Liveblog: #oeglobal Keynote Mark Surman (Mozilla)

Mark is a community activist and technology executive who currently serves as a director of the Mozilla Foundation, makers of the Firefox web browser.  He began by noting the need for digital literacies, suggesting that literacy is characterised by the ability to:

  • read
  • write
  • participate

Technologies allow us to express ourselves help us to read, write, and participate in new ways.  And in important ways, since ideas and communication shape the world.  “The Roman empire and city states were essentially products of writing“.  Yet at the same time, how do we direct this process?

Mark referred to the media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror“. Agreements like the Cape Town Declaration help to orient us around a conception of openness that can inform strategies and ambitions. Mozilla’s Firefox browser is an example of success in reframing the status quo through collective action.  The Internet Explorer browser went from 98% market dominance, and Microsoft lost a hold on their monopoly.  Similarly, we are now in a position to rethink educational systems and break the patterns of the past.  We can see this happening in a shift around the expectation around use of public funding, with programmes like the TAACCCT grants which mandate for OER production in community colleges. We have won battles, but we are losing the war:  vast portions of the internet are walled gardens, and monopolies/oligopolies are emerging in educational markets. Companies like Google potentially control almost every aspect of a range of services with a business imperative based on gaining complete vertical control of our digital lives. The intent of companies like Uber is to become the monopolist of the ‘internet of things‘.  Many people don’t really understand how the internet works, or what is happening when they use it.   New literacies are needed if we are to influence the future development of digital life.  The modern from of empire is based in Silicon Valley and Palo Alto.

As William Gibson said, ‘the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed“.  By building up web literacties and knowing how to use the web provides a way to build resistance and alternative pathways into content.  In a sense, the argument here is that knowledge (as a kind of savoir-fair) is power – or at least empowering.  A culture of making – whether webpages, OER, creative endeavours – is also a culture of learning and empowerment.

We need to be more ambitious in terms of taking back control of the web through digital and web literacies.  Mozilla is running short training courses and conferences to encourage this culture. We are at a kind of ‘Guttenbergian” moment – the extent to which we get the right kind of solution now will influence how information is produced and shared in future years.