Reflections on digital landfills and echoing content

I comment a fair bit on other people’s blogs, discussion forums etc. Somehow I find it much easier to comment on someone else’s blog  – I think it’s about being part of a conversation, the focus on joint contribution, rather than solely just my words. I’ve never particularly enjoyed being the centre of attention.

I’ve contemplated posting comments as blog posts. But I kind of like the idea of keeping my comments, in their place of origin, embedded in its original context. I feel something of their history might be lost by  uprooting them – by dismembering them from the dialogue. So I’ve resisted. Until now.

I’m posting my comment in response to this post ‘Digital landfills and creativity’ by Mariana Funes (aka DS106 shrink) to remember its message. It’s about the possible consequences of our ever-increasing – and often mindless – consumption, sharing and creation of digital content. It really, truly made me question my own assumptions about the value of sharing and content creation, to critically assess the depth of my engagement, and reflect on my experiences of open online learning –  in particular rhizo14, where I’ve often felt distracted by the abundance, almost too distracted to engage. Mariana’s post was inspired by ‘Echoes of content’ by Alastair Creelman – an equally excellent post on this theme of thoughtless sharing and creation. Would definitely encourage the reading – and consideration – of both posts. As I thought about Mariana’s post the following morning,  lines of poem came to me, which I scrawled (in pink texta – 1st thing within reach) on scraps of paper . I typed out the poem with this comment (written after the poem >and I think writing the poem actually enabled me to articulate some semi-coherent thoughts). I’ve repackaged the poem against the backdrop of my scrawled notes – a remix, of sorts.

wow, what an incredibly thought provoking post. I started writing a response last night, but then abandoned it as I wasn’t quite sure what to say or whether it would be coherent.

This is a hard one. Because I recognise the personal value in regular practice of creativity, writing, reflection, narration, blogging – even ‘half baked’ thoughts for others to play with and explore, remix and remake.

However, your post has highlighted the flipside of creating a culture that values creation and sharing above all else, that equates posting evidence of thinking *with* the existence of thought itself. No longer is it enough to reflect privately, we must share and declare our reflections. The culture it creates is one of constant distraction, constant pressure to post and to advertise your postings, to demonstrate your engagement. There is an underlying sense of competition about it, of jostling to get the most comments and most likes. It creates a constant pressure to create, but also to consume and to comment, we’re flying through posts leaving our breadcrumbs of thought. But how deeply are we reflecting and thinking? How meaningful is our engagement?

I’ve been struggling with this a bit in rhizo14 – the abundance, the pressure to create and consume. I’ve got about 20 tabs open, 4 half finished blog posts, and pages and scraps of notes and half finished thoughts. All of which I haven’t shared (yet). Though I feel the pressure to. And I will (eventually).

Yet I don’t know that the answer is to actually or completely stop what we’re doing. I’ve definitely got value out of others’ ‘half baked’ thoughts – and as Alan points out, even when there is no direct comment, or explicit evidence that someone has visited or read or thought about what you’ve posted, chances are someone has – or will.

So in the end, I have rambled and rumbled through this reply…not proposing any real ‘answer’ or solution. But I guess that’s part of the point – it’s a complex question without a definitive answer. Embracing uncertainty.

I’ve found myself spontaneously thinking in poem a lot through this rhizo14 experience. When I’ve written down the poetic threads of thought I’ve realised why: often the poem is a much more succinct expression of my thoughts. Thoughts that are too complex to make into a coherent post or response.

I was thinking about this post you wrote when I got up this morning, and amongst the threads of thought were some lines of poem that came into my head. I sat down and wrote them out. Here is what came out:


Excellent conversations have emerged across both blogs – and in the context of this week’s topic about books making us stupid,  I say maybe: because no book enables to anyone to engage directly in conversation with the author immediately after publishing. The only downside? A digital landfill.

16 thoughts on “Reflections on digital landfills and echoing content

  1. mdvfunes says:

    Beautiful. I am so glad you made you poem shine in your own blog. It is its home. You should add a Soundcloud of you reading it. I love the way poetry names things without choosing sides. Really glad to have got to know you better through this dialogue. Stability (books) and change (conversation) are two sides of the same coin. As you say, direct engagement means more stuff gets produced and may be it is okay to kiss a few frogs to find our princes 🙂

    • tanyalau says:

      Yeah…I have been wondering about the poetry thing – Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) inspired me to start writing it again with his stolen poem challenge, and since then whenever I’ve been struggling to get my head around concepts and how different ideas link together (which has been often in rhizo14…!) lines of poem often come to me. When I’ve written them down they’re often a much more compact expression of an idea (I’ve got a few others that I had started putting into a post when I came across your post which stopped me in my tracks and took me on another line of thinking).
      And just as I’m writing this, I guess there are benefits of allowing yourself to be distracted – distractions lead to new inspiration, and new connections-> but only if you take the time to properly, listen, engage & converse.

  2. Maureen Crawford says:

    Your poem is wonderful and I particularly like the visual integration with slips of paper and layer writing like layered thought – through links, and chinks and slips – how wonderful that we can think out loud and share around the world without sacrificing trees in the process.

    I had the pleasure of following up on your links – even left a comment on Mariana’s site. All of this would not have happened if you had not been willing to share. It made a difference to me! I think the only gauge we need to use regarding the volume (I am not referring to the quality here but rather the quantity) is how much time it takes us and whether that time would be better spent either in face-to-face with those we care deeply about, or in quiet reflection with ourselves, or in nature or . . . etc. etc. etc. It is only a problem when we slip into mindlessness (which I am certainly guilty of).

    My vote is to carry on as we each feel is appropriate. Now as I write this I think about Alastair’s comments about the educational use of a variety of different platforms and I realize that I do indeed have an issue with others being assigned to comment, create etc.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    • tanyalau says:

      Hahaha yes Maureen – I was going to mention: “well, at least I recycled the paper…”. There’s a kind of interesting serendipity in that. But it’s really only because I use paper so rarely these days that the only paper in the house seems to be letters that come in the mail, or other scraps that i’ve already written on.
      I feel the same as you regarding the issue of sharing, time it takes to engage meaningfully, and the (seemingly) constant struggle between time spent engaging online vs with people in your ‘real’ life (family etc). And even this is a decision that needs to be made mindfully. I realised this year I need to strike a better balance between online and offline engagement. If I read something that makes me think about things differently or touches me, I like to comment on it. I guess the reason why Mariana’s post really made me stop and think is because I’ve found myself doing a LOT of blog hopping during rhizo14 – just jumping from post to post without always stopping to properly think and engage with the ideas. Part of this is the volume of quality posts being written – getting into a mindset where I’m following lots of interesting links and leads, it’s riveting, like obsessively reading a good novel and wanting to keep going without stopping to find out how it ends. It isn’t exactly ‘mindless’ browsing, because the ideas are having an impact on me, but I’m just not stopping to process at a conscious level. The result is often feeling a bit overwhelmed, and the uncomfortable feeling that I’m learning a lot but just not sure ‘what’. The other down side is missing the opportunity for meaningful connection with the person who wrote what you read. But yeah – I’m not necessarily advocating a certain way to engage, or judging those who don’t comment publicly – we all process and learn in different ways; I just know that when I have taken the time to properly listen, engage and comment it’s led to good things. And I like Mariana’s post for reminding me of this.

      I must’ve also been subconsciously channeling you when I responded in poem!! I DID think of you as I was typing it out ; ). Thanks for the original inspiration to comment by poem.

  3. tanyalau says:

    oh…and the other thing I was going to mention was that (as Alan Levine mentioned in one of his comments either in response to Mariana or Alastair) – perhaps the metaphor of ‘landfill’ isn’t quite right…difficult to come up with one that completely fits though – maybe we’re all just offering up our wares in a big garage sale or crowded market stall. I think Jaap compared the rhizo experience to a market recently…

  4. Maureen Crawford says:

    BINGO! Tanya, your comment of “I’m following lots of interesting links and leads, it’s riveting, like obsessively reading a good novel and wanting to keep going without stopping to find out how it ends” really resonates with me. I get so excited by all the ideas and possibilities and love to gallup through things – lots of divergent browsing – but in the end, while I feel that I am somehow better for having done it – it leaves me feeling a bit exhausted and, well empty. It takes a lot of self discipline for me to switch gears and start thinking convergently – to parse and edit, mix and remash and create something fresh – but it is such a high – to pause and take the time to work through what I really think – to use the creation process as part of my thinking process.
    IDEO helped create a toolkit called Design Thinking for Educators it contains a great graphic representing the oscillation that happens between convergent and divergent thinking over the course of a design process (page 15)

    • tanyalau says:

      Hi Maureen,
      yes – I feel the same way! and as I have been thinking about this a bit more – and as you point out, both “divergent browsing” and reflective “convergent thinking” play a role – particularly in creative or ‘design’ thinking. this sound very intriguing actually – I’d be interested in exploring this further with you : ) thanks for the link too – this looks really useful – downloading it now!

  5. Frances Bell says:

    Most of what I could have commented has already been said better than I could have done so all that remains is for me to thank you personally for your beautiful poem. Spareness and restraint in communication do not come easily to me so it’s good for me to practice.

    • tanyalau says:

      wow. Just had one of those strangely serendipitous (almost creepy!) experiences: just posted a little tweet poem to Maureen Crawford referencing ships in sea metaphors, then went and clicked on that link you posted – to a cartoon referencing ships in sea metaphors! Guess it must be a common one….!
      Thanks for the link though – and yes, I think a lot of the time we like to *think* we’re that tiny ship of order, but there’s a vast wide world of chaos out there waiting to engulf us. It’ll always be there, we just need to navigate and make sense of it as best we can. Order’s overrated anyway :p

  6. learningsnippets says:

    Hi Tanya, another wonderful, thought-provoking post. You write so beautifully. I hadn’t considered the flip-side of the constant sharing and producing of ideas, blogs etc. I’m finding that the more I connect with others, the more chaotic it seems to be (like the cartoon) with all the tweets and blogs and articles being shared around. I feel like I’m struggling to keep up!
    I’m now realising that I don’t need to keep up with anyone, its not a competition. As Maureen said, we just need to do what’s appropriate for us.

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