For me Bruce Sterling is one of those challenging writers/speakers who always takes up far more time than that required to read/listen to him.

The podcast of his talk at SXSW ran a little less than an hour but it’s already generated several hours of follow up searching and reading.

In part of Sterling’s presentation he offers his analysis (not always kind) of the concept “commons-based peer production”, a term coined by Yochai Benkler in his book The Wealth of Networks to describe collaborative systems such as Wikipedia and open source software projects.

Sterling offered one quote from Benkler that especially triggered some questions and thoughts that might be relevant for those of us in edtech.

In order to make this work, we have to understand that computers are platforms for self-expression rather than well-behaved appliances.

Could that be one reason why the integration of technology into education has been so slow, not to mention largely incomplete?

We’ve been trying to sell computers to teachers as appliances instead of creative devices. Put this box in your classroom, run this software, and it will do a specific job for you, just like your television set.

Is the disconnect between teachers and students when it comes to technology due to the fact that the kids have already figured out that computers are tools for self-expression? Computers that include the one in their pocket with the annoying ring tone.

I’ve only read part of Benkler’s book (the whole thing can be downloaded free), but both he and Sterling offer some interesting insight about how the social and business worlds are changing, ideas we as educators need to consider.

The world they’re discussing is not the one we grew up in. But it’s the world in which the kids we’re responsible for educating are living.

bruce sterling, yochai benkler