The Frontiers of Democracy, almost

The Social Frontier was a radical journal, which saw the school as an agent of social change. It was published at Teachers College for six years, starting in 1934. After that it was sponsored by the Progressive Education Association and changed its title to Frontiers of Democracy. The final issue was published in 1943.

The writers and editors for Social Frontier / Frontiers of Democracy (SF/FD) were dedicated to creating a more open society, one in which democratic participation was not simply a slogan, but a living reality. That meant expanding educational opportunities, increasing access, developing critical, socially-engaged citizens (where “citizen” means any resident), and involving all in what Dewey called the process of authority.

I’m sure the SF/FD writers would be pleased to know that the Teachers College Record and the Gottesman Libraries are “re-releasing the journal both because of its historical importance and because of its continued relevance to educators today.” The collection has been digitized and presented on a well-designed web page.

SF/FD writers would applaud the recognition of its continuing value. They would quickly understand the web as a new means for increasing access and accomplishing more of the democratic mission that they had undertaken. They would envision that teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and the ordinary citizen as well, would certainly have some means for convenient access.

Along with that they would of course recognize the need to recover costs and to value the labor required to publish and distribute texts. But it’s hard to imagine that they would be pleased to know that the very journal they had established “to lead educators in the building of an enlightened America” (Harold Rugg) is effectively off limits to most of the people they hoped to reach, despite the new technological affordances.

How many individuals will choose to subscribe to TCRecord simply in order to access SF/FD? Even people at other universities willing to pay the appropriate costs, and current subscribers to TCRecord, are excluded since the institutional subscription does not include SF/FD. In the midst of information overload, the apparently modest terms can be off-putting: “The introductory rate of $20 is available for a limited time…Your membership will automatically renew every 365 days…No refunds are offered for early cancellation.” I suspect that at best many will decide to look at the print version if and when it’s available to them, and resign themselves to being unable to share any findings more widely with the very audience that the journal envisions.

Rugg’s books and the progressive education movement in general suffered from rightwing attacks through the late 1930’s into the McCarthy era. Today the movement suffers more from indifference and a lack of understanding of the issues involved. A paywall for a relatively obscure journal that ceased publication over 70 years ago does little to help. I assume that TC or TCRecord has full copyright, but it’s worth noting that the journal was sponsored for half its life by the Progressive Education Association (as Frontiers of Democracy), and as such only in part by TC.

In the final issue, Rugg says, “Our treasured American way of life is in great danger, not only from menacing fascists and false patrioteers, but primarily because our people, standing baffled and bewildered on the threshold of abundance are unable to bring about such a life.” Much the same could be said today; it’s a pity that the opportunity to further dialogue on these issues has been lost. As too often happens, a good project with a noble purpose undermines its own agenda, for apparently petty reasons.

Replicating

This could help with a house move. All you need to do is

  1. Scan everything you own in the old house, including the car and piano;
  2. Save the scan files on your laptop;
  3. Move, remembering to bring the laptop;
  4. Print it all out again once you’re in the new house.

This would not only save on moving costs, but would also simplify the decision process regarding what’s worth moving.

If you needed to modify something, you’d need to do that at a Community Fab Lab, such as the one at the University of Illinois, which

is equipped with commercially available rapid prototyping manufacturing equipment, such as a laser cutter for carving out 2D and 3D structures; a precision milling machine for 3D molds or circuit boards and a larger one for making furniture or larger parts; rapid prototyping equipment for 3D printing with plastic; a sign cutter for creating graphics or plotting flexible electronic circuits; and electronic assembly tools.

Volunteer and youth in the Fab Lab (U Illinois I-STEM photo)

Volunteer and youth in the Fab Lab (U Illinois I-STEM photo)

A rebus baby announcement

In these times, we hear about family events through cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and for a few old-timers, email. I got to meet a new grand-nephew that way just last week.

Chloe & Bishop

But that wasn’t always so. I came across an older technology while we were cleaning up our attic. It’s a rebus announcing Sunny Baby Jim, with at least 230 cut-outs from newspapers and magazines pasted onto a continuous roll of brown wrapping paper. It not only announces the baby, but also provides a glimpse into life in the US in 1905.

The paper for the rebus has become brittle and is starting to crumble. Some of the cut-outs are faded.I decided I should photograph it and decode it before it disintegrates completely.

It’s probably from my Great-Great-Aunt Fanny in Spokane, writing to my Grandmother, Dorothy in 1905. See whether you can decode it. The images aren’t very clear in the small versions, but should be more readable if you click each one to enlarge it.

There’s a scrap cityscape of Spokane, which probably came first. So, I think the first part says,

Spokane

Dear Little Dorothy,

I send you a puzzle to make you laugh.

It is raining cats, dogs, and babies.

The babies shown include the Gold Dust Twins, mascots for Gold Dust Washing Powder. Those racial caricatures were wisely phased out, but not for another 50 years.

Aunt Fanny goes on to ask:

Would you like to hear about the new baby in this house? He weighs nine pounds and sleeps all night, that’s the way babies grow. When he smiles we call him Sunny Jim Baby.

Then, there’s a comment about babies in general, and some local news:

Before babies sleep and after babies sleep, they eat, all the time.

I have a new pair of shoes and they hurt my feet and corns.

We got awakened one night. A shot was heard around the house. We called two policemen and he ran away.

How is Grandmother? I am getting so fat.

Spokane is soon to have a circus. [There’s then a six-frame comic strip set in a circus ring.]

While looking up information on that circus, I learned that a steel bridge with power wires for streetcars and overhead lighting was constructed over the Spokane River Gorge after the wooden bridge burned in 1890. The new bridge vibrated badly, and in 1905 the National Good Roads Association declared it unsafe. The Ringling Brothers Circus elephants refused to cross it. It was replaced in 1911.

The closing of the rebus reports some national news:

It is time for a bath and bed.

Love to the whole damn family.

PS: Teddy Roosevelt is in Colorado. [He went bear hunting there in 1905.]

Your Aunt [Fanny]

I don’t know how long we can keep the original of the rebus, thus this post to preserve it in a limited way. But it’s held up surprisingly well after 106 years, especially since it had not been cared for, just tossed into boxes in attics or garages. Will we be able to read this blog post as well in the year 2117?

Thanks, Aunt Fanny for your fascinating artwork. I suspect that few aunts (or uncles) today could or would invest the time to make such a detailed token of love for their niece.

Yandex Probki

Keith Gessen has an interesting article about Moscow’s horrible traffic, Letter from Moscow, “Stuck,” in The New Yorker (August 2, 2010, p. 24).

Among other things, he describes Yandex Probki (Яндекс.Карты), an excellent example of a user-created map, which shows Moscow traffic patterns in real time. The site’s content comes, not from webcams or pavement sensors, neither of which would both practical there, but from GPS-enabled smartphones. Users send in descriptions from their own situations.

You can get a sense of the site from this video below, but you can also explore the map itself and get a sense of the enormity of the traffic jams, even if you don’t read Russian.

“Free” as in free enterprise?

When Clear Channel has a station at the DFW airport saying “FREE Charge and Internet™”, would you think that it offers free charging AND free Internet”? I foolishly did, in part because I thought the ™ applied to “FREE Charge and Internet” and that they hadn’t actually trademarked “Internet”.

It’s possible that they meant that you could get free Internet if you were already a home Clear Channel subscriber, but for me, it was $7.95. I know, it’s less than two medium lattes, but that still fails to add to my already incalculable love of flying.

This is from a press release on their website:

“FreeCharge™ has, not surprisingly, been very popular with passengers flying in and out of our busy airport. They provide not only free power but also free internet with CAT 5 and USB ports.”

On network neutrality

Today’s News From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

ON NETWORK NEUTRALITY: A MINUTE WITH U. OF I. EXPERT CHIP BRUCE

Editor’s note: The proposed deal between Google and Verizon to create two tiers of service for Internet traffic has made waves throughout the technology and telecommunications industry. It also managed to rile network neutrality and privacy advocates, who see the proposed partnership in much starker terms, with some even going as far as calling the deal the end of the Internet as we know it.

Chip Bruce, a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois, was interviewed by News Bureau reporter Phil Ciciora about the Google-Verizon partnership and its impact on network neutrality.

What makes the proposed partnership between Google and Verizon so scary for consumers? Why should this give the average person pause?

Today, you can go online to see content offered by Google or Verizon, but also that of other large computer and communications companies, small businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations, and potentially any of the world’s 2 billion Internet users as well as content produced originally offline. Google says that this partnership won’t endanger that, but the loss of net neutrality is a first step away from open access to information and toward pre-packaged service.

Verizon wants to be able to serve its content faster or even in lieu of any of its competitors’ content. You’d be able to get news, music, videos and sports as always, but Google-Verizon could say which version you’d see. This immediately endangers free speech and the free flow of information, because private companies would essentially have the final say on what gets out. It also has implications for privacy of Internet use, since the providers will need to examine Internet content in order to control it.

There are also major risks for innovation on the Internet. Suppose that someone in a dorm or a garage devises a better way to deliver television and movies. If major providers control which information flows in what way, those young entrepreneurs may never get the chance to enter their idea into the marketplace.

Net neutrality advocates would argue that the increasing corporate control over the Internet essentially has privatized a service that was developed at public expense to serve public needs. Does that line of reasoning also hold for wireless networks?

Much of the basic technology for both wired and wireless systems has been developed at public expense to serve public needs. The communications corporations would argue that they’ve invested a huge amount on top of that, and in absolute dollar terms, they have.

But beyond any argument about who paid for what, we should remember why public funds have been used to support basic communications. The primary reason is the understanding that a viable democracy requires free and open communication among an educated public. In addition, an open system fosters economic development, cultural exchange, education and many other public goods.

Corporate control over the Internet offers no assurance that these public values will be served. In fact, by law, corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to serve their stockholders, not the public.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently has argued against the “sheer impracticality” of net neutrality on wireless networks. Is he correct?

There has never been nor will there ever be full and absolute net neutrality. Money and power speak in many ways to ensure, for example, that an ordinary person does not have the same access as a major multinational corporation does. With demand exceeding capacity, it may be difficult in the short run to maintain net neutrality on wireless networks. However, the bigger question is what policies we should strive to maintain. Do we want communications systems that afford the greatest possible freedom of access and use for all, or do we want a small set of closed systems, offering controlled and pre-packaged content?

It seems like corporations are increasingly setting the terms for the net neutrality debate. What should the FCC do to re-assert its jurisdiction and authority?

A key issue is whether we want to allow the major means for Internet access to become a set of packages of controlled information, like an individual book or magazine in print form. That’s what the loss of net neutrality could mean.

But I see the Internet as a communications system, and major communications companies as common carriers of those communications. As such, it’s crucial that they be required to deliver communications without tiers for special services, favoritism or control of content. In that sense, the Internet is more akin to the print publishing world, not to a single book.

This means that the FCC needs to “reclassify” broadband from being an information service to a telecommunications service, which would then require communications companies to ensure open use.

What would an Internet without net neutrality look like?

We don’t know for sure, and there are many reasons why – corporations may react in different ways, the public may acquiesce or rebel, and the technologies may change in radical ways we can’t foresee today.

It’s increasingly likely, however, that the Internet experience will become one defined by the specific service one purchases, whether that’s through Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, or some other company. Each corporation will seek to meet consumer needs, but in a way that maximizes its profit. For example, every service will offer movies, but the cost, terms of service, and so on, will be those of that provider. There will be a financial incentive to deprecate services that don’t generate revenue. What’s being sold is then a package of services, not general communication access.

The ordinary user will see some enticing new services, as each corporation tries to lure customers. But she or he will not find some content they find now, because it won’t support the business model. A recent example is Comcast’s undermining of net neutrality by shutting down peer-to-peer networking – in particular, BitTorrent. A U.S. Appeals Court ruling in April allowed that under the assumption of the Internet as information service.

And it’s not just cheap entertainment that will be lost. About the same time as the U.S. Appeals Court ruling, WikiLeaks released a classified U.S. military video showing the killing of more than a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters news staffers. What guarantee do we have a profit-seeking corporation will provide open access to independent media?

Suppose you think BitTorrent and WikiLeaks are wrong. Do you want your Internet provider to decide what you can and cannot see? Beyond the specifics of access, privacy, free speech and innovation, the big question is, “Who should decide Internet policy?”

Visit the News Bureau for more U. of I. news.


See also:

Network neutrality notes

Network neutrality means no restrictions by Internet Service Providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, attached equipment, or modes of communication. This includes neither blocking sites nor offering tiered service models. It can be viewed from the perspective of users wanted to access particular content, such as peer-to-peer sites for video or music, or from the perspective of producers seeking to deliver their content more effectively to users.

History. Concerns with telegraph: “messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception. (Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860)

In 1934, Congress created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with the purpose “to make available, so far as possible, to all people of the United States… A rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communications service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, [and] for the purpose of promoting the safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communication.”

The Internet developed out of public funded services, such as Arpanet, NSFnet, TCI/IP. Eventually centralized routing aspects were removed, allowing the free-wheeling Internet we use today. But in recent years, corporate control over key aspects of the Internet has grown, essentially privatizing a service developed at public expense to serve public needs.

Tiered service. Opponents of net neutrality see it as “a solution in search of a problem”, arguing that broadband service providers have no plans to block content or degrade network performance. Yet, Comcast, for example, “intentionally and secretly blocked access to lawful content on the Internet,” e.g.,  peer-to-peer (P2P) communications, such as BitTorrent. The FCC attempted to block that, but lost that authority after a US Court of Appeals decision on April 6, 2010.

Google may soon reach an agreement with Verizon, which will severely compromise the free flow of information that has made the Internet such a powerful force for creativity, collaboration, and learning.

Issues.

  • Innovation: The Internet has been a striking incubator of new ideas, enterprises, products, services, and jobs. This is to a large extent based on its open practices.
  • Privacy: An Internet with built-in nonneutrality would require an additional level of monitoring, i.e., surveillance, so that packets of information can be routed at the agreed-upon speed and that premiums can be charged. (Cohen, 2010).
  • Free speech: The more service is based on the ability to pay, the less access will ordinary people have to the public forum. ISPs, with a legal responsibility to their shareholders alone, have no incentive to guarantee high quality access to all, and in fact, are legally bound not to do so. They could degrade or block any Web site that was critical of them or did not support their political views.
  • Secrecy: In a Kafkaesque mode, there is no provision for corporations to reveal their selective control of content, including whom they target for preferential or degraded service, why they do so, or even whether or how much they have done. Nearly all major phone and cable companies have promised their shareholders that they plan to block or degrade the content and services of their competitors.
  • Access to information: The other side of free speech. Access suffers when what’s available is based on how much someone paid to put it there.

Who decides. Beyond the specifics of access, privacy, free speech, innovation, etc., the big question is “Who should decide internet policy?”

References

Cohen, Noam (2010, August 15). Internet proposal from Google and Verizon raises fears for privacy. The New York Times.

Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860. Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

US Court of Appeals (2010, April 6). Comcast Corp. v. Federal Communication Commission..