Monday, January 14, 2013

Giving Back to the Web

Remember in December when that (somewhat) annoying yellow box showed up on Wikipedia asking for donations? Did you ignore it and carry on with what you were doing? I did that all the time. Then, last spring, Jesse Hirsh ( spoke at our school. It's rare that I can learn so much from one person in an hour. One thing that he said resonated deeply with me. He said that we have an ethical responsibility to give back to the Web. We all use the Web everyday, but in a very real sense, we all use the Web everyday, in the more potentially abusive way. That was the point: what do we contribute back to the Web that we use everyday? Are we just takers?

So I posted that Jesse Hirsh's statement on the Collaborate slide on "Digital Citizenship" during the first ETMOOC session. The concept of citizenship contains both the ideas of "rights" and "responsibilities" as a few others posted on that same slide. We often think more about the former than the latter. Some people even use digital technology to make everything free; they think of that as their "right" too and download movies and music. I'm not going to judge that. I'm only going to point out that if we took Hirsh's responsibility to heart, we would likely be more willing to "give back" or compensate more freely. There are sites, for instance, where photographers release their images freely on the Web. I saw one image that was so beautiful that I stuck a dollar in the photographer's PayPal even though I had no use for the image. It was a just a tip, based solely on the fact the photographer had given back freely to the Web. I would never have done that before hearing Jesse Hirsh. And it makes me think that if we all took that notion more seriously, we would not have the problems we have with copyright. I would like it if artists provided PayPal links more often, so if I download their music, for instance (legally or illegally), I could contribute a little money to them. Maybe I download an album to see if I like it. In the old days, we might buy a whole album...I mean...CD and the one song we heard was the only song that we liked. You would feel a bit ripped off. The pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction now. And I would like the opportunity to compensate artists that I enjoy directly. Anyway, that is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is that I agree we have an ethical responsibility to give back to the Web. That does not have to be money. You can donate your expertise back to the Web as many do. You can freely share a creation on the Web. You could volunteer to tutor children on the Web. In fact, there are so many ways that one can "give back" to the Web that no one has a reason not to give back to the Web. In my case, I often feel like I don't have the time or the expertise to contribute in a valuable enough way to the Web, so I contribute money when I can. Because of what Jesse Hirsh said. Because it makes me a good "digital citizen." Because I don't want to be only a "taker" on the Web. So, this past December, I donated a small amount to Wikipedia ("small" relative to how much I use it) and, funny enough, the yellow box went away. They didn't ask me for more; it just went away. It was a small reward, but it was a nice reward for being a good digital citizen. It's funny that while some people think about ways to monetize MOOCs, the only thing that we have to think about, as consumers of MOOCs, is how do we ethically consume them? "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need" comes to mind. It is, of course, Marx's phrase, but the idea appears in the Bible originally. What if we all contributed according to our abilities and took according to our needs? I think we do a fine job of the latter and slight the former.


  1. Nicely said. Being connected with such open, available and personable folks, such as those in the #etmooc, is an amazing gift, but there comes a time when you feel the lopsidedness of the relationship. How could I ever pay back the breadth of knowledge handed to me in the detailed blog posts, instant twitter feedback, and how-to videos that represent countless hours of the digital citizenry? Easy, I guess... pay it forward.

  2. I agree! I dedicated my dissertation to all of the innovative, inspiring educators who have enriched not only my learning but the learning of others by unselfishly spending hours of their own time using social media to connect, share, collaborate, and search for ways to improve their practice and in turn increase the learning and engagement of their students. However, I did ignore the yellow box on Wikipedia. You have reminded me that much of the backbone of the web is built by people who 'contributed according to their abilities,' and I should, as onepercentyellow said, pay it forward.

  3. I agree, and repeat with you : contribute according to our abilities and took according to our needs.

  4. I take away from this article the fact that we need to contribute according to our abilities. we have no problem taking according to our we not owe a contribution for the taking? I always tell my children...nothing in life is truly wary of what is advertised as such..