NITLE Summit Report #2 - Michael Wesch

This post is a retread slightly for the LIS Blog. Last winter (or more correctly perhaps still this winter), Bob Puffer attended the ELI conference (Educause Learning Initiative) in San Antonio where he heard a number of folks I also caught on my recent multi-conference tour. Among them was Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology from Kansas State University. He is perhaps most well-known for his YouTube creation Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us" which has pegged over 5,000,000 views to date. If you haven’t yet taken the 4:31 to watch it, you should. Dr. Wesch is positioning himself to be a keen observer of the impact our information revolution is wreaking to our society and in particular to higher education. While his presentation from NITLE is not available online, the ELI talk is (and Bob P. previously provided a link which I’ll repeat here".

His talk in San Francisco got a lot of people engaged, and his presentation skill and style certainly allow him to communicate a powerful message effectively. A few quick highlights I would point to would be:

  • I agree 100% with his assertion that the ubiquity of information and information networks fundamentally changes the entire game of communication and education. Institutions that can recognize this and harness it before others will undoubtedly get a little bruised by it, but there are opportunities for some disruptive leadership available now for organizations willing to rewrite their playbooks with the new rules in mind.
  • We need more people (both information professionals and those studying information from other academic disciplines) to be working in the space he is drawing out.
  • Some words/phrases I think are important for information organizations in the future: agility, risk, open source, give up control, willingness to abandon (something that felt so right 18 months ago), partnership, synergy, collaboration, creation of information in partnership with our users, change, change, change, and change.
  • When asked the quite reasonable question by an audience member, what should those in IT who support edge-pushers like Wesch do to support them, his initial quip became has thoughtful answer: “Get out of the way.” Much laughing ensued, but his point is real and one today’s management of information organizations needs to grapple with. Rarely will be it be on our professional interests to limit and restrict information. We know it wants to be free, and our generation is witnessing the true coming-of-age that allows that to really happen.
  • 98.4% of Powerpoint presentations really are crutches. Wesch demonstrated that clearly. It was refreshing to see a strong use of visual aids to demonstrate points that advanced an argument, told a story and engaged the audience. Having visited two conferences in the last week, with overall very high quality content, I’m left wondering how much more effective much of it could be in some better packaging. Perhaps we can start by challenging ourselves there a little bit …