Thoughts on Steven Johnson

Last night a group of us attended Steven Johnson’s lecture at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in Lower Manhattan. He was the keynote speaker at Cooper-Hewitt’s Summer Design Institute, a program for K-12 teachers to engage students somehow in using “design” for learning.

On to Steven Johnson…while he wasn’t the most dynamic speaker I have ever seen, he presented some interesting concepts. His talk was strikingly similar to David Weinberger’s keynote addres at this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia. They both waxed on about the power of blogging, and the power of individuals to relay information to the world. I think this concept has long been a promise of the web, democratizing information, but blogging has become one more tool in this process, rather than the ultimate answer.

His talk was titled “The Urban Web” and he really focused on how cities can be viewed through the concept of the Web. I thought the idea of geo-tags that he discussed seemed amazingly powerful, but scary in terms of privacy issues. Geo-tagging will give us the ability to locate people and resources at the push of a button; this may make the search for such things easier, but does not necessarily make life better. Perhaps some of the “fun” of city life is just being able to “swerve” so easily as he put it. Living on the same block for two years and suddenly noticing a falafel shop that you had never come across before because they put new lights in the window, not because you received a text-message on your cell phone that lists every falafel place within 500 feet of you.

I think the blogging tools will give a host of people access to resources that they never have had before – wonderful. But for those who are not on the internet, not computer literate, or maybe just not blog literate, it presents the same types of divides that any new technology brings. Blogging and tagging have yet to show how they can democratize information past priviliged individuals.

arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.