Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”

The first #SherlockIoT crime scene I created

I have a new passion project: Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things. You can learn about it here: http://2016.sherlockholmes.io/. #SherlockIoT is an initiative hosted by the Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab. For education geeks, this is not a typical MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), instead it is a “massive online/offline collaboration.”

One of our first exercises was the 5 Whys? As a strategist and researcher, I am very familiar with this practice for understanding root motivation. However, we were asked to take a different approach. Instead of asking Why to the answers, we just asked our partner the same question five times in a row, “Why are you taking part in this MOOC?” without follow-up. It created a chance to investigate the breadth of our decision, rather than the depth. Below are my answers.

“Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”, one

I will start with how did I even find out this opportunity existed. Unlike the general global population, I have been more engaged with Twitter lately. Earlier this month, Cory Doctorow (of Boing Boing and much more) RT’d this tweet about the MOOC from lance weiler, Director of Experiential Learning & Applied Creativity at Columbia. That tweet caught my attention and sparked my interest.

One of the most noticeable trends in internet culture is how every day is amazing and no longer everyday. The word everyday will evaporate from our diction as we stop encountering the mundane unless we actively choose it. I rely heavily on my curators to surf through all this awesomeness, and especially the ones who follow the complex layers of our shared passions. Cory Doctorow is geeky, loves telling stories and believes strongly in being thoughtful about technology, information, creative works, privacy and many other interests I also have. I can often count on his content to be multidimensional and interesting.

“Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”, two

I have just recently finished Kevin Kelly’s book The Inevitable about technology trends that will inevitably shape the next 30 years. One of my favorite takeaways is how little expertise there currently is in many of these technological forces and their intersection with culture, society and human behavior. If you want to be an expert in AI or VR/AR or IoT and how it fits into our lives, you have a relatively open door. As KK explains, thirty years from now, people are going to be looking back wishing they could have been in on the tech ground floor we are on right now.

I have been reading and reading and reading about this stuff for years, but I want to play more purposefully. I want some structure. I want a community. I want to make. I want a workshop for my technovicehood.

“Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”, three

I love hacking. But I am not a hacker as we traditionally label one within the context of modern technology. I like taking different tangible/intangible things apart and putting them together in interesting ways that may or may not add some sort of value, at the very least learning. In college, we did it with stories and it was called comparative literature. I recently watched a funny and compelling video by Cracked on getting Superman and Batman into the public domain. In it, they discuss Sherlock Holmes being out in the public domain for use and how wonderful that is for the story. I love that this character and ecosystem are out there to break open and play with however one chooses. Having a significant and well known piece of culture like Sherlock open for hacking with today’s technology makes it quite a bit easier to explore the new world. #SherlockIoT is the type of project that appears to have numerous frayed ends just waiting to be tied together.

“Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”, four

One of the phrases used by the #SherlockIoT group is “fuzzy collaboration.” Collaboration requires some sort of process to be successful, because you are managing people, abilities, tasks, objectives and many other variables. The complexity is massive but the tools are relatively countless and barrier-free. Therefore, collaboration can be modified on the fly, open to infinite possibility. Working in education and strategy, I have learned how best to embrace the middle area between structure/objective and freedom/play to harness the most productive creativity for an individual and group.

Also, I am currently freelancing while investigating what my next career will be. Freelancing offers such lovely flexibility, but also loneliness. I get a chance to put my head down and work, work, work but not to poke my head up and say, “What do you think?” I am excited to have this chance to collaborate in an environment that will evolve with our practice. Successful opportunities for collaboration will be important in the shaping “gig economy.”

“Why are you taking part in this MOOC?”, five

Lastly, all these above reasons are well and good. But how often do I sign up to better myself in some way and then stray off towards something else? Too frequently. My guess is that there are more internet users who have at least once signed up for an educational experience and failed to follow through to the end than not. I am human, which also means my brain and heart love story. I find purpose in narrative. (Lance discusses this idea in one of his lectures about #SherlockIoT.) Sherlock Holmes was a part of the zeitgeist the moment I entered this world. The ecosystem created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and added to by so many other people has had ample opportunity to build context within my mind.

Sherlock Holmes is sticky. Since I have joined this project, not a day goes by that I do not think several times of the connection between Sherlock Holmes stories and current technology culture. I am not actively setting aside time or making many conscious efforts to explore — it just pops into my thinking and interaction. The wondering is followed by investigation leading to learning that converts to skill development. Today, we have so many complex cultural layers interacting with each other chaotically. Predicting and playing with the future can be exhausting and filled with unproductive wandering. The narrative force of the Sherlock Holmes universe’s incursion with the realms of AI/VR/AR/IoT/??? is giving me the platform to navigate.


One: Followed Curation. Two: Technology Novice Practice. Three: Culture Hacking. Four: Fuzzy Collaboration. Five: Narrative Purpose.

My first thoughts on a #SherlockIoT project