future of education and looking for other forms of assessing than essays and written exams. The egg is left on your face as you appeal for rigour and properly articulated evidence that learning has taken place at all.

Breaking jobs and tasks up in industry has a history which goes back to Adam Smith in his ideas of industrial specialisation. This is what is used in the sweat shops of the world today, where a largely illiterate uneducated work force perform monotonous tasks of repetition presented to them in such a manner that they can hardly fail. Is this the way to move in education. One online outfit I worked for praised the idea of ‘chop and cut’ – that is to get down to bite [or is it byte?] chunks which can be easily absorbed and of course sold. I am sure Jacques Derrida would appreciate the deconstruction but yes, what I have written here and in all the rest of these replies and musings on the Online Manifesto for online learning, is based upon the 26 letters of the English alphabet and a few other symbols to boot. It’s the configuration that hopefully adds value and the rendition of the state of mind which produced them that counts. If this can be evidenced in other ways than the traditional essay which shows command of thought, and meaningful associations then fine, show me. But working in design teaching illustrated that a final product providing it meets with learning outcomes and shows them [shows them all???] means only one things phenomenologically – that is the subjective relevance of the piece on show. It does not entail that this can be accomplished again. I have had argu7ed that I “read between the lines” and somehow intuit the intelligence beyond the writing of a person who was admitted not having command of the language of instruction at the time of the writing or exam, which only goes to show the efficacy of the teaching and lecturing effort. Instead of inductive Socratic methods being invoked by the teacher/facilitator on the students to make them think, it is rather invoked on the examiner or marker. It is they that must stare at the Rorschach blot. Place this inside an private education sector bureaucracy which preaches “If a student fails, you [the teacher] are a failure”, and backs this up with an exacting regime of quasi-legal persecution where you must present documented facts and evidence that your failure of the student is merited then corruption quickly follows where suddenly everybody passes. There is no evidence that they understood a damn thing, and I am supposed to invent their abilities beyond their ability to articulate themselves. There is simply no benefit in failing a student from the student, parent, teacher, administrator, school, political point of view. This is rubbish. It is as Mushashi has it “bewilderment”. It is what Gregory Bateson referred to as the ‘double-bind’.

A problem of those who have learned by rote is that they are so specialised, just like the genius of ‘big blue’, the computer which beat Kasparov in 1997, but still can’t make a cup of tea properly, they falter if they have to sew on a sleeve opposed to a collar. It is dramatically restricted domain knowledge. In digital terms and with the rise of personalization is of course the notion of the ‘echo-chamber’ where all one consolidates, say in terms of news feeds, is that which one is a priori interested in. As no extraneous knowledge, data, news, alternatives are amassed, they are all filtered if you want, then one in theory may develop in depth knowledge regarding a specialist subject that only members or other ‘fans’ can relate to, but is exceedingly boring for those outside this group. Buddhists and Daoists such as Musashi have frequently emphasized that the categories with which we understand our experience can drastically restrict the range of possibilities we can see [he speaks of the twofold gaze perception and sight]. Artistic and technological creativity may often emerge from overcoming the limitations imposed on us by the subconscious processes that, usually without our noticing it, impose categories on our experience [this is more like McLuhan, Harold Innis, Benjamin].


I can put my hands up as a weirdo outside the ‘bell curve’ and admit that most of those at the top of the hit parade in Google Zeigeist is of little to no interest to me, I would be fine if they simply didn’t exist But life’s rich tapestry is not only populated by me thank goodness, and there is market for those dreamers who would like to live and love like the stars, or think they do already. Come to think of it I don’t need a lawnmower ether, or a Mercedes Viano VITO 120 SPORT X CDI [even if it has Unmarked Brabus split Rim wheels]. but I am not that emotionally marred by my data loss that I would want to prevent others invoking their free will to purchase via the pages of the online Exchange and Mart. They are all part of the community of actors and actants of actor-network theory. After all we are not in a position to explain, even with fMRI, how information from the senses manages to lead to fully-formed conceptual judgments… yet.

Now let us consider this against an interesting web find of piece that is in fact an interview with a Japanese scholar in a <a href=””>martial arts magazine</a>:





<blockquote>A master pushes you to develop the more deeply how to see things, the art of looking and observation – because if he teaches and explains to you everything he shuts down your capacity to survive and to adapt yourself, for a warrior this is impossible and, if you apply this to Ninjutsu, it’s more deeper. You cannot teach, if you teach it’s like a condemnation if you want, you put him in a place where he cannot do anything. It’s like if you help someone to eat, you always cut up his food and after he always waits for that, because humans are like this, we take automatism very quickly. So first, there is no teacher – teacher is for fixed things, sports things, school; this is reason why the word Ryu cannot be translated as school, because primary master and foundation of ryu never acted like teacher, he never had a dojo. He was the dojo: wherever place he goes.</blockquote>


Computers filled a void for many people, in other cases they merely displaced other activities, and in other cases still they replaced some activities. Computer games have promised an opportunity to make a mistake in the midst of the fray and to simply press ‘restart’ when you fail or get killed. The second time around your skills have improved and your awareness of the potential dangers are heightened. This ability to try and retry multiple or even an infinite amount of times in iterative loops is a possibility of computation. It is not like the real world of craft, where one slip and the hand-hewn wood carving is ruined, or the real world of combat where one slip, one moment in which there is lack of focus means death forever.

Repeating things ad nauseusm is a particular talent of the machine until of course it breakdowns. It is a talent it can train us in. But in most cases beyond the world of gaming we prefer not to have to engage in boring and repetitive operations and work. The very origins of the computer with Babbage in the 18th century was about mitigating the monotonous work of ‘ calculators’ – the title for humans who did the calculations on paper before publishing their work in books of tables for convenient use by others. And as they did so, mechanical computers were also much more accurate than the humans. They never tired until they break down. Speed, reduction of labour, and accuracy.


Now you may wonder what has this got to do with ‘Community and contact’ . And will retort “much!”


It strikes me that as you move through time and space in these times of motilities you may typically have different sets of friends depending on circumstances. I personally have always disliked the term virtual community as it suggests something that stops short on a real community, summed up in an idea like “it’s virtually a real community”. But in fact I have found this to be accurate. I was a member of a community. It had open and private ‘ elite’ areas. I can still access it and do from time to time. Its not a repository of publishable ideas, but I can still get some inkling into what I was doing at the time, if I can decode the obscure alter-ego I built and perpetrated. I sued this community not really for its support and friendship, but to be honest as a sandpit to test out ideas of how far you could rock the boat with an online persona. You started to see the moral dispositions, you started to see the polarisations, you started to identify with those who you would be prepared to meet in real life and those you considered insincere. The problem with virtual community is that all these things are going on in kind of forced way. The ritual becomes like my experience at the School for Independent Study, we were in groups of our own choosing doing topics or themes of our own choosing but we were still within a structure which bore hardly any relation to an truly auto poetic group that may form in the real world. In other words we would never have found each other in the big bad open world in the first place, and we would not all suddenly at the same time, synchronically decide to do a project together, and we would have much more exaggerated problems in determining what precisely we would ‘like’ to do. Therein lies the simulation that is community in the learning context.


Exactly the same goes for contact. I can stipulate the rules and regulations for ‘contact hours’ but I cannot force these upon persons. You can give someone the means, such as give them a telephone, but you cannot make them contact others, and especially so if they have no one’s number, or have no reason to call, or have nobody to call. You can offer and suggest contact hours, attendances or presence, you can remind persons of the consequences if they do not participate but you cannot force contact or community.


And what happens in the absence of contact and community? Didn’t Defoe’s Crusoe character thrive eventually, reaching a stage of material and cognitive self- sufficiency? He was a fictional character but in real life there will always be those who are removed, quiet and introverted. I can remember how they, quiet members of the group in The School for Independent Study, were praised by the loud outwardly, domineering and boisterous, those boasting group working skills, who at once speaking of words like ‘community’ and insisted on everyone hugging each other much to the dismay of the female black Muslim group member, demanded that they wished to “hear what the quiet group members’ think…” even then, quiet group members just smiled, they were shy or simply had nothing to add, just much to take away and think about. Perhaps the deepest truths of life are communicated in silence by example.



“Someone who does not see a pane of glass does not that he does not see it. Someone else who, being in a different position, does see it, does not know the other does not see it. Someone who, being placed differently, does see it, is not aware that the other person does not see it. When our will finds expression externally to us, through actions performed by others, we do not spend our time or our power of attention in investigating whether they have consented to this.” Simone Weil.


Atmospheric CO2 levels were recorded at 400ppm (i.e. well past the much feared ‘tipping point’ of 350ppm) Guardian, 1st June 2012. Also, species are now disappearing at a frightening rate (faster now than for 600 million years). Many scientists agree that that a major climatic catastrophe could happen this century, with some experts) believing we may already at the cusp of irreversible climate changes. However, democratic governments are unlikely to change the paradigm that underlies the problem. This is partly because their methods (e.g. targets, taxes, penalties) are too indirect to change hearts and minds.

About this entry