Children Should Learn to Web

For the last few years we’ve been hearing a good many people (most of them computer programmers) say that every child should learn to code. As I write these words, I learn that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has echoed that counsel. Learning to code is a nice thing, I suppose, but should be far, far down on our list of priorities for the young. Coding is a problem-solving skill, and few of the problems that beset young people today, or are likely to in the future, can be solved by writing scripts or programs for computers to execute. I suggest a less ambitious enterprise with broader applications, and I’ll begin by listing the primary elements of that enterprise. I think every young person who regularly uses a computer should learn the following:

  • how to choose a domain name
  • how to buy a domain
  • how to choose a good domain name provider
  • how to choose a good website-hosting service
  • how to find a good free text editor
  • how to transfer files to and from a server
  • how to write basic HTML, including links to CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) files
  • how to find free CSS templates
  • how to fiddle around in those templates to adjust them to your satisfaction
  • how to do basic photograph editing
  • how to cite your sources and link to the originals
  • how to use social media to share what you’ve created on your own turf rather than create within a walled factory
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    Source: IASC: The Hedgehog Review – Volume 20, No. 1 (Spring 2018) – Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future –

I like that list. A good way to acquire those skills is to contribute to WordPress and other open web projects.

In essence, the open Web, while not free from governmental and commercial pressures, is about as free from such pressures as a major component of modern capitalist society can be. And indeed it is this decentralized organizational model, coupled with heavy reliance on volunteer labor, that invites the model of stewardship I commended earlier in this essay. No one owns the Internet or the World Wide Web, and barring the rise of an industrial mega-power like the Buy-n-Large Corporation of Pixar’s 2008 movie WALL•E, no one will. Indeed, the healthy independence of the Internet and the Web is among the strongest bulwarks against the rise of a Buy-n-Large or the gigantic transnational corporations that play such a major role in the futures imagined by Kim Stanley Robinson, especially in his Hugo Award–winning Mars trilogy.

Some of the people most dedicated to the maintenance and development of the open Web also produce open-source software that makes it possible to acquire the skills I listed above. In this category we may find nonprofit organizations such as Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, as well as for-profit organizations that make and release free and open-source software—for instance, Automattic, the maker of the popular blogging platform WordPress, and Github, whose employees, along with many volunteers, have created the excellent Atom text editor. One could achieve much of the independence I have recommended by using software available from those three sources alone.

Source: IASC: The Hedgehog Review – Volume 20, No. 1 (Spring 2018) – Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future –

Instead of focusing so much on learning to code, children should learn to web.

This isn’t about making sure literature students “learn to code” or history students “learn to code” or medical faculty “learn to code” or chemistry faculty “learn to code.”

Rather it’s about recognizing that the World Wide Web is site for scholarly activity. It’s about recognizing that students are scholars.

Mike talks about the difference between what he describes as the “garden” and the “stream.” The stream are the other threats to the Web, I’d argue – these are Twitter and Facebook most obviously. The status updates and links that rush past us, often stripped of context and meaning and certainly stripping us of any opportunity for contemplation or reflection. The garden, on the other hand, encourages just that. It does so by design.

And that’s the Web. That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there – quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

Source: Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters (For the Future of Knowledge)

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

But there are two very different phenomena at play here, each of which subvert the flow of information in very distinct ways. Let’s call them echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear_people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t _trust people from the other side.

Current usage has blurred this crucial distinction, so let me introduce a somewhat artificial taxonomy. An ‘epistemic bubble’ is an informational network from which relevant voices have been excluded by omission. That omission might be purposeful: we might be selectively avoiding contact with contrary views because, say, they make us uncomfortable. As social scientists tell us, we like to engage in selective exposure, seeking out information that confirms our own worldview. But that omission can also be entirely inadvertent. Even if we’re not actively trying to avoid disagreement, our Facebook friends tend to share our views and interests. When we take networks built for social reasons and start using them as our information feeds, we tend to miss out on contrary views and run into exaggerated degrees of agreement.

An ‘echo chamber’ is a social structure from which other relevant voices have been actively discredited. Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. In their book Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2010), Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Frank Cappella offer a groundbreaking analysis of the phenomenon. For them, an echo chamber is something like a cult. A cult isolates its members by actively alienating them from any outside sources. Those outside are actively labelled as malignant and untrustworthy. A cult member’s trust is narrowed, aimed with laser-like focus on certain insider voices.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined. The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust.

As Elijah Millgram argues in The Great Endarkenment (2015), modern knowledge depends on trusting long chains of experts. And no single person is in the position to check up on the reliability of every member of that chain. Ask yourself: could you tell a good statistician from an incompetent one? A good biologist from a bad one? A good nuclear engineer, or radiologist, or macro-economist, from a bad one? Any particular reader might, of course, be able to answer positively to one or two such questions, but nobody can really assess such a long chain for herself. Instead, we depend on a vastly complicated social structure of trust. We must trust each other, but, as the philosopher Annette Baier says, that trust makes us vulnerable. Echo chambers operate as a kind of social parasite on that vulnerability, taking advantage of our epistemic condition and social dependency.

Source: Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult | Aeon Essays