Friday Five: Grief, heresy and urban playgrounds

The bonding power of grief – Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post

This has gone so viral, you’ve probably already seen it. I include it here because it is poignant, raw and hopeful, as well as utterly heart-breaking. I wept, because what we have is so fragile, and so beautiful. It took a brave woman to share this, and a compassionate one to respond to almost every one of the hundreds of messages the post inspired.

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Google goes deep, via Quartz

Now that summer’s here, at least in Spain, this sounds particularly refreshing: Google Street view lets you explore the sea bed. It sounds a lot cheaper than scuba-diving classes, right?

google underwater

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Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools, from The Atlantic

Beware the myth of the transformative powers of technology. Kentaro Toyama (who’s book “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology” I really want to read) points out that technology is not the cure, vitamin or panacea for the education system. Technology amplifies. It does not fix a biased system. It may bring increased access to the less privileged. But it doesn’t show them what to do with that increased access. Sure, the especially intelligent few will figure it out. But are we OK with leaving it at that?

“Technology at school may level the playing field of access, but a level field does nothing to improve the skill of the players, which is the whole point of education. “

I’ve just finished Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” in which he stresses that technology is a complement to humanity, not a substitute. And although he is talking more about business applications, the same could be said of school. Good teachers will always be needed, human relationships will be valuable throughout your life, and technology is no more than an efficiency enhancer.

“I call it technology’s “Law of Amplification”: Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.

Amplification seems like an obvious idea—all it says is that technology is a tool that augments human power. But, if it’s obvious, it nevertheless has profound consequences that are routinely overlooked. For example, amplification explains why large-scale roll-outs of educational technology rarely result in positive outcomes. …

An even bigger problem is that administrators rarely allocate enough resources to adapt curricula or train teachers. Where teachers don’t know how to incorporate digital tools appropriately, there is little capacity for the technology to amplify.”

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The world’s longest glass bridge, via Wired

Seriously, whose bright idea was this? I mean, it’s beautiful and all, but…

glass bridge

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The myth of the “good, steady job” and the lure of the hefty paycheck – from The Guardian

Go, Cambridge! Big firms are charged a fee to be able to try to recruit from the graduating class, so that the university can pay the train fare for non-profits, so that they can do the same. Show the kids that the lots-of-money route is not always the most meaningful.

“We have but one life. However much money we make, we cannot buy it back. As far as self-direction, autonomy and social utility are concerned, many of those who enter these industries and never re-emerge might as well have locked themselves in a cell at graduation. They lost it all with one false step, taken at a unique moment of freedom.”

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Internet to the next billion – from TechCrunch

Few of us deny that bringing Internet access to relatively undeveloped areas will help human progress and local economies. But, few of us see a clear solution as to how to do that. Should governments pay for that? Well, yes, but what if they can’t? Private enterprise, as in Google, Facebook or the telecoms? Altruism is fine, but it generally comes with conditions.

“Right now $219 billion is being spent on advertising in emerging markets, but over 90 percent is spent on traditional ad models, like billboards and television ads. Surely there are enough hungry brands out there that will pay to get in front of these newly connected populations (and offset data costs for accessing the Internet) if the tech community builds the platforms for them to do so. And then, just like free ad-supported cable television, or free ad-supported radio, I truly believe that advertising can be the gateway to the Internet, rather than the gatekeeper.”

It’s worth a try, right?

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The ultimate urban playground, via Colossal

This urban playground in St. Louis looks like SO much fun.


Some of what it offers:

“So what can you find at the City Museum? How about a sky-high jungle gym making use of two repurposed airplanes, two towering 10-story slides and numerous multi-floor slides, a rooftop Ferris wheel and a cantilevered school bus that juts out from the roof, subterranean caves, a pipe organ, hundreds of feet of tunnels that traverse from floor to floor, an aquarium, ball pits, a shoe lace factory, a circus arts facility, restaurants, and even a bar… because why not? All the materials used to build the museum including salvaged bridges, old chimneys, construction cranes, and miles of tile are sourced locally, making the entire endeavor a massive recycling project.”

A group of local artists take care of the design and upkeep, constantly adding new features. Almost worth visiting St. Louis for.

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Virtual reality, round 2 – from The Guardian

Virtual reality technology is not new. The first headsets hit game arcades back in the 90s. But then, they sort of disappeared into the archives of retro gadgets. Now, they’re back, slicker and badder than ever. And they’re being heralded as the New New Thing of digital technology, set to shape our leisure time and even our learning. So, what happened?

“The original bust in VR came when first-generation products were crushed by the weight of expectations. So what led to the renaissance of VR – and why has it taken so long?

Waldern reckons a key reason is that games, which were the main consumer-facing use for VR, shifted to a different set of genres.”

It’s still expensive and a bit clunky, although it’s advancing not by steps but by leaps. I have one of Google’s Cardboard VR headsets that set me back all of €10, and it’s amazing. And an Oculus Rift is definitely on my Christmas list (yes, I know they’re not commercially available until 2016, I don’t mind a raincheck, really).

“But it’s not the military, or even games, which might be the most effective users of VR. One can imagine scores of scenarios where it would be transformative. Planning your next holiday? Why not “visit” the alternatives first, via a headset? Games, exploration, psychiatry and many other fields could all be revolutionised. “Sex, of course,” says Stone. “We’ve seen some crazy devices coming out of Japan.” He points to healthcare, education and training as other fields that are most likely to take it up quickly.”

Weird, captivating, and a bit disturbing. Will it be huge? Or will we get tired of it? How will it change how we value “real” experience? Will there ever be a danger of confusing the two?

Watch this space, in lots of dimensions.


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