Thursday, July 02, 2009

Entice me with lies.

The capacity to consider change during, rather than before and after, is a challenge.
To compare before with after is, in contrast easy.
I've taken on a PhD researching change as it progresses, and sometimes it doesn't (the change that is). Sometimes things change and I barely notice as the small shifts have unrecognised impact.

Reading Clay Shirkey's blog on newspapers and thinking the unthinkable suggests some very ANT like insights on change. (I find it useful to see ant like analysis everwhere, it helps me convince myself I'm progressing my PhD)

It's never one thing that makes it all happen. The printing press did not of itself, change the world. An enormous amount of other work was also going on.
Shirky refers to Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. An analysis informed by ANT would suit her approach: “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?”
A similar question to my own- in using emergent technologies in a telephone counselling agency, how are those involved shaped and shaping?
Taking Callon's 1998 approach with ant, the printing press revolution can be identified by stages identified as Translation:
1. Problematizing: if reading is good, then being able to do this without needing to wait for others to read it to you must be better; how then to make this a possibility? Make the making of printed matter smaller, faster ...
2. Interessment: others need locking in to make this happen, there's a need for push and pull, a negotiation with others, and not just of human actors but also of technology.
3. Enrolment involves actors accepting positions to make such change occur
4. Mobilisation; an assemblage of the social that works; oil based ink, compatable with paper rather than parchment, and with the movable print molds from metal alloys rather than carved in wood or stone... People also need mobilising, there would be no value in a press without a growing literacy in the middle classes...

At this point it is really necessary to restate that neither Guttenberg- credited with the invention, nor the invention itself happened in isolation, there's a network at play within which they were situated. Further work was required to maintain the change, the expectations do not rise in and of themselves. What sustained the change was sometimes small; literally. The ability to make a book small enough to carry...

And here's where modern day change similarly could learn from a past.
In telephone counselling, the landline is no longer a prime means of communicating. Young people are using mobiles, cell phones. And in this there are other actors at play; the cost of a call is significantly higher than the cost of text. Having limited income, the young person then develops a way of relating that is text based, they get used to it, it becomes the first option and the preferred option. This is sustained even when the receiver pays the cost of the communication transaction.
At this point it gets really interesting, because the small changes, being mobile with a phone, having cheaper text than calls, create a revolutionary moment for the 'old' system; how to meet young people where they are at in the medium they they are choosing to use. And what does this do in terms of reshaping those involved?

The argument that Shirkey makes is that when old stuff gets broken down faster than new stuff can be put in its place lends itself to experimentation, and more than this, experimentation based on plausible promises if one reads Here comes everbody. However in this blogpost, he instead refers to the demand for lies. Its as if we know that we dont know where this is going, so promise me that its going to be good; entice me with lies as i know you also don't know where this might lead. However, agreements with stakeholders need to be firmed up...'this is a change in name only', 'its the same but different', 'its only a tool', if we dont like it we can go back to what was'....such lies minimize the anxieties involved, and allow for movement forward. Its as if they create a keel for plowing through uncharted waters. Dont rock my boat ...keep things on an even keel...
From Clay Shirky:

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

A last lie; here's Frodo helping ailsa write a thesis :)

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