The Opportunity Web

When you think about “networks”, what comes to mind? It is a good thing? Is it about connectedness and leveraging people and skills at scale? Is it about seeming more vital and alive to (making) the future? It is for me. Technology enabled opportunity is eye-opening in scope and massive in possibility.

Reading again, 30 years after discovering it, Ivan Illich’s work on deschooling and learning webs, it was not always that way. Networks meant control and power. Illich describes it as such:

“Network” is often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to material selected by others for indoctrination, instruction, and entertainment. But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to one another. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such arrangement includes legal, organizational, and technical aspects.

Presciently, however, he turned instead to this:

Not having found such a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available, using it as a synonym of “educational web.” I will use the words “opportunity web” for “network” to designate specific ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources.

And those four resources “needed for real learning”?

The child grows up in a world of things, surrounded by people who serve as models for skills and values. He finds peers who challenge him to argue, to compete, to cooperate, and to understand; and if the child is lucky, he is exposed to confrontation or criticism by an experienced elder who really cares. Things, models, peers, and elders are four resources each of which requires a different type of arrangement to ensure that everybody has ample access to it.

And here we are, with these resources available to us anywhere in the world, at any time. Lucky us. I am not going to waste the opportunity web. You?

←This Much We Know.→

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