Domains and devices of one’s own


I access probably about 90% of my working life via a network and some kind of provided institutionally internal or external service provider. I create and share a fair but of “stuff” at work, as well as accessing a range of entertainment media at home.

After spending a good few hours last weekend clearly out dusty old VHS tapes and DVD’s part of me is actually glad of the lack of that kind of clutter. I am fortunate to be (just now)  in a position where I can pay to easily access music, films, tv programmes. It helps me declutter my physical (owned, well it will be when I pay of the mortgage!) world.

But what do I actually own online? I don’t really think about that as often as I should. However, this morning a post from Audrey Watters in response to one from Maha Bali, has really got me thinking.  I can’t do justice to Audrey’s post, so just go and read it.  Audrey calls for us, and particularly those of us in education to resist the casual acceptance of the “post ownership” society.  She writes:

“How do we resist this? (And resist this, I contend, we must.) We resist through education. Yes. But we also must resist at the level of structure, at the level of systems, at the level of infrastructure. We can challenge how the Web and the Internet work – at the level of politics, power, money, and technology. But we can do so only if we understand what’s at stake, if we understand that the Web and the Internet are not naturally-occurring entities but are corporate and national forces bending towards certain ideological ends – privatization and profit.

The Domain of One’s Own initiative is one way that space is being given to provide educational experiences that can help our students and fellow teachers to develop the literacies they need to contest and contribute meaningful to society. Having access to a “safe” space is key to that. “

This week I’ve also been having discussions with IT colleagues about university provided digital space, data handling, personal and institutional responsibilities. They are planning future service provision and having the usual debate about service provision. I have been asked: how much university “space” do I use, what devices do I use to access that space, I am using encrypted/unencrypted devices to access said spaces, do I use “other” no university provided cloud spaces, how much data do I use in each of these spaces and how much do I think I need. Answers on a postcard please.

I use a lot of non university spaces at work.  Some of which I pay for e.g.  Evernote where I do a lot of writing; other’s that I don’t e.g. google drive/drop box. As each service provision “evolves” I weigh up the pros and cons of each and decide if I am willing to move from the “basic” (free at point of access) or  pay for “pro” features.   I don’t do a lot of “proper” research, but when I do, I do store “stuff” university space due to the legal and ethical requirements of any research project the university sanctions.

However, my data needs for that are, I think, relatively small.  I have no idea how much space I use – do you?  I don’t keep a running tally. Should I?  The only service that I get any “space” grief is my university email account which does have a limit and I have got quite close to that. I may get a tad annoyed about that as my personal email account never seems to run out of space. . .  My commitment to open education also means that I share my “stuff” as openly as possible. For example using our institutional open repository for sharing “stuff’ I have (reasonable) confidence that it will be available to me even if/when, I no longer work here.

During the conversations with my IT colleagues, the old command and control versus (appropriate) access and enablement did feature.  Universities should have enabling services, they should have transparent procedures in place to ensure that institutional and individual data responsibilities are being met. Whilst I know that the “I just put it into dropbox because it’s so darn complicated to access the secure shared drive” is not a valid excuse, it is a widespread reality.

This of course leads us to personal and institutional digital capability and knowing where to access and store different types of information/data.  I suppose in a way I do rent my desktop machine and my iPad from my institution. They are institutionally provided machines, gateways to institutional services.  They also allow my access to my own personal spaces. Increasingly the line between institutional and personal services are blurred.  For example I  have quite a different level of personal attachment to my ipad than my laptop.

Like many other institutions our students get access to office 365 and potentially a huge amount of digital space. Unlike A Domain of One’s Own we don’t have an explicit institutional view of how to use this space for as our mission states “the common good”.  We are in many ways just perpetuating the digital status quo, allowing microsoft to “get ‘em and keep ‘em”. We’re not really thinking about data, access and control beyond our legal obligations.  We’re not really thinking creatively about safe digital spaces.

As ever this post is a bit of a ramble and more me trying to sort my thoughts out.  I am now rethinking my comfort levels in terms of my post ownership relationship with my digital “stuff, and how I can in some small way enable some more creative thinking about our institutional provision.

5 thoughts on “Domains and devices of one’s own”

  1. Really interesting post, Shelia. Thanks for sharing.

    I personally dont have a huge problem with externally held ‘personal’ data as I see the benefits of near ubiquitous access and communication out-weigh the occasional gripe about cost, feature change or missing data. Having left an academic institution after many years service and experiencing the trauma of unpicking my digital identity, I see the University as just another holder of my personal information. In a strange way, I feel liberated by this, not oppressed.

    ‘Post-ownership’ society trends are concerning though. In an transient, mobile and risk-averse global community, we are vulnerable to political, economic or security shocks which could transform the emerging vitality of the web.

    The ‘domain of one’s own’ reminds me of a portfolio concept mentioned by Serge Ravet several years ago. He envisioned a time when everybody would have a portfolio containing whatever information one wished, and one controlled access to data being used about you. I like that idea, but cannot imagine how we could wrestle control of our data back from big business.

    Having said all this, I am still a great hoarder of beautifully bound, musty-smelling, shiny and battered books on all subjects under the sun 🙂

    1. thanks John – I do like the idea of flipping the data ownership thing though and having a mechanism whereby I control and authorize access to my personal data – but who am I going to rent that service from😉. I still have plenty of books too

  2. In line with this I am reading (starting to) One dimensional Man by H. Marcuse which will help me to find a more critical stance to what you are pointing out and what Audrey mentioned in her post. ” It is my purpose to demonstrate the internal instrumentalist character of modern scientific rationality by virtue of which it is a priori technology, and the a priori of a specific technology -namely, technology as a form of social control and domination” so following his thoughts there is always a political agenda of some kind of control and domination underneath what seems neutral and inevitable, as Audrey says. I think it is hard to keep up with the hidden political agenda but we beed to be critical, I think. As an example, WhatsApp is now sharing our phone numbers with Facebook so they can send us adds!! I already unticked that box when WhatsApp asked me if I woukd like to share my telephone number. What shall we do? Steven Downes suggests to uninstall it and close the Facebook account. Radical? Or critical? Not a straight forward answer!

    1. thanks for the comment Caroline and Reference – another one for me to look at. It’s so hard to know where the balance of enabling/ critically using, exploitation, passivity and convenience are.

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