Part 1 of our ‘field trip’ took in the Media Lab at MIT and a walk around the (sprawling, architecturally diverse) campus, which is not that far from Harvard. Talk about a knowledge cluster! Anyway, we were lucky enough to be brought into the Media Lab and to visit individual projects. Given my childish glee at ‘being there’, it was only appropriate that I chose to visit the Lifelong Kindergarden team, based in a true eAladdin’s Cave in the basement of the IM Pei-designed building.
We visited two individual projects. The first was Scratch, an innovative (not to mention fun) programming language / creative tool for use in schools (and elsewhere). I was truly smitted with this tool – you should go and play with it. All works created are uploaded and can be downloaded for immediate, full remix/editing/deconstruction. Please give feedback to the designers and consider recommending it to your nearest school. It’s very straightforward and has fantastic resources for users of all abilities. We even had a useful “exchange of views” on copyright and licensing issues, which was nice. But Scratch is nicer. The same people have been working on Lego projects (they invented/created Lego Mindstorm) and of course the place was surrounded with Lego and so forth. In Jonathan Zittrain’s discussion of generativity, he talks about Lego as a truly generative toy/tool; it wasn’t discussed on our visit, but I can certainly see the manifestation of this attitude in a lot of the work that Lifelong Kindergarden are doing, and Scratch is perfectly collaborative, generative and open. (The second project was What’s Up, some far-reaching ideas here, on combining phone trees, Internet use, community structures etc for poor or deprived neighbourhoods – less ‘flashy’ but with some very useful lessons in terms of technology and development).
We also visited Frank Gehry’s Stata Center – an astonishing building, as can be seen from the image on the right (which I took – the camera gods were obviously smiling on me yesterday!). The building, just as dramatic inside as it is outside, even contains an exhibition on the infamous MIT Hacks and is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Wow.
The last of my MIT things was a visit to the MIT Press bookstore. Cyberlaw and Internet studies researchers will know that the MIT Press is among the most prolific of publishing houses when it comes to our areas – in fact, it’s so much that I can actually recognise the MIT Press page layout, having used so many books in the course of my undergrad courses, my LLB dissertation and my current research! I wasn’t disappointed, and came away with an absolute bargain haul from damaged/delisted books – some of the classics of Internet law (Ludlow’s Crypto Anarchy, Godwin’s Cyber Rights, and more) – being six books for under €20. As some of the titles are out of print and very hard to find, I was very pleased with myself. The bookstore proper was like my personal collection (but expanded), and included non-MIT Press books of interest to the MIT audience (and to me – a lot on science, tech and society, ‘digital histories’, etc).