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On being a cyborg: Fitness Trackers & Education…*

activity trackers…*

For my first installation of On Being a Cyborg, I want to talk about a piece of technology that I’ve been using for a year now. Activity trackers are a popular type of wearable technology that can measure steps taken or general movement throughout the day. See this recent NY Times article for a guide to some of the newest ones. Combined with user data, these trackers calculate distance walked, calories burned, floors climbed, and activity duration and intensity. They pair with apps or websites to deliver you lots of data about your daily activity.

I personally use the Fitbit Flex, a bracelet that calculates my steps each day, tells me how many calories I’ve burned, and even my sleep patterns. With the accompanying app, I’ve been able to log workouts, calorie inIMG_5296take, and water intake to assess my own health on a broad-scale basis. I’ve also used the sleep tracker to recognize that I generally get an hour less sleep than time I’ve been sleeping, due to “restlessness” that the tracker picks up.

Fitbit and similar technology use gamification techniques to encourage us to be more aware of our fitness levels and active throughout the day. These technologies allow us to set our own goals and develop self-efficacy around fitness by enabling us to reach them. Constant feedback on progress and rewards push users to move more. I’ve set my goal “steps” to 10,000 each day, and my band has 5 lights that light up as I reach incremental goals throughout the day. Just seeing that I have 4,000 steps left to my goal will give me that extra push to walk home from school instead of taking the subway, and I’ve been known to pace around my apartment at 11:50pm to finish getting all of my steps before midnight.

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increased awareness of our bodies and our place in the world…*

So how does this really relate to rethinked..* ? As Kate Hartman explains in The art of wearable communication, wearable devices focus on the ways in which we relate to ourselves. They enable an increased awareness of our bodies and our relationship to the world around us. As Hartman explains:

“…we’re in this era of communications and device proliferation, and it’s really tremendous and exciting and sexy, but I think what’s really important is thinking about how we can simultaneously maintain a sense of wonder and a sense of criticality about the tools that we use and the ways in which we relate to the world.”

Again, this brings the story back to the idea that the best kinds of technology will help us to be more human. Activity trackers can help us better understand ourselves, and in that, they help us to be better versions of ourselves. Do you use any sort of wearable technology? How has it impacted your life?

 

Rethinking…* Learning ~ Transmission as Discovery of the Inexpressible

Our freight.

The bringing together of what has been parted

makes a language quiver.

Across millennia and the village street

through tundra and forests

by farewells and bridges

towards the city of our child

everything must be carried.

 

LEARNING ~ KNOWING

Last week, I had an interesting discussion with my father about what type of knowledge should be taught in schools and what the quickly changing practices of learning and teaching might come to look like in the near future. This conversation highlighted an interesting dichotomy between knowing and learning in today’s world. The ‘Googleability’ of questions is forcing teachers and educators to question and rethink not only their own roles but the very definition of education itself in this age saturated by technology and information accessible virtually anywhere and at any time. What is a Googleable question and, more importantly, what is its opposite? How can we start to think about the nature of non-Googleable questions?

Obviously these are loaded questions which affect a wide spectrum of stakeholders and require deep collective rethinking. Our conversation ended with these questions left open-ended and unresolved. But the binary struck me and has been gnawing at me for the past week. What does a learning practice outside the realm of ‘knowing’ look like? How might it be expressed? While I certainly haven’t come close to an answer, I had an insight today, which helped me frame this tension in a new way.

TRANSMISSION ~ COMMUNICATION

Today is art critic, social historian, poet, novelist, and one of my biggest heroes–John Berger—‘s birthday. Berger is a prolific thinker and writer concerned above all with the nature and experience of the human condition. And like most of my other ‘virtual’ mentors–some of which I have already mentioned here on rethinked.org: Dan EldonMartin AmisChristopher HitchensAlberto GiacomettiW.H. Auden–I was introduced to John Berger’s life and work by my father.

In fact, most of my worldviews and understanding of my self and reality have been shaped by these myriad conversations with my father throughout the years. I would tell him about the new ideas I encountered at school that excited me and he would mention books, people, studies and films that provided different perspectives on that idea and enabled me to push and refine my thinking about it. He helped me explore my interests and taught me to learn. These conversations were much more than a way to pass the time or communicate information. They form a core part of our bond. I know, and have known for a long time now, that these conversations are an act and expression of love. By being interested, listening and encouraging me to push my thinking about these ideas and the connections that arise between them, my father was shaping my worldview, learning, knowledge and our relationship.

This idea of transmission as both an act of learning and love is key to the paradox of learning versus knowing in today’s world. I do not mean to oversimplify or fall prey to easy binaries, but I do think there is value in distinguishing the concept of transmission from that of communication. Transmission is not separate from communication, but constitutes a specific aspect of the communication process. Communication refers to the entire process of encoding data into discrete, dispersible vessels that can be transferred to and decoded by another person. It refers to the entire process of encoding, decoding, dispersing, receiving, and interpreting, as well as the result of the process: A sends B a message, meaning X; B receives the message and interprets it, either successfully as X, or not. Transmission, on the other hand, refers more specifically to design; to intent.

Transmission is the most complexly human part of the communication process. It is the reflection and decisions that go into not only which data and information to encode, but also, and perhaps more importantly, how to encode this information so as to optimize and enhance the decoding experience for the receiver of our message. It is the art of imparting essential and often inexpressible ‘truths’ of life. For example, we teach character primarily through transmission. Schools have ethics programs and moral codes for their students. They have strategies such as rewards and punishments to communicate and teach ideals and behaviors such as empathy, self-control, or grit. But these are often experienced as exterior constraints by the students subjected to such programs. Transmission is about communicating these same ideals and social codes in ‘hypodermic’ ways. Transmission is the act of expressing indescribable truths by creating the experience of discovery for someone else and leading them through it.

I think that as we enter into the full swing of what Daniel Pink has called the Conceptual Age, an era of (nearly universal) ubiquitous access to technology, automation and abundance, the acts of teaching and learning will have to become more human and more empathetic. While teachers and parents do not have the same responsibilities or emotional investments towards their students, I think teaching and learning will have to become increasingly about transmission–design, ethics and the human factor of our experiences. For although we hoard our knowledge in museums and libraries, accumulate it and worry about passing it on to our children, it too perishes in the face of time. Ideas are killed off, proven wrong, taken in new directions. But what does endure is our need to seek knowledge, our ache to understand the world and our place within it. When I was growing up Pluto was a planet, now it’s not. But my father taught me that when someone point at the sky, only the idiot looks at the finger. Learning will have to become increasingly about nurturing the impulse to look beyond and about transmitting the sense of vast and endless possibilities that the act of looking creates.

AND OUR FACES, MY HEART, BRIEF AS PHOTOS

Perhaps this idea is best articulated by John Berger’s poem Separation, found in his book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, a virtuosic merging and exploration of the many themes–art, time, space, reality, perception, love subjectivity, ethics—that run across Berger’s vast opus.

Separation

We with our vagrant language
we with our incorrigible accents
and another word for milk
we who come by train
and embrace on platforms
we and our wagons
we whose voice in our absence
is framed on a bedroom wall
we who share everything
and nothing–
this nothing which we break in two
and wash down with a gulp
from the only bottle,
we whom the cuckoo
taught to count,
into what currency
have they changed our singing?
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We are experts in presents
both wrapped ones
and the others left surreptitiously.
Before leaving we hide our eyes our feet our backs.
What we take is for the luggage rack.
We leave our eyes behind
in the window frames and mirrors
our feet behind
on the carpet by the bed
our backs
in the mortar of the walls
and the doors hung on their hinges.
The door closed behind us
and the noise of the wagon wheels.

We are experts too in taking.
We take with us anniversaries
the shape of a fingernail
the silence of the child asleep
the taste of your celery
and the word for milk.
What in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

Single track, junction and
marshalling yards
read out loud to us.
No poem has longer lines
than those we have taken.
Like horsedealers we know how
to look a distance in the mouth
and judge its pain by its teeth.

With mules, on foot
by airliners and lorries
in our hearts
we carry everything,
harvests, coffins, water,
oil, hydrogen, roads,
flowering lilac and
the earth thrown into the mass grave.

We with our bad foreign news
and another word for milk
what in our single beds
do we know of poetry?

We know as well as the midwives
how women carry children
and give birth,
we know as well as the scholars
what makes a language quiver.

Our freight.
The bringing together of what has been parted
makes a language quiver.
Across millennia and the village street
through tundra and forests
by farewells and bridges
towards the city of our child
everything must be carried.

We contain poetry
as the cattle trucks of the world
carry cattle.
Soon in the sidings
they will sluice them down.

Friday Link Fest {October 19-26, 2012}

ARTICLES

Getting Energy From the Ocean Floor ~ A consortium of companies, including Eaton Corporation, Triton, and others, are in the process of building the first-ever collection system designed to harvest energy from the currents found in the depths of Earth’s oceans. via BigThink, published October 17, 2012.

Twitter Turns #SignsYoSonIsGay Hashtag Into Warm and Fuzzy Support Group ~ On the people of Twitter being awesome and the power of social media to create supportive communities. via Gawker, published October 20, 2012.

Why Focus Groups Kill Innovation, From The Designer Behind Swiffer ~ Design Thinking in action: The Aeron Chair, the Swiffer, and the Reebok Pump–none of these breakthrough products would have gotten high marks from a focus group. Here Continuum’s Gianfranco Zaccai lists four steps to take before introducing a design to the masses. via FastCo.Design, published October 18, 2012.

What Both MBAs And MFAs Get Wrong About Solving Business Problems ~ Numbers and bullet points aren’t the only things driving executive decision making. And pretty pictures won’t get you there either. Both Designers and MBAs have a lot to learn. via FastCo.Design, published April 26, 2012

Urban ExperimentsTake to the Streets~ “a living laboratory” of two dozen imaginative inventions for transforming public space being showcased at the Urban Prototyping Festival, a free, 10-hour event in downtown San Francisco held last Sartuday. via San Francisco Gate, published October 19, 2012.

TALKS

New York Times Data Artist Jer Thorp on Humanized Data at the Intersection of Science, Art and Design ~ In a talk given at TEDxVancouver, Jer Thorp takes us on a sweeping tour of his work and ethos, living at the intersection of science, art, and design. via Brainpickings, published March 1, 2012.

YouTube Announces The Next 10 Gurus Of Education ~ After more than 1,000 entries, YouTube has chosen the next 10 Gurus of Education. The search started last month when YouTube teamed up with Khan Academy to find a few folks who could generate useful content and resources for the YouTube EDU channels (1,000 channels exist so far). via Edudemic, published October 17, 2012.

How Popcorn Maker Adds a New Layer of Information to a TED Talk~ TED goes transmedia: TEDTalk as you have never seen a TEDTalk before — with a clickable layer of information that anyone can add to, edit or remix. via TED Blog, published October 19, 2012

John Maeda on The New Tao of Leadership ~ “when creative people become The Man, it’s quite awkward.” via Big Think, published October October 12, 2012

Education in the Age of Innovation Panel ~ The most significant trend today is the shift away from a world where power is concentrated in the hands of an elite few, and success for everyone else depends on their ability to perform repetitive function work. Instead, in our world now defined by accelerating change, success depends on our individual and collective ability to innovate. During this plenary panel, four of the nation’s premier education thought leaders and practitioners offered their vision for education in the age of innovation. via Ashoka, published Aug 22, 2012.

IMAGES

A Very Unusual Camera That Emphasizes Time Over Space ~ Jay Mark Johnson—an architect, painter, political activist, cinematic special-effects designer, and student of cognitive sciences—probably would not have come up with the idea, himself, were it not for a chance discovery. He had purchased a $85,000 rotating slit-scan camera for high-resolution panoramas. (The camera records vast landscapes sliver by sliver.) Finding the accidental effects of motion in front of the camera strangely poetic, he experimented with stopping the rotation and honing in on one tiny area. These images are the result. via Slate.com, published Oct. 15, 2012.

Temporary Pavilion by Shigeru Ban in Moscow’s Gorky Park ~ On October 20th, 2012 Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture is opening the temporary pavilion by Shigeru Ban, a new venue for exhibitions, lectures, workshops, film screenings, concerts and kids’ activities, with cafe and book store. Ban’s design for the Garage’s new temporary space–situated by Gorky Park’s Pionersky Pond–uses locally produced paper tubes to create an oval wall at 6 meters high with the total area of the pavilion measuring 2,400 square meters. via DesignBoom, published October 20, 2012.

The Must-Have EdTech Cheat Sheet ~ Infographic from Boundless on the whole galaxy of terminology that you should know about when it comes to education technology. via Edudemic, published July 26, 2012.

50 Alternate American Flags, Each A Secret Infographic ~ Rethinking…* the American Flag ~ Design Studio MGMT hides telling data points inside their reimagined variations of the stars and stripes. via FastCoDesign, published October 19, 2012.

Full-Size Museum Replicas from a Makerbot ~ These pieces were printed on a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, by artist Cosmo Wenman, who printed them in several pieces and then assembled them. via BoingBoing.net, published October 20, 2012.

An Inside Look At Art-School Studios Around The World ~ Photographer Leonora Hamill has traveled the world capturing quiet moments at art schools for her Art in Progress series. Creative environments are in clear focus, but it’s chemistry–implicit between teacher and student, materials and limitations, assignment and epiphany–that makes these images so striking and alive. via FastCoDesign, published October 19th, 2012.

The Best Graphics That Make You Realize You Don’t Know How Big Anything Actually Is~ Admit it. You have no real feeling for the size of the solar system. That’s O.K. Nobody else does either. Even knowing the numbers doesn’t help much. If I tell you the Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter and 93,000,000 miles from the Sun, does that give you any sense of the distances involved? No, because the numbers are too big. Things that are so far removed from our daily experience — like quarks, and dinosaurs, and Kim Kardashian — are inherently hard to understand. via Smithsonian.com, published October 22, 2012.

RESOURCES

47 Mind-Blowing Psychological Facts You Should Know About Yourself ~ Humans: An Evolving Reference. Via Business Insider War Room, published Nov. 22, 2010.

DIY.org ~ Terrific website for kids & adults: Earn Skills, Become a Maker: Build. Make. Hack. Grow.

27 Ways to Learn Programming Online ~ via The Next Web, published October 21, 2012.

Get a Liberal Arts Education For Free on the Internet ~ Just getting a job in this economy is difficult enough. Getting one with a liberal arts degree is simply masochistic. Don’t spend half a decade and thousands of dollars only to join the rest of the English majors busking in a subway. Instead, educate yourself with these valuable, respectable, and totally free online resources. via Gizmodo, published October 20, 2012.

Bartholomäus Traubeck Rethinks…* the Record Player in a Glorious & Whimsical Way

 In 2011, German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck designed “a record player that plays slices of wood.” Named Years, the rethought turn-table translates year ring data into music. We are in a flutter of …* over this elegant, whimsical and wondrous idea/object.

Enjoy (you will) this 2 minute video of YEARS playing tree ring records:

(Source: Bartholomäus Traubeck via Vimeo.com, published a year ago)

Of his process, Traubeck writes:

“A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture).The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.” (Traubeck.com)

 

Curating Ideas & Possibilities

Have you browsed our collection of videos on the ideas that inspire, intrigue and influence us?

 

We’re constantly adding inspiring videos we find so be sure to check back for new ones

DESIGN

John Hockenberry: Why We Are All Designers TED 2012

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds I

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds II

Stefan Sagmeister on Designing Minds III

Stefan Sagmeister Shares Happy Design TED 2004

Tim Brown Urges Designers to Think Big TEDGlobal 2009

 

WONDER

8,000 Chinese Lanterns Over Poznan, Poland 2011

Muto: A Wall-Painted Animation by BLU 2008

BIG BANG BIG BOOM ~ Wall-Painted Animation by BLU 2010

Western Spaghetti by PES 2008

Pixels by Patrick Jean 2010

Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland

Water Drop Filmed in 10,000 Frames Per Second

Experience the Walker Library of Human Imagination

One Year in 40 Seconds eirikso.com 2008

A Young Glenn Gould Plays Bach 

Duke Ellington Plays for Joan Miro

Neil Pasricha “The 3 A’s of Awesome” TEDxToronto 2010

Theo Jansen Creates a New Creature TED 2007

How Wings Are Attached To the Back of Angels Craig Welsh 2008

1894 boxing cats- Thomas Edison

Fabian Hemmert: The Shape-Shifting Future of the Mobile Phone TEDxBerlin 2010

Coloring Bach ~ Evan Shinner

Salvado Dali – Mike Wallace Interview I (1958)

Marcel Duchamp ~ Anemic Cinema (1926)

 

PSYCHOLOGY

Tal Ben-Shahar: Positive Psychology – The Science of Happiness 2006 Brainy Acts lecture

Five Ways To Become Happier Today Tal Ben-Shahar on Big Think 2009

Big Think Interview with Tal Ben-Shahar 2012

Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice TEDglobal 2005

The Dalai Lama talks about compassion 2010 talks at Stanford 

Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology TED 2004

Susan Cain on the Power of Introverts 

Brene Brown on the Power of Vulnerability

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow TED 2004

 

CREATIVITY

Tim Brown on Creativity and Play Serious Play 2008

Why Man Creates I by Saul Bass 1968

Why Man Creates II by Saul Bass 1968

Dark Side of the Lens by Mickey Smith 

 

EDUCATION

Can Character Be Taught? Aspen Ideas Festival 2012 Panel Discussion with Dominic Randolph, Paul Tough, Andrea Mitchell & Russel Shaw

Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms RSA Animate

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution! TED 2010

Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity TED 2006

Dan Meyer: Math Class Needs a Makeover TEDxNYED 2010

Emily Piloton Teaching Design for Change TEDGlobal 2010

 

STORYTELLING

Chris Abani Muses on Humanity TED 2008

Chimamanda Adichie on The Danger of A Single Story TEDGlobal 2009

Susan Conley on The Power of Story TEDxDirigo

 

DATA

Jer Thorp: Make Data More Human TEDxVancouver 2011

 

TECHNOLOGY

Pranav Mistry: The Thrilling Potential of SixthSense Technology TEDIndia 2009

ZeroN: An Amazing, Gravity Defying New Interactive Technology from the MIT Tangible Media Group

 

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