A Deeper Dive into the Health of the Internet

Mozilla Web Literacy Report

The Mozilla Foundation recently put out its 2019 Internet Health Report, and I kept meaning to dive in a little deeper to understand some of the trends of online activity, if only to better comprehend the world in which my young students are moving into (or are already immersed into).

You can access the report, too. They analysis focuses on some main areas:

Each of these sections has a series of short pieces on subtopics. I dug deeper into the sections and explored some of the following articles:

The study also makes three key policy suggestions for moving forward to a better Internet:

  • Give local governments and organizations more control over the Internet as they are more apt to have individual experiences and the public good in mind
  • Revamp the whole way advertising is delivered in view of how surveillance and psychological tools for hooking people into games and apps has taken root in so many advertising design elements
  • Purposefully consider the rise of AI through the lens of ethics and responsibility

Overall, the report surfaces some positive trends around privacy and responsibility, but also notes a continuing worry about censorship and the coming AI innovations on the horizon. I found some elements of the report intriguing, and worth a deeper dive, as it seems to provide information and balance, too.

Peace (inside the net),
Kevin

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),
Kevin

 

 

Silent Sunday: Clay Figures

Clay Figures

These pieces come from a graphic story project. In art class, students had to create a clay replica of one of their characters. This was a brilliant idea by our talented art teacher.

Peace (shaping it),
Kevin

Finding a Way Through the Feldgang

Feldgang Explorations

The first time I heard the term — Feldgang — I scratched my head. I had no clue to what it was, and it was Terry Elliott who used it to as he captured a walk on his farm.

Since then, I have seen Terry use the term quite a bit, from the wandering and noticing and documenting of the world via #smallstories and CLMOOC (and its various offshoots, like a community annotation read of The Art of Is happening now) to the way he plunges into books and texts with artistic annotations and doodling to surface ideas that might otherwise have been lost or unnoticed. It encompasses writing, reading, annotation, art and remix.

Way back in a piece from 2013 still archived via NWP’s The Current, he wrote about the art of the Feldgang, citing Otto Scharmer’s work on leadership, Theory U. Scharmer uses “feldgang” in this analysis, stretching the original meaning of the word from “field walk” to something larger and smaller, all at the same time.

Terry’s Original via The Art of Is

 

Kevin’s Remix of Terry

 

Scharmer, in a 2003 piece called The Blind Spot, notes, too, his childhood days on his family farm and the walks he and his father took to notice nature, and changes underfoot on the farm, and he writes of extending this Feldgang approach as a social observation concept that forces a pause in the world:

Very much in the same spirit, this study is a about a field walk across the social fields of our contemporary society. And just as we did during the Feldgang, once in a while we will stop and pick up a little piece of data that we want to pay closer attention to in order to better understand the subtle textures, structures, and principles that are involved in the evolutionary dynamics of social fields.

So, go on: plunge in with the world, and record your observations. Notice the fields. Surface the ideas. Step back and see. A Feldgang is a moment where observation and reflection come together, the quiet, a pause in the noise of the day.  We all need more of that, and less of the other.

Peace (listening for it),
Kevin

 

 

 

Sometimes, a walk …

Nature Trail Feldgang WalkA walk in the woods with your eyes wide open sometimes leads to a wonderful collection of photos, and a deeper look at nature. Here, I gathered up into a collage some of what I noticed yesterday in our nearby woods as a feldgang/learning walk with a camera lens ready (and a dog waiting patiently each time for me to finish up so we could keep moving along the paths).

Peace (what we see),
Kevin

 

Do Algorithms Dream of Improvisation?

Here is a convergence of two texts in a feldgang — first, a shared reading of The Art of Is with other CLMOOC friends and then, an article in this week’s The New Yorker by Hua Hsu entitled “Machine Yearning.” In The Art of Is, I am in a place in the text where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch is exploring improvisation and mistakes, and how one (mistakes) often lead to the other (improvisation) to make art. In The New Yorker piece, Hsu focuses in on artist Holly Herndon’s work to create music through a computer-generated voice program she calls Spawn, training it to sing to Herndon’s music on her new album, PROTO.

Hsu then connects Herndon’s work with computers and algorithms to some other movements on the music landscape, including rapper Lil Nas X’s successful maneuver to manipulate the algorithms of pop music charts to create “Old Town Road” (an analysis of top charted songs led the making of this song) and it, of course, has reached the top of the charts.

Further, Hsu notes that a company called Endel is now developing music created only by algorithms to “personalize” a space or environment that, according to Hsu, take ” … into account everything from their (listener) heart rate to the weather and thje time of day.” Endel got signed to Warner.

And Hsu notes that jazz pianist Dan Tepfer is releasing a new album soon called “Natural Machines” in which he plays duets with computer algorithms, in which the algorithms, according to Hsu, are “… designed to respond to his improvisations, producing a more dynamic range of sound than his two hands could make on their own.”

Huh. So, now connecting what I have been reading in the magazine piece to what I have been reading in The Art of Is, a question that keeps popping up into my head is this:

Can algorithms improvise? Will they be able to improvise? What will that mean?

Or is this one of those fault lines between human and machine, where improvisation is an art form that is truly and only human — something that draws from the heart, soul and mind? Or is that statement my own naive thinking, and machines will, if not now then soon enough, come to to learn how to be improvisational machines, creating art in the moment with no pre-programmed instructions? And if so, will we be able to tell the difference?

I’d like to think the first is true — that improvisation is a skill only humans have — and that we will be able to hear and recognize an improvisational solo by machine (Computer vs Coltrane? Saxophonist wins every time … right?) but I am less and less confident on that declaration as the years progress and I see projects like these unfolding.

What do you think?

Peace (I wrote that myself),
Kevin

 

It’s There In the Mistakes Where the Real Art Might Happen

Book nibblers

I’ve been reading, with other CLMOOC friends, the book, The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch, in an annotation site called NowComment, which has allowed us to engage with the text and have conversations together in the margins.

I reached a section last night about mistakes and improvisation, and how mistakes fuel creativity, but also, how so many people are taught to fear mistakes, how they avoid mistakes at all costs, and how many experience shame when things go awry (partly due to our education systems that teach failure vs success as a zero sum game).

“Mistakes” in improvisation are hard to define, but people recognize when something works and when it doesn’t. — from The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Nachmanovitch suggests otherwise, arguing that the possibilities of art also emerge from places where things are imperfect or gone awry but that finding the art in the mistakes requires your ear to be attuned to the possibilities emerging from the unknown, from the mistakes. This is embedded into improvisation, he suggests, and I agree.

For this is how I write songs. I start at a place where I know I will begin (common chords and common patterns) and then listen for my fingers fumbling on the fretboard of the guitar, knowing that sometimes, something happens — and I need to expect the unexpected, and use the mistake for a new path forward. In those moments, I am often scribbling lyrics like a madman, to capture the idea before it gets away from me.

In my rock and roll band, on my saxophone, when I am soloing, as improv, this, too, is what happens — I often don’t know where I am going with my playing on solos, and sometimes, my fingers take me in a direction that is, well, news to me. This nearly always sparks some internal panic known only to me, Making a mistake in a gathering with other musicians, particularly with a live audience in front of you — that’s tricky business, and stressful, and exciting, too. I’ve learned to trust myself in this high wire act, though. I trust I will know where to go even if I am not aware of it as I’m thinking on it.

Thinking on this concept of mistakes, I wrote a poem for the margins of our shared reading experience …

On Making Mistakes

No one ever noticed,
for more than the second
it takes one to forget,
the perfect song:
the magic of listening
to remember resides
in the blemishes —
the transposed chords,
the slightly off-kilter
phrasing, the slip of the
voice, the chipped reed, the
spit-filled tube, the broken
drumstick, the snapped piano
string, the panic that produced
something to ponder
when the music’s echoes
have since long been over

Peace (where the path goes, follow),
Kevin

Making is a Verb: Musicking with The Art of Is

Musicking with The Art of IsThere’s a whole section in the book some of us are reading together in NowComment, with annotation conversations unfolding, where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch (in The Art of Is) explores the division of the world into nouns and verbs, emphasizing the forward motion of doing things (verbs) as opposed to merely observing things by breaking them down into parts (nouns). He uses music as his example, noting that the word “musicking” would be a way to encompass the act of making music, often with others, and being creative.

I wondered how I could use the text itself for a way to inspire a new piece of music, to put Nachmanovitch’s idea into motion. I wanted to be musicking within the words of the text. After mulling it over, I decided to use the book title — The Art of Is — and the book subtitle — Improving as a Way of Life — and the author’s name — Stephen Nachmanovitch — as a means to gather chords.

The image above explains how I went about making my song — I only sought existing chords as I read (so, as Wendy asked elsewhere, I did not convert other letters without chords into something else … I just ignored them) and created three distinct sections: title, subtitle, name. I did keep the sequence of chords intact, however, so that in whatever order they were, that’s what I had to work with. I took the liberty of adding minor chords where it would make sense of the structure and sound.

I then went into the Garageband app on my iPad, and began to compose over the course of the afternoon, improvising and experimenting as I went about it.

First, I created drum tracks and worked with the bass, adding some guitar riffs, and then finally, layering in some of the world music instruments. I was slowly adding pieces, and then removing them at the end, to create a sound version of our annotation efforts (OK, this may be a leap, but not for me). For the most part, I think the song works, unfolding itself against the rhythm beat, and certainly, it is a piece of distinct music connected to and inspired by the book (if only in my mind).

You are welcome to remix or download or do whatever you want with the track from Soundcloud.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Buried in the Feldgang: A Poem from a Quote from a Book from an Idea

Quote: The Art of Is

I am forever overlapping
you; your notes cascading
upon me; where shadows
loom, you hold the light

We meet in the middle,
at the bridge – at the break –
at the moment of unexpected
surrender to the moment of
story and song

I am melody: nothing, but
for the harmony that spans
its wings beneath

Note: this is a #smallpoem, written in the margins of a community feldgang, with this line as anchor:

“Making art, whether you do it solo or in a group, derives its patterns from everything around us, in an interdependent network.” — Stephen Nachmanovitch, The Art of Is

Others have been leaving poems, too, in the book we are reading together in NowComment, and finding them in the margins of the text is a beautiful moment — a dance along the contours of Nachmanovitch’s ideas, made visible for shared experiences.

Peace (along the margins),
Kevin