The power of the individual

A teacher, relatively new to Social Media networks for professional development and education, posted this with a link to an interesting but not uncommon “test” of the power of Twitter:


We’ve seen these kinds of thing before, and they are a standard gimmick for presenters of CPD workshops on the use of social media. Do these tricks represent power, however? I think they demonstrate something: connectivity, reach, that the new “community” isn’t restricted by geography or even timezone. By themselves, they do not demonstrate power. What is power? Whether you take the common usage or a stricter scientific definition, one could characterise “power” as the ability to change things.

Now, perhaps through jealousy or feelings of inadequacy, or maybe it’s just my age (I should be buying a Harley), I’m deeply suspicious of philanthropy. I regard the motivations of those who would throw money around with suspicion. The arrogance of those who, through whatever means have found themselves with serious amounts of money, then pityingly and patronisingly share life-changing amounts of it with the “poor” or “disadvantaged”, has always irritated me. If we had a fairer society, these benefactors wouldn’t have such disgusting wealth in the first place, and nor would those who needed the help, need it as much, if at all. More to the point, the pet projects and politics of the philanthropist wouldn’t prevail unfairly over more objective criteria.

cullaloe_2013-04-03So, in studying OER (Open Educational Resources) in the h817open mooc, it is mentioned in passing that, “Many OER projects have received funding from bodies such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation“. My own experience in state education made me flinch at reading this. Whether open or not, I have seen that almost all educational resources used in public (state) schools are developed by the class teacher – often on their own time and at their own expense. Hours of time are spent preparing differentiated and engaging resources, often laminated and produced in expensive coloured paperstock, or set up as an online resource for all to use. The latter, as often as not, because the school-provided system is so awful and difficult to use as to become rendered useless. (I’m trying to get this written without mentioning GLOW. Ooops.). All of this, provided in a billion small acts of philanthropy, in those extra unpaid hours and the extra ten- or twenty-dollar expenses not reclaimed.

I read Bill Hewlett’s biography with admiration and recognition that yes, he was a lovely man who leaves a lovely legacy. I have a positive regard for his company (I still carry around an HP-15C from the 80’s). I just find that philanthropy is an unpleasant basis to built a sustainable society upon.

2 thoughts on “The power of the individual

  1. I completely agree.
    First up, this idea of “power” that keeps getting demonstrated in social media is actually something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When one lost dog/homeless man/video “goes viral”, it does so at the cost of many equally notable cases.
    It is descending into the whole celebrity “cause du jour” problem, and yes, I’ve even seen campaigns to get money to help one person out of a difficult spot when there are millions of people in poverty. It soothes the individual and collective conscience to help someone with a face, but it does nothing to solve world problems.
    I too am uncomfortable with philanthropy directing society — I went to one of the world’s most prestigious universities (Edinburgh), and when I was there, I was unhappy to find out that the graduation hall was named after a major booze merchant (they still sell beer under his name today), and that they also had a chair in “parapsychology” (ghosts and psychic powers) because some rich guy stumped up the cash.

    Fun fact for the day:
    The most world renowned evolutionary biologist also happens to be one of the world’s least cited academics. He became famous initially for his pop science books. One of his readers liked his writing so much that be stumped up millions to buy him a chair at Oxford, as a result of which, most of the population now believe he’s a real scientist….

  2. I share these sentiments…very well put in this post.
    One of the problems with the field of “ed tech” is that it tends to lack proper grounding in social sciences or philosophy, hence it constantly trips up on basic concepts like power and inequality. “Sustainability” is also a basic concept (in environmental science), but it seems as though the term has already been hi-jacked by the far right.

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