Open Science

The three dimensions of Bildung/education (1.2)

Given the processual character of this learning relationship and process, but also due to my broader understanding of (autodidactical) education and life long learning, I would like to distinguish two sides of the same coin, called Bildung in German: first, there is knowledge, information, and thought on one side. This is the side where theory, background information, history, raw data, „facts“ and findings belong. And secondly, learning, understanding and practice constitute the other side: this is where we (sort of) incorporate the brickets of information from the first side, in a process of building – etymologically related to Bildung – a balanced structure of both sides‘ contributions. Both sides of achieving Bildung highly matter – and moreover, I think that Bildung is a very deep, and perhaps boundless structure.

OK, so there is no shortcut allowing us to skip the first side: if you want to start blogging, you need to confront certain facts, compare given offers and possibilities, clarify what a self-hosted or non-self-hosted blog is, and so on. But what equally matters is your motivation. In this regard, I am convinced that Science Blogging can be one of the best ways to start a sometimes joyful, at times time-consuming learning by doing: it offers us a way to incorporate knowledge without pressure, exams, frontal memorisation, impostor syndroms or awful writer’s blocks. To the contrary: as we set the pace, as we change and develop, by the time, a certain style of writing, it can be seen as a self-empowered Bildungsprozess – one with significant milestones at the wayside, unexpected trophies and lifts in morale, with friendly feedback from and exchange with other bloggers. Blogging, at least with WordPress and other free software, is much less attention-seeking, psychologically sucking, outrightly foolish than some of the dynamics on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.).

Unlike the latter group, Science Blogging with open source and free software doesn’t deprive you of your data. It doesn’t lock you in, it doesn’t push you into narcissistic addictivity, and it usually doesn’t threaten you with brutish and pointless „shitstorms“. Science Blogging nurtures more dedication, while it is more reflexive, relaxed, focused – and basically free of charges (footnote: there are minimal and low costs for self-hosting a blog, ususally much below, say, your spotify or netflix subscription. Moreover, while there is a huge range of themes and plugins free of charges, there are others which you can buy; but you can live without them.). Another big difference to proprietary, platform-owned, algorithmic social media – where you will not have access to the code, and where you even have to „apply“ for downloading your own data – blogging with WordPress and similar free software can be your door opener to learn more about the World Wide Web’s backend, and how it functions. The fact that the educational trail of Science Blogging is theoretically open to everyone committed to writing on science, while it is still the path less travelled, also draws to a third dimension of Bildung: the question how we use the net is also dependent of our degree of digital literacy and maturity. That sounds scary? Well, first things first…  

Regarding the first aspect, it is very easy to share bits and bricks of knowledge, thought, and information – mainly thanks to the possibilities offered by the World Wide Web; to the point, of course, that the internet is not censored – or that, when it is subject to censorship, users know their ways how to outsmart their censors. The latter is something quite common in Iran, as the ongoing social revolution demonstrates; in Southeast European Studies, especially Turkey based scholars and students are plagued by censorship; and in Russia, the head of state dictates what history and truth is ought to be. Given the rise in authoritarianism and populism also elsewhere, we should not forget that basic freedoms and openness to information are precious achievements – and that audacity, disobediance and knowledge „between the lines“ can be powerful tools. I will discuss problems with insufficient openness and freedom in the following – but in a much less dramatic setting: intentional tightening and scarcity of knowledge by commercial platforms in liberal democracies continue to be an unsettled challenge; even traditional academia and its norms has a questionable share in scarcity. For all these reasons, the Open Access movement, including its controversies, deserves attention in this essay.

With regard to the second side of learning, understanding and practicing, it is incommensurabely more difficult to share with others how we learn and how we start understanding things – which used to be inaccessible to us, before we sensed that certain “inner click”. Are we aware of our own shortcomings? Do we master the language(s) needed for understanding? And if not, how can we encourage ourselves to delve into a realm often abbreviated as tech, which we, as humanities scholars, often were told it was not “ours”? When you start blogging, it may take you some time to get there. But soon, you will get a clearer picture of the dissemination of information in the World Wide Web, and how it structurally and technically works. You will probably add new news sites to your reading list. At a certain point, you may want to change some of the prearranged settings and designs of your theme – and you may dare to finally open that scaring backyard, called the code editor. Looking out for help, you will realize that there are so many people in the blogosphere who love to share their own achievements in free tutorials. Your initial shyness may decrease, your curiosity increase. You are learning. 

Our initial shyness touches upon the already mentioned, third dimension of learning through practicing the digital language(s). As I shall discuss in this essay, scarcity of information and knowledge is not always the main problem; especially not when we discuss Open Science from the perspective of a comparatively free and democratic political setting. But, the fact that there is access to a wide range of Open Software with Open Code, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is big interest, or even the needed literacy, in order to use the given benefits. When we read in the news that an autocratic regime has manipulated the presidential elections in another country – by the help of his army of trolls, hackers, bots – then we (kinda) know that there was manipulation. But do we understand how manipulation works? For this purpose, I will discuss the impact of algorithmic, platform-owned, and increasingly oligarchic social media.

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