A Mediated Approach to Disintermediation

My friend Rob Paterson writes about a new course he’s teaching at UPEI and says its premise is, in part:

The foundation of mass media is eroding rapidly. The channels that mass media rely on are being disintermediated by direct web channels or by other media. Brand power is leaving the corporate centre and is being replaced on the web by the voice of the consumer. Trust in corporate and government leaders is falling. Customer attention, buffeted in a maelstrom of advertising noise, is falling.

And then, later on:

This course will justify this claim and will take you inside the minds and behind the actions of the revolutionaries. You will not only see what is going in real time, you will meet and talk to the key figures. You will be among the few who know that is going on.

I see a disconnect here.

Rob is positing that the elites are dying out, and that we can all go P2P. The “corporate centre” and “brand power” are out.

And yet Rob is suggesting that you come into the brand-powered corporate centre (UPEI) with him to join an elite bunch of “the few who know that is going on.”

Rob’s course seems, thus, to be a mediated approach to learning about disintermediation.

If the disintermediated webloggy future is so great, why do we need UPEI? Why do we need Rob?

Just wondering.


Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on March 1, 2005 - 23:32 Permalink

Could not resist the bait Peter

To have a conversation requires more than one person — what I offer is a mediated space where it is safe to converse.

We all live in mindsets — simply being told that the Earth is not the centre is not enough to shift a mindest it has to be experienced — the course is not only about an idea it is structured to to provide an experience.

What is all this elite shit? Who is talking about elites? Not me — so why do you raise this canard? Why should not kids at UPEI be exposed to this type of experience?

Last of all why not Rob?

Where in the history of ideas have ideas emerged on their own? So Peter here is my challenge — it is the same as Luther offered to the Church — You show me one bifuractive idea that was not evangelized and I will fund a banquet for you and Catherine

Ken's picture
Ken on March 2, 2005 - 02:08 Permalink

Rob Paterson is a mystifier .

I don’t know what bifuractive means or if it is a real word.

My bullshit detector is going off in real time. UPEI puts this on for future bureaucrats so their government reports will contain a higher level of fustian jargon with which to cover their arses.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 2, 2005 - 02:10 Permalink

Rob, thanks for biting.

When you say “trust in corporate and government leaders is falling” I take that as a reference to the elites — central figures that we deify with authority and power.

You would suggest, and I would agree, that weblogging allows us to communicate ideas without routing through these elites. I certainly think that worthy of dicussion and debate. And evangelism.

I just consider it ironic that you’ve chosen to do this under the umbrella of the one of the strongest most powerful educational “mediating forces” we’ve built: the university.

Wouldn’t a true living test of your bifuractive idea be to take the university out of the equation, and to use new social technologies to evangelize “direct?”

oliver's picture
oliver on March 2, 2005 - 02:14 Permalink

I suspect Peter’s response would have been different if the sentence

This course will justify this claim and will take you inside the minds and behind the actions of the revolutionaries.”

had been instead

This course will justify this claim and will take you inside the minds and behind the actions of SOME OF the revolutionaries.”

or even

This course will justify this claim and will take you inside the minds and behind the actions of SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE JOINED THIS REVOLUTION.”

But he’d have found some other bone to pick, if I know Peter, because the description of what’s to come verges on Utopian and Peter is a zealot for technotransformational realpolitik. It may be possible to evangelize without promising people life after death.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 2, 2005 - 02:20 Permalink

Apart from the odd assumption that UPEI is the hot bed of an elite, what is contrary about this concept in substance, Peter, other that the superficial irony? An undergrad university is supposed to be and, despite popular bleating, is still a very good place to experience hothouse thinking to those inclined to engage in it. Other less open places may also serve that purpose — including perhaps the one we are using. What other institutions should be insulated from precious blogging? Perhaps through more formal review, something few proponents of blogging advocate, it will face actual analysis of its claims, measurement of its true effect. Few evangelists relish that prospect but that is the downside of evangelism.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on March 2, 2005 - 02:24 Permalink

Sorry about making up words — I always thought that one of the wonderful aspects of the English language is that it is so flexible. If you look up the word “bifurcation” you might get a sense of what I am saying. Please tell me a better word.

Sorry about being a mystifier — please tell me what is it that you don’t undertand and I will try and be more clear

I know I should be more inclusive — but the reality is that there are a handful of people who really are the thought leaders. I have an opinion as to whom they are and I have put their names on the post — please help me by giving me your opinion as to whom I should add

Finally — Of courrse going direct is best — which is why I post this — I want to see who might be interested. Any suggestions as to how I can set up a school all by myself — for that is my goal

Sorry above all for having a hope for a more human world. Maybe I should just settle. Will you?

Alan's picture
Alan on March 2, 2005 - 02:55 Permalink

Fight the anti-authority tied-to-authority authority, Rob.

oliver's picture
oliver on March 2, 2005 - 02:57 Permalink

Rob, I also must plead guilty to neologism. “Technotransformational” is not a word. But an advantage that it has over “bifurcative” is that all the parts of “technotransformational” will be familiar to most people reading, whereas with “bifurcative” I suspect you’re communicating to everybody only with the “ive” part, to less than everybody with the “bi” and to nobody with the “furc” but for the people who know the word “bifurcate.” And if those privileged few are like me, even though they know “bifurcate” they nevertheless will have to stop and think for what feels like an unseemly amount of time that will evoke a feeling of unworthiness toward the subject at hand, which will feel complicated. When I evangelize, generally I try to present the ideas as exciting or quirky but straightforward. Regarding mystification, I predict that if I hadn’t known “bifurcate” I would have been mystified as to what you’re talking about in the context of “bifurcative,” even though as I think I understand what you’re talking about now, it seems like it ought not to be so mysterious. Bifurcative remains problematic for me though because it’s a metaphor that strikes me as inapt and so I remain unsure of what’s going on even after I’ve understood you. You would have to persuade me that the metaphor is apt, and you would have had to do this persuading in preceding sentences not to have left me feeling unsure.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on March 2, 2005 - 03:08 Permalink

This is fun — Past my bedtime though so I will return fresh for our combat tomorow

Will Pate's picture
Will Pate on March 2, 2005 - 04:07 Permalink

The idea that UPEI is a bastion of elite thinkers is, well, laughable. I met some elitist fools in my days there, but few actually deserved their own delusions of self-importance. Rob was one of the few professors I had that didn’t act like all wisdom was contained inside his own head, or even one small island.

So the idea that UPEI is some ivory tower for elite thinkers doesn’t hold true. They may like to throw around a lot of fancy concepts; but don’t count on them to come up with much that is lauded by their peers as extraordinary. Now — there are some smart people there, but many departments are missing a culture of excellence.

Perhaps it’s a sign that UPEI realises it has a long way to go that they allow Rob to teach “subversive” courses like the one mentioned. Maybe they have an inkling that if people like Rob (and the millions of intelligent baby boomers that are going to semi-retire and possibly teach) go and do it on their own, they’re left with only the tattered hanky of accreditation to hold on to. If schools running on social software get accreditation, UPEI is in big trouble.

Rob is trying to actually educate students on what they can expect out in the real world, a task so few of his colleagues took seriously in my experience. Taking swings at him simply because he does it in a place that if it was 10x larger and a few x more powerful could be considered a threat doesn’t make sense to me.

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on March 2, 2005 - 11:59 Permalink

I am trying

Alan's picture
Alan on March 2, 2005 - 12:50 Permalink

Make sure you conform, Rob.

Ken Williams's picture
Ken Williams on March 2, 2005 - 15:55 Permalink

I love words, the way they change over time and hold within them reflections of the past. Language evolves with and without authority directing it; meanings, contexts, connotations it’s wonderful to read into language.

Bifurcate or bi-forked as I like to think of it, is just outside the popular vocabulary enough to leave many readers out of the conversation. It in itself forks the path of understanding two ways — glazed over or rewardingly understandable to those who enjoy speaking over others heads.

Bi-forked sounds so crude. Split would do.

Bi-fork-active is bad manners at the table.

Elitism in such a small place as PEI is as unavoidable and comical, the saddest part being the elite too often fall into nepotism at home and suffer inferiority complexes when away from PEI. The rare talent that rises to a national level here is a lonely soul brought down to earth daily by those who envy them and know them too well. Sibling rivalry where the elite is often one person. Not a culture of excellence, rather a culture of anti-elites.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 2, 2005 - 16:08 Permalink

Please note that I’m not characterizing the people of UPEI (or any university) as “elites” in the sense that they’re “stuffy” or “high falootin.”

I’m merely suggesting that education no longer requires the mediating force — the brand, the imprimatur, the resources, the facilities — of the university. I lump UPEI in with the corporations and the “brand power” that Rob rails against in his treatise.

Universities no longer have exclusive domain over education that they once did; in that sense, anyone who continues to ally themselves with universities is throwing their lot in with a system that contains to maintain, against all evidence, that it has an “elite” hold on the medium.

Universities, like record companies are no longer required to perform the intermediating role they once did.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 2, 2005 - 16:44 Permalink

Sure they do. You may disagree with the role of credentials and professionalism but there is nothing and certainly nothing in the world of the internet that can replace years of sitting around, reading and arguing in an environment of equals. You would have to comparing that to the superficiality of lead and follow blogging or confuse Google with a great library for your premise to hold water. That a university has a unique function because of the resources and experience it offers does not make it “elite”, it only means it has realtively unique capacities.

Imagine medicine in the context of your final sentence in the comment above, Peter. That alone should convince you of your error.

Ken's picture
Ken on March 2, 2005 - 17:34 Permalink

Motivation is the scarcest element when it comes to learning. Information and access to it are critical; luckily the internet makes it easier to get at. Yet university still has a role. The structure of school, the financial committment, being around others who are studying; and the recognition at the end of your program — these improve the learning process for most people coming out of high school. They learn more than they would on their own.

University is a place where students prepare for life and work, earning a degree which is recognized by industry. If you learn outside this system your knowledge and skills will not be as recognizable to industry, you will have no accredited degree, and so many employers will screen you out of the hiring process.

This is the gap that I wish could be bridged. A university degree is like currency, each field of study issues them like nations print money. The denominations are undergraduate, graduate, and PhD. The value of any given degree, in any field of study can be equated to a monetary value expressed by earning potential.
And of course there are counterfeit degrees out there too. Degrees are like currency that measures value in sense rather than cents.

What interests me is the black market of knowledge. Cisco certifications in particular represent this, by alllowing candidates to prove themselves in a certain area and be recognized. Of course, these still fall short of the mark. Some certifications are less worthy than others, and some people who are certified don’t live up to the certification — they are paper technicians.

The true test of course is if your knowledge serves you in your life. Too often in this big world we rely on accredidation as a quick proof of a strangers knowledge instead of getting to know first hand what skills they have. And too often skills go unrecognized because they aren’t marketed well. The encouraging news is that more value is being placed on true skills and more people are improving their knowledge on their own, outside of academia.

oliver's picture
oliver on March 2, 2005 - 20:16 Permalink

Peter, as-is, the Web can’t substitute for universities any better than blogs can substitute for newspapers and magazines. People capable of speaking knowledgeably and carefully and honestly and thoroughly need to be labelled as such while they are doing so or they will be lost in the din of less carefull and honest speech that’s always going on around them. The instiutions of higher learning and power generally perform that labelling/”now broadcasting credible speech” function. Their labels have value to us because we know that people have to compete to wear them in a roughly meritocratic way that has to do with the subject on which what the utter carries a label. Also because after earning the label they are more or less kept in line by institutional standards. So in sum, what you said sounds nuts to me.

Johnny Rukavina's picture
Johnny Rukavina on March 3, 2005 - 15:08 Permalink

I disagree with your assertion that education no longer requires “the mediating force — the brand, the imprimatur, the resources, the facilities — of the university”, because it assumes that “the brand, the imprimatur, the resources, the facilities” are the primary education-delivering vehicles of the university. The university experience encompasses living with strangers, drinking in the pub, participating in sport, experimenting with hallucinogens and being part of a physical community of learning, as well as taking classes and studying. Sure, I could educate myself at home with google or your version of Rob’s “university-free” courses and remain untainted by the university brand, but I don’t think it would deliver the same quality of experience.

Ann's picture
Ann on March 3, 2005 - 20:12 Permalink

I dunno. I just hope if I ever need surgery that the guy didn’t learn it off the internet.

A Pedant's picture
A Pedant on March 3, 2005 - 20:19 Permalink

The idea that the teacher has nothing to teach, or that there are no real authorities where knowledge is concerned is thousands of years old. It’s also a self defeating argument that was advanced especially strongly by Protagoras. The self defeating-ness of the argument goes very very roughly and in part like this: if there is no knowledge and you are trying to disseminate the idea and thus teach that there is no knowledge, your opponents can always say that you are wrong and you have to acknowledge that they are correct and that there is in fact knowledge. Protagoras also famously said that “man is the measure of all things.” To which Socrates famously replied and I’m paraphrasing: “Any man? Is a fool the measure of all things? Is a lunatic the measure?” Anyway, this kind of Protagorianism when it comes to knowledge is very trendy right now in North America. Most people who talk about ‘elitism’ are propagators of it. But the irony that Peter points to is not irony at all, it’s an inherent part of being anti-elitist. Some might claim in fact that it is an inherently incoherent position.

Re: the “Bifurcative remains problematic for me though because it’s a metaphor that strikes me as inapt and so I remain unsure of what’s going on even after I’ve understood you. You would have to persuade me that the metaphor is apt, and you would have had to do this persuading in preceding sentences not to have left me feeling unsure.”

I think even using this term ‘bifurcative’is an attempt by Rob to undermine hierarchy and not an attempt to mystify. As far as I know (and Rob can correct me if I am wrong), bifurcation is just a branching out, it undermines hierarchy because it’s a way of replacing ‘new ideas’ and new idea-ness or a way of not implying betterness and thus progress. Of course there are no new or better ideas because that would suggest that there are smarter people who think up new ideas (which would be elitist), not that I subscribe to this view that there are no new ideas or even the view that bifurcation is somehow better because of this.

I think the internet (so far) is just a library attached to a big note pad where people like me scribble for fun and entertainment (which happens also to be attached to one of the most diverse selection of porn imaginable). Okay, there are also some real legitimate publications out there. And I am really grateful for the search functions and the libraries and really it has changed my life for the better. It’s brilliant. But, and don’t take this the wrong way, there sure is a lot of crap as well. And I’m sure I’m being elitist by saying that it is obviously and not at all subjectively crap. It is crap beyond a shadow of a doubt.

However, right now we are also coincidentally having a problem with freedom of expression in Canada because for whatever reason there’s really very little representation of centre left views in the newspapers anymore (Okay okay except for the Toronto Star, but the exception proves the rule, I say!). This is a problem because most Canadians are leftist in their political views. The internet has the potential to at least offer to air these perspectives. I wish it were possible, for instance, to hear a real debate in the newspapers about health care or about missile defense instead of hearing fifteen different flavours of Tory allude to the flakiness of left wing views as if the people advancing them had no real arguments to back them up. I’m tired seeing headlines in the news claiming that people like me are like the worshippers of cargo cults.

A Pedant's picture
A Pedant on March 3, 2005 - 21:50 Permalink

I put ‘bifurcation’ and ‘new idea’ in a search engine and it cited Rob Paterson’s blog as the first item. Hmm how Derridean. The upshot is that Rob Paterson does believe in new ideas, at least he seems to when you read his blog.

A Pedant's picture
A Pedant on March 6, 2005 - 21:20 Permalink

Okay, if I’m going to be pedantic, I should also be exact. Protagoras says that knowledge is perception, not that there is no knowledge. Essentially, what he means is that there is no objective knowledge, or that knowledge is subjective (and so there is no real authority). In a way this merges knowledge with opinion. So that’s why I said there was no knowledge. Many apologies. I know, I know, you must have been quite anxious there for a few moments. I’m sure you’re all very relieved to discover that there is actually some rational explanation for this pressing problem.