CCK08 – Disconnected

(This post is about the Massively Online Open Course called Connectivism and Connective Knowledge being taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from September to December 2008. Over 1900 participants have signed up, and I am facilitating the Second Life cohort for the course. Over the following months, I will be posting about the experience, home work assignments, and other materials related to our activities.)


Storm damage in Cincinnati, photo by elycefeliz used under CC licensing.

On Sunday, the remnants of Hurricane Ike traveled all the way up to Indiana and Ohio, and though I’ve certainly seen my fair share of weird weather phenomena, I have never seen a wind storm like that! I lost my biggest shade tree in the back yard and have a little roof damage, but other than property damage, all my friends, family, and coworkers are ok. Being so far inland, this part of the country is certainly not prepared for hurricane or tropical force winds, and it caused a massive blackout in the region, shortages of gas and food, school closings, and a new understanding and sympathy for those in Texas who took the brunt of the storm.


And suddenly, in the middle of the Connectivism course, I found myself forcefully Disconnected.

I’ve had brief power outages before, but not for so long and never for so long in the summer. When you get a big winter storm, there’s a snowy white visual barrier between you and the rest of the world and you know it will melt and things will get back to normal. This time, there was no visual, nothing but the hanging powerlines and broken telephone poles to remind you that our modern society and all of our connections are really quite tenuous. Without the juice that those cables provide, and the pipes that transmit all of those 01010101011110001’s, those of us who are hyperconnected online may be more isolated and disconnected locally than ever before. It was a sobering thought.

It wasn’t until sometime on Monday when I began to worry that the power might not be back by Tuesday’s Connectivism course meeting in Second Life that I remembered my Utterz account. I have Utterz set up in such a way that I can call Utterz from my cell phone and record a message. Utterz then creates a post automatically on my blog, and WordPress is set up with a plug-in to automatically send a message to Twitter whenever something is posted on my blog. This means that when I was stranded with no electricity, internet, or landline phone, I could flip open my cell phone, record a message, and within a few minutes my voice was online and my network of twitter friends were notified. Chilbo residents Malburns Writer and Tara Yeats noticed it, and Tara is also in the Connectivism course, so she very kindly sent an email out to the Second Life Cohort to let folks know I was offline. (Thanks Tara!)

Hmm, so maybe not so disconnected after all. But it was quite strange to be standing in the dark and sending out what felt like an SOS of sorts into the ether. What to say when you’re talking to.. well, anyone? Should I direct the message to my blog readers, to the Connectivism course? Without access to my online calendar, I wasn’t even sure who else I was supposed to be meeting with, so maybe it should be as general as possible? I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

Mobile post sent by fleep using Utterzreply-count Replies.  mp3

And then a few days later I ran across a post by fellow Connectivism student Janet Clarey, who writes about my Utterz post, saying:

Chris Collins (a/k/a Fleep) sends a mobile post to her blog because she has no power and no Internet connection. She’s letting her ~2,000 online course mates (in the CCK08 course) know that she won’t be in attendance today. No biggee right? It’s no different than a voice mail sent to a group. Or is it? I think it’s significant. She’s communicating with anyone.

I’m not sure I could be as creative if I found myself without power or a connection. Perhaps that’s because Fleep seems to have several less wrinkles than I do and doesn’t carry the weight of my prior telecommunication experiences. Or maybe I’m just not cool.

See, I’d call someone even though anyone would be the better choice for learning (e.g., what was covered during her absence). She’s inviting dialogue over monologue.

Janet gives me too much credit. =) I am actually old enough to remember shared phonelines, dialing telephones, and pressing 9 to get an outside line. I’m old enough to feel awkward speaking to just anyone who happens to hear, and I’m still experimenting with and feeling out my own boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to broadcast out to the whole wide world. The only difference, perhaps, between Janet and myself, is that I had previously played with Utterz, had taken the time to set up the cascading automated linkages that would make that audiopost > blog > twitter chain happen, and remembered it during the blackout. But on the inside, I’m still uncomfortable both with my connectedness and disconnectedness, I still feel unsure, strangely vulnerable talking to anyone and yet discomfited when the lights were out and the PC buzz was palpably absent.

I think we’re all still learning how to be connected, how to cope with disconnection, and where our comfort level begins to stray into uncomfortable territory. One of the lessons I took from this (besides the fact that I really should have a bigger store of batteries and non-perishable food!) is that there turned out to be great value in the hour or so I spent playing with Utterz.. what a year ago when I set that up? It turned out that by connecting my blog and twitter to some new service I wasn’t even sure how to use or what to use it for would eventually come in handy. That the few minutes I spend from time to time listening to my friends’ Utterz was back there in my memory, recalled in the moment of need. Setting up connections is time consuming, and sometimes I don’t know what value, if any, it will have, but in this case, it turned out to be very handy indeed.

And it wasn’t just the technology connection that made this work, it was also the people connection. Malburns and Tara are good online friends, good citizens of our community, and good hyperconnected netizens. Who knows how many people saw/heard that post and did nothing, but Tara took the time to not only listen to the message, but then to compose a message and forward it on my behalf, completing a circuit in the chain that was NOT automated (notifying the Connectivism SL cohort) – and it was our personal relationship and connection that made that part happen, not the technology itself.

Lesson: Need batteries and better emergency stores at home – you must plan for the unexpected.

Lesson: Our electronic connections are more tenuous than they sometimes appear. The energy crisis and degrading infrastructure in the US is a Serious Issue that we need to pay more attention to.

Lesson: Keeping abreast of and playing with new online tools and ways to connect can have big payoff in the future, even if you don’t see value in it now.

Lesson: Technology facilitates many things, but it’s the people connections that ultimately save the day.

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  1. I am glad to read that you too are a little uncomfortable with the connectedness. I made a similar post in which I was trying to figure out my own hesitation to connect in this class: http://wwsiwyg.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/what-is-the-cost-of-a-mooc/

    So this is me trying to get out of my comfort zone. I did receive and appreciate Tara’s message but didn’t take the time to think more reflectively about the route the message took. I have been quietly learning from you for a while now so it helps to see you express your own hesitation and I want to mostly say thanks for allowing me to follow you.

    BTW, the SL tour and your build in Chilbo is really amazing. I did have a few new ‘aha’ moments yesterday about the different types of educational experiences that can occur in SL.

  2. well that’s just cool. i was disconnected for only about 12 hours. my main concern was coffee, pathetic, i know. 🙂
    glad you got through it too!

  3. Glad you’re back amongst the connected, Fleep! And I do know what you mean about having more empathy with those caught in natural disasters.

    You might recall I was cut off for most of 4 days last December in the wake of an incredible snow/rain/melt/flood/mudslide event in my area. No electricity, no phone, no heat, AND blocked roads! I don’t have a cell phone (I am not out traveling around enough to warrant the expense), so that wasn’t an option – a ride down to the local firehall where power and phone had been restored (on day 4 when the rain finally stopped) enabled me to make contact again. At least I’d been up and down on power for about a day before things really got bad so folks knew!

  4. Fleep,

    I am very sorry to hear about the damage that you incurred. I have spoken to a few Lindens with regard to the obstacles that many affected by the storm are dealing with in hopes that they can make some exception to allow residents to properly take care of billing issues. Unfortunately Tara and Malburns aren’t Lindens or my pleas would have made the rounds.

    You touched on a few issues that are plaguing us here in Texas and Louisiana thanks to Ike. I think it is probably most imperative that there be a way to address these issues in a world where online transactions can affect bank accounts if loss of connectivity prevents you from managing your money for an extended period of time.

    Here are two scenarios that are currently nightmarish for me.

    1)I own and manage several regions in Second Life. Many residents, especially European residents prefer to pay in Linden Dollars to avoid VAT or because PayPal and other online payment services are not available to them (at least on a subscription basis). While these residents are paying tier and it is being collected in my account, if I cannot get online to convert those Linden Dollars into funds that Linden Lab will accept as payment when my own tier is due, payments are drawn from my bank account. And while I made special accommodations to place extra funds in my account because I knew the storm was approaching, if it becomes necessary for me to use those funds instead to take care of issues that arise because of the storm, I am going to take care of that first.

    Personally I despise cellphones. I am wired enough as it is. Now that does not mean that I do not have access to one, it just means that I find it more of an annoying way to communicate than is provided by other devices. In the instance of Ike, communications and internet access via cellphone have been spotty at best because the network is saturated. At that point you can only send text messages and even then they do not all go through. Given that, wireless connectivity provides absolutely no guarantee or security blanket for managing your funds.

    2) Online merchandise sold via Ebay or web site. Man, this is a mess. If you have 200 items or so out there (maybe more) and a storm is approaching, what do you do? Race to de-list items or race to secure your home and business? I don’t want glass or water in my face or all over my belongings, so I guess I better board up my windows instead… Well.. great.. The storm arrives; kills power for 4 days and you have made sales that you have to accept payment on and in some cases convert to US dollars because the order is from overseas. If you don’t take care of this, you run the risk of trashing your sellers reputation on Ebay. Once you have taken care of that, your reputation is still at risk because now you have to deal with the fact that the US Mail and/or even private mail carriers are unable to service your area. (Not to mention that you just realized that you used most of your tape on your windows *grits teeth*).

    Now, while those issues are indeed stressful and troublesome on a personal level, it really makes you think about our dependence upon these avenues of communication and how the loss of them is surely degrading the security of our nation right now. We really need government representatives that are dedicated to promoting science and technology to address these issues and provide at least some redundancy to restore communications as quickly as possible. Radio is great. Good ole AM, but when the community cannot call in to be the eyes and ears and report to radio stations and law enforcement officials which issues may need to receive priority, it puts the community, if not the nation at great risk. The Houston/Galveston area is home to extremely vital operations. Many, many refineries, NASA, The Houston Ship Channel etc.. Loss of any one of these would be crippling to our security and economy.

    You are absolutely correct with regards to people really holding everything together (I remember when LL placed value on this, they’d do well to remember the value of community themselves.) My neighbors here in Houston have been wonderful. Some of us have power while those right next door may not, but everyone is sharing what they can. I am supplying many neighbors with ice and a place to keep some of their perishable foods. I have an extra refrigerator and freezer in my garage and I am fortunate in that I have had power restored somewhat quickly. My internet connectivity at this time comes and goes. It lasts a few hours and then it disappears.. (hope it lasts this time).. I have cleaned up the mess outside and to be honest it appears at first glance that task was easier than what I have to clean up online.

  5. I’m sorry to hear you lost your large tree; they’re quite impossible to replace (in the short term). I’m glad everyone was OK.

    We had Ike pass over us as well, but all we got was a stiff breeze and some nice warm tropical air. And some threatening clouds.

    > I realized I am quite weirded out by posting a voicemail to anyone who happens to hear it!

    I actually know you you feel. It’s odd to just post – especially if it’s personal, like your own voice – not knowing who will get it.

    It’s something you actually get used to over time, though.

  6. Sorry to hear you suffered damage.

    Maybe it was a good thing not to be plugged into the Connectivism inanity. I will have to find your Utterz — I just don’t use that much because it’s cluttery.

    It’s a firehose of stuff, but…they don’t say that much NEW or INTERESTING really, do they? Or…what do you think ?

    I found myself in a Disconnectivism mode myself tonight. Not sure why. Stephen Downes disconnected me from some chat he was moderating even though I didn’t say anything objectionable — and they supposedly don’t censor anyway. I have no idea if it wasn’t a glitch.
    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/09/i-saw-a-notice.html

    The point is, Connectivism is a weak religious doctrine if the Internet goes down, or if somebody censors somebody else. That makes it hugely brittle and flawed.

  7. > Stephen Downes disconnected me from some chat he was moderating even though I didn’t say anything objectionable

    What Prokofy doesn’t mention is that it was the very end of the session, that everyone was saying good-bye, and that George had just announced that everyone would be kicked off now so he could save the recording. If you need any proof of this, simply check out the recording – it will he at the very end of the 1-hour discussion, which Profoky joined at the 57 minute mark.

    As for the rest, well, judge for yourself.