Friday, February 29, 2008

Not joining the dots

Sort of related to my earlier post today, I came across Jay Cross's post about the death of Hans Monderman. Jay has mentioned quite often recently that we should refrain from joining the dots for our learners/users, something he revisits in this post.

Oddly enough, I was thinking about this last night. Even more oddly, it was also as a result of a death that my thoughts were drifting in that direction.

We had just spent the evening with a recently bereaved family. The wife died on the operating table after a lengthy battle against diabetes, which had already cost her one leg, while the partial amputation of the other was the reason she was on the table on this occasion.

Life with Carol (not her real name) couldn't have been easy. She was enormously overweight and that, combined with the loss of her leg meant that it had been some years since she had been able to venture up the stairs, so she lived on the ground floor of the house and shouted when she wanted something brought to her. She was very demanding, and stubbornly undisciplined about her diet. Her husband's whole life seemed to revolve around caring for her, and if something didn't suit Carol, it didn't happen.

In the purely mercenary scheme of things, one might expect her death to be a relief to her family.

Not so.

Dean (not his real name, either) is entirely rudderless. He can't sleep, he can't cry. He didn't want an easy life, he wanted the life he had, and she constituted most of it.

There is a scene in the Matrix, where Agent Smith has taken Morpheus captive. He explains that the alpha version of the virtual reality designed for the human "batteries" was perfect... and it failed. People didn't want perfect, they wanted real, believable. They wanted to make choices for themselves.

As we see the tendrils of the nanny state extending further and further into our lives, far from improving things, we see them growing steadily worse. As both Jay and Hans Morderman seem to indicate - the more people are relieved of duty of taking the responsibility for their actions, the worse they behave. Start from a position of high expectations and they appear to rise to the challenge. The more we lock things down, blocking and banning everything we deem unsuitable, the more people seem to find a way to abuse the system. And yet, in organisations that operate on trust, they seldom seem to have reason to fire people for betraying that trust.

Perhaps it's time we put the spoon down and let our users pick up the knife and fork for themselves!

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