Saturday, 20 April 2013

Is The Digital World A Branded World?

Who Is Paying For This?
I'm at the Google Apps for Educators Summit in Kitchener on a Saturday morning.  I'm a Google fan.  I Android, I use UGcloud for school work, I use Google+.  I'm aware that all of these services require a means of income or they'll evaporate, hence the Google ads I see on them; I'm OK with that.  In a field that can get grabby and greedy, I think Google is more balanced in how it performs its business than most.

As a teacher I'm a bit more cautious about how online tools are framed in terms of learning.  This morning's keynote with Jim Sill asked what kind of world do we live in.  I suspect the desired answer is a giddy, Silicon Valley logo filled blurt:  I live in an Instagram world! I live in a Google world!  I live in a Facebook world!  When the question turned to how you access this magical world, it revolved around brand names for apps.  Tying brands to information offers you a unique way to infect unrelated material (and learning itself) with your logo and corporate image.  Google has done this perhaps better than anyone (though Facebook takes a pretty good run at owning friendship).

Is the 21st Century really an information revolution, or a branding revolution?  I watched We Are Legion: The Story of Hactivists last night and I'm feeling the dissonance this morning at a conference that is all about companies branding information and funneling it to eager teachers who want to be relevant to their students.  I'm not saying yea or nay to this kind of business, I'm just wrestling with the chaotic freedom the information revolution inspired in hactivists last night and the business of information this morning.

If the information revolution really is about a radical change in how information moves (and I think it is), then talking about apps and brands is akin to focusing on the make of hammer you purchased when you're learning carpentry.  It would seem strange if, in learning carpentry, the master carpenter went on and on about the brand of hammer they are using.  They might mention why they like it briefly, but they wouldn't start calling carpentry "Mastercraft hammer", that would be odd.

Google: a great tool, but be careful not to brand
learning and information with it
People identify with brands, it gives them a sense of belonging, it offers them a ready-made identity in a field where they might not know much else. Excessive brand loyalty is usually the result of ignorance.  I'm less interested in the kind of hammer you're selling and more focused on how the wood is being fitted together.  I happen to enjoy using my Google hammer when online, I just don't know that I identify an important revolution in human development with their peppy logo, and I'd hope they'd be OK with that.