Mobile Ethnography and the Dystopian History Classes My Grandchildren Will Take

“The goals of mobile ethnography will be augmented by the growth in self-tracking mobile apps, wearable technologies, and other types of personalized sensors – making integration a critical market and personal need. People’s “quantified self” activities can help those conducting field research to observe/capture “in the moment, in the emotion” experiences that are difficult to contextualize through other means.” – Mike Gotta in “Lessons Learned From EPIC’s Mobile Apps & Quantified Self Workshop,” available online at http://ethnographymatters.net/2014/01/20/lessons-learned-from-epic-workshop/

I first encountered the concept of quantified self last night, so I’m certainly not an expert, but it seems fascinating so far, and I’ve been spending a great deal of the intervening time trying to figure out how it relates to my (and others’) educational journey(s). I’m especially curious about the significance to future historians of the availability of this magnitude of recorded data, or the potential lack of availability of any data. Papyrus, paper, and tablets can be partially destroyed and still have decodable parts, but our electronic data storage formats might be an all-or-nothing historical record: either everything is saved, or nothing is readable due to encodings that have long since been abandoned or the need for certain kinds of technology to undo the computer encoding before language can even begin to be worked on. While a consistent policy of backing things up into the newest data formats to ensure that a semi-recent copy will always survive in uncorrupted format seems nice in theory, it would likely take up an unreasonable amount of space, both in memory and physical area, within a matter of decades, making it infeasible on the scale of millennia.

How will this data be stored? Will flash drives be misinterpreted by the future as some sort of jewelry or symbolic objects, or recognized as the data troves they are? Is there even a precedent for backups on this scale? How will we teach materials that survived only in electronic formats?

EDIT: This post was originally a “quote” formatted post, but that was largely an experiment with formatting. It failed, as the quote format seems to be for short quotes accompanied by minimal analysis.

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Party Projects, Rejuvenators of the Learner’s Spirit

What do 24-Hour Theatre Project, 48 Hour Film Project, and a Hackathon all have in common? They’re an adrenaline-fueled rush to see what you can produce in a short period of time. They also help fuel creativity and rejuvenate the desire to learn more about one’s discipline. By creating an absurdly-short time period in which a thing will be worked on, we both allow ourselves to work on a project only for that first “honeymoon” period where we’re enjoying every bit of it and allow for creativity, even at risk of mistakes. If you work on a script, for example, over the course of three years, you’ll not only face periods of apathy but also feel pressure to produce a good final product. A project into which we’ve invested a great deal of time becomes valuable, and, to feel justified in having spent so much (time, energy, money, what have you) on it, must be well-received by its intended audience. By working on a project for a brief but intense stint then having the option to drop it if it’s not working or continue if you really like it after the flash development period, we give ourselves the freedom to explore, to enjoy, and to expand into areas of lower confidence.

I’ve found that my personal projects unfailingly benefit significantly when I reserve some weekends for periods of flash development from which valuable new learning can be folded into the important stuff post-experimentation. This development of new knowledge in a low-risk environment that I can pull back into my higher-stakes project is a critical part of my learning and growth process, and I’m very much enjoying this in my attempt to create an English as a Second Language study program based on crowd-sourced, peer-reviewed pictorial definitions at MHacks this weekend. While I’m hoping to develop something that can eventually become a functional app, it’s a project too big to be really finished in one weekend, especially considering that I changed my strategy eight hours in, threw out the gui I had built as a web app, and began writing it for Android with Facebook API (neither of which I’ve used before). Because I’m investing, at absolute maximum, thirty six hours in any one aspect of it, though, changes like that are entirely possible. Additionally, this being a hackathon instead of a normal development environment allows me to produce a product for myself with the features I find important and in the timeframe I feel suitable. 

While I might not produce a fully functional app and I certainly won’t be winning any awards, I’ve already worked out some new strategies for interface design and userflow mapping, and I’m only a third of the way in about to start learning a new API! Hooray, learning opportunities!