Kangaroos On the Way to Uni

I usually ride to RMIT, it’s anything from an hour to an hour and a half (the lounger one is around about 40 kilometres) and quite a bit of it is along the river. Last week in Heidelberg there were three kangaroos, happily grazing in the paddock by the path, in the shadow of a very busy road. They would have come down the river from Templestowe, where there is a mob of 50 or 60 living around Westerfold’s Park (I often take international visitors there as I can guarantee them seeing a lot of kangaroos 30 minutes from the centre of the city, up close). To get there they’ve gone under a bridge, on a particularly narrow part of the river, or have actually crossed a very busy road. The problem is getting back again. So, you know, I was concerned for them.

This week I saw one of them again, nearly at Ivanhoe. Alone, bounding in panic along a fence line before sailing over it. Lost, alone, stressed. I don’t know if the others returned and its now alone, or if the three are still in there somewhere. There’s plenty to eat, but they’re social animals and they’re lost. I love that I see kangaroos on my daily commute. I’m surprised at how anxious I am for them.


Returning to some of the various things touched in the first unlecture. Speculative writing. This is the fancy term given to things like science fiction, but it includes lots of other things too. What I glossed over are the qualities about speculative writing that I think matter. This isn’t about fandom Trekkie whatever, so if you’re a Trekkie, sorry. Like design fiction, or at least some of the claims made for design fiction, what I like about speculative fiction is the way that it offers writing as a way to think with and through things.

The example I used was China Miéville’s Embassytown. The point I made (lightly) in the unlecture was that you need to move from your own position of knowing towards it for it to work. It is then an invitation, and a demand. It has an imperative. If I don’t suspend my demand (“tell me, NOW, what a voidcraft is”) then the work won’t do its job, which is to describe and propose a possible world where I need to learn its terms. Not the other way round – I am supplicant, not master. This is, I think, a useful model to think about my relationship to knowledge and learning broadly.

The second point, which I didn’t raise, was that speculative fiction is a deeply epistemological way of writing. Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge, so it is about how we know things. In Embassytown, for example, the main location is home to a species that has a very specific and literal method of speaking. So the novel actually becomes a long meditation on semiotics and linguistics, without actually saying so. But that’s just being clever. What I really mean is that on this planet there is something called “biorigging” which means the indigenous species grows its technology. Guns are living things. As are houses. There are farms that produce them. None are described in any great detail, they don’t really need to be. Now, let me be very clear. It is not the science fiction that matters deeply. It is the speculative thought. So, in the novel, without needing to justify it, it takes the terms of technology as biological literally, and just simply thinks with it. So you get a phrase like “He fired and the gun-animal opened its throat and howled.” Or the houses grow, which means they produce an atmosphere (since living things all breathe), but also they might listen since they as living things why wouldn’t they have ears. Later, they watch, because of course if they have ears they could as easily have eyes.

This is also why design fiction is a useful methodology. It establishes terms and then thinks with them. Not about them, which would get bogged down in why (“why can a light sabre cut through anything?” “why can a jedi do mind tricks?” “why is there a force?”) but takes them as givens and then develops ideas and propositions on this basis. It is speculative, imaginative, creative, playful, and serious.

Some First Week Observations

In no particular order

  • when we say these blogs are for as long as you want them, and you will use them in other subjects, what we are really saying is “you can have these blogs for as long as you want, even after you graduate, and you will use them in other subjects”, so, um, why call it something like “my networked media blog”? #justsayin
  • to write a link manually (using html), for instance in a footer so you can link to the disclaimer page, you don’t just write the url, you need to write <a href=”http://www.mediafactory.org.au/disclaimer/”>disclaimer&lt/a>, whatever appears as the URL (the web address) will be where the link goes, and the text between the > and </a> will appear as the link text – what you click on
  • an about page or even in your footer if you want lets you tell people who you are, and how to get in touch. This is important since, like it or not, you’re now a publisher and as a publisher readers should be able to send you an email. To ask, question, complain, invite. And the about page shifts this three year online portfolio of your abilities from being anonymous to being about you. Put your name there, write some stuff, in about three weeks your blog should nearly have a Google page rank of 1
  • when you write about something else, in a blog, or online, link to it, if to a blog then you always link to the individual post, the network is crafted by its links

02 Readings (to be Done by Class Three)

Design Fiction

Design is about changing what is, so is forward looking. What does it mean for you to think of yourselves (even now) as doing things that can effect change, as media knowledge makers, and students, rather than reporting back what you already know? Design fiction is a method used in design research and practice, it is what is influencing the idea to write ‘speculatively’ in our wiki.


Bosch, Torie. “Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling Explains the Intriguing New Concept of Design Fiction.” Slate. Web. 29 July 2013. (PDF)

Ward,, Matthew. “Design Fiction as Pedagogic Practice.” Medium. Web. 29 July 2013. (PDF)

Maybe One Of

Both of these are very academic, situating design fiction in the context of design research. YMMV.

Grand, Simon, and Martin Wiedmer. “Design Fiction: A Method Toolbox for Design Research in a Complex World.” Proceedings of the Design Research Society Conference. 2010. (PDF)

This is a difficult read. Part 2 you can skip unless you’re into the history and philosophy of science, or might be. Part 3 has abstract discussion about what the ‘toolbox’ needs to have, which is useful, if you can follow the abstractions (or ask about them).

KNUTZ, EVA, THOMAS MARKUSSEN, and POUL RIND CHRISTENSEN. “The Role of Fiction in Experiments Within Design, Art & Architecture.” n. pag. Print. (PDF)

01 unlecture

A weekend and now there is quite a busy flow coming out of the media factory!

Arthur slides from liking the opportunity to experiment to a political slogan. I’m not sure what the connection is, but yes, we support valid experimentation. Chantelle’s take away idea revolves around the difference between knowing what and know how, or in her case know what and ‘being’. Being is a very big word in philosophy, and some of that resonance matters here. Know what is now solved by our digital tools, know how isn’t. And being is a question of, let’s call it cool. There’s no manual there, you know that to be ‘cool’ in whatever you do outside of uni (footy, your band, ballet, poetry, getting in to clubs) is not about ticking clear explicit boxes. It’s trickier than that, isn’t it? Lina also picked up on the distinction between know what versus know how. Glad to see that this has started plant some brain worms out there.

Alexandra comments on self directed learning, and the proliferation of new technologies. Let’s be clear. There have always been new technologies, and always been moral panics about new media, the rub for us right now is that the new technologies are fundamentally changing the DNA of what the media is. Well, they’ve already changed it, its just that some institutions are very wealthy and so, like large dinosaurs, get to hold out for longer than others.

Denham’s takeaways? T shaped people (here’s an explanation from a business management perspective, and a local ad specifically asking for T shaped people).

Finally, Jake, unknowingly, launches into Mode II learning by acknowledging not so much failure but not quite success, and then thinking through why he wants to be at university. Questions about why usually are much more apparent to those who were told ‘no’ first.

Argyris and Double Loops

Edward has a go at trying to read the web page I set about Chris Argyris. It’s directed at organisational learning which is itself about knowledge management (how do you know what the people in a company or institution know, how do they know what others might know? and in the context of Argyis’s work, in a knowledge economy, how can an institution learn since in a knowledge economy making more knowledge = growth). Yes, make mistakes. Notice them. The double loop bit is the thing that matters though. Single loop – you make a mistake you try a different way of doing it. Double loop, you go back and look at the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing and question that. Double loop means you pay attention to the framing assumptions you have, which includes your habits and the real way you usually go about doing things.

James‘ has this, where the double loop is explicitly thought about. I’d push it a bit further so that it might not be more budget but how you could make/do things differently with the same budget (rarely do you have the opportunity as a solution of throwing more money at something). While James’ finds it broad (it sort of is, sort of isn’t I reckon), the heart of it is to realise that we all think we question (our assumptions, values, how we approach problems, and assume we are really creative), but the reality is that we actually use a small set of very regular behaviours and assumptions when we actually do stuff – particularly when we’re not sure of ourselves. Double loop learning begins from learning what our own specific habits are, so that we can become aware of them. The hard bit (and it is incredibly hard) is recognising them, as habits, by definition, aren’t things we notice in ourselves.

In James’ case, for instance, I think the easiest solution is to imagine more money, but that isn’t double loop learning since none of our habits are visible, they’re left unchallenged – can’t film what I want?, get more money so I can film what I want. It’s princess logic. That’s the habit to notice, and shift.

Finally, since it’s Sunday night and I think I’ve time to catch up on Monday, Alexandra recognises that model I matters because of anxieties about failure and not really wanting to admit not knowing. Of course we feel like this. We’re in an education system, and most have recently gone through an assessment regime, that is premised on explicit demonstrations of excellence and so we have a sad habit of hiding our mistakes. Or at least deciding since they’re mistakes they are not things we share. Only the excellent bits get shown around. Because, you know, all of us really only ever make perfect things all the time. I have never written a perfect essay. I think I have nearly 30 published. The last two subjects I’ve taught have been terrible (that’s not a good sign, is it?), and my last three or four conference presentations seriously misunderstood. I aspire to excellence, and also know you don’t see or get it without a lot of mistakes, errors, and not very good things as part of that.

That’s why we blog. It is open, communicative, informal, participative, collaborative, not assessed. It is thinking in words and things about stuff. It has to be articulate enough for others to follow along and not just notes that I decipher, by myself, some other day. Blogs can, sometimes, be engines of double looped learning. Youse can make misteaks here and, well at least a bit, get away with it, along the way to something better.

I Can’t Get to Class, So Participation?

This is called a STICKY post which means it stays at the top of the page so you see it. More recent stuff appears underneath. So if you’ve come back a few times and don’t think anything new has appeared, scroll, please. Down.

A simple premise come central tenet of this subject is that you are responsible for your learning. This translates in normal talk as you are responsible adults. I’ll be blunt. From my point of view you are all old enough to:

  • vote
  • get a gun licence (and shoot ducks, rabbits and foxes)
  • get a drivers licence
  • get married without your parent’s consent
  • join the army (and receive the training to kill people)
  • join the police force (and receive the training to use a weapon lethally and arrest people)

Given all that, if you can’t come to class then you’re certainly mature enough to:

  1. tell your teacher before the class happens
  2. print a copy of the participation diary (it’s included as part of the participation sheet)
  3. fill it in
  4. scan it at any printer at uni or photograph it with your phone
  5. and have it sent to your teacher that day

if you’re so sick you can’t do this, then you’ve gone to the doctor so you can include a copy of a medical certificate. If you’re not so sick you need a doctor, then you can manage this as a) a courtesy to your teacher, b) as understanding what taking responsibility for your learning means. (In your job you don’t take time off work and then tell your boss you couldn’t make it afterwards. Not sure why anyone thinks treating your teachers, your classes, or your learning any differently is OK, it isn’t.)


(image: On Classical Blog. The Guardian. March 3, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/tomserviceblog/2009/mar/02/classical-music-great-orchestral-debate)

Today’s Age has a story about Barry Palmer (Hunters and Collectors guitarist, oh, that’s my middle age talking, isn’t it?) and a new app come service that lets you view live concert footage. The app and service is soundhalo. This is cool. However, the point? On TV and radio what carries the most value (in terms of audience interest and $) are events that are live, where the liveness matters. This excludes drama, game shows, and the like. It does include the new forms such as ‘reality’ game shows as they are designed and intended to be live. Sport is the biggest of them all (one billion Australian dollars to broadcast AFL), but music is the next biggest.

Sport matters because seeing it live is part of sport. You don’t want to watch it a day, a week, later. Not only because you will now the result but because sport’s pleasure is in its performing in the now. Um, that’d be the same for a concert, wouldn’t it? Rupert Murdoch understood this many many years ago when he paid a then unprecedented sum for the rights to the English Premier League (people thought he was mad), then stuck it all on SkyBSB. This is what made Sky viable. People will pay for live sport. And people will probably pay, or at least enjoy, seeing live music (can’t get to Glastonbury, then live is next best). So this app and service could be a winner simply because it can leverage what matters, which is the liveness.

For us, outside of the specifics of networked media, this is another nail in the coffin for heritage media. Not only does soundhalo offer an alternative revenue model for bands, but it reinforces the fact that the traditional power of TV was its control of time. If you wanted to watch your favourite show you had to be in front of a TV set at the time it was on. This meant they could charge lots of money for advertising since you had to be there to be part of it (in front of the TV). When was the last time you made sure you were at home, in front of the TV, to not miss something? That wasn’t a live event? I never do this for drama. Ever. The opposite of this was once normal. Just like we think those images of the family gathered around the radio to listen to something are, well, sepia quaint, this was my childhood, adolescence and early adult life for television. Not any more. If you can’t guarantee audience, you lose the basis of your revenue model (advertising). Things are changing, have to change, and will change. You will be at the vanguard of this.

The Paddle

Christopher has a post about the speculative metaphor I wrote about the subject. He observes that

The message seems that to get through, one must simply paddle in order to explore and discover our own outcome.

Notice though, that the boat has knowledge, it knows stuff. And that you can think of the whole thing as more like a system, there are waves, wind, eddies, the boat, the oar. They all inter relate, but it isn’t really clear that one has more importance than another in deciding anything. After all, if I were in the boat I could choose to row, furiously perhaps, but it is clear that “one place is as well as close enough, or further away, than any other” so where I might be trying to get to wouldn’t really be clear, or matter that much. So, sometimes, you don’t even need to row (you paddle a canoe, you row a boat), you might just follow with, and even be part of, the flows.