Amy's Whimsical Musings

#rawthought: Your Ellie – On the Primacy of Networked Knowledge


My 6th grade daughter had her first dance the other day (cue *sigh*). On the way to school in the morning there was some confusion as to what time the dance started – was it 5? 6? 7? Normally this would not be an issue but on this particular night I was off to see one of my most beloved bands – the Psychedelic Furs – in concert for the first time! Trying to problem solve whilst belting out Pretty in Pink, I suggested that she search for the dance time on the calendar on the school website.

Wait – web site?

Do you mean that archaic thing that is difficult to navigate and impersonal to boot?

Why yes, I mean that ultra convenient essence of instant gratification, yes I do.

“I don’t need to do that – I have an Ellie!”

An Ellie? Ellie is my daughter’s friend, who I gather is slightly more organized when it comes to knowing about events or homework specifics. This 12 year old would rather consult “her Ellie” via text message than type in a web site url and search.

I’m not convinced this is a necessarily more efficient method of accessing information, especially since her friend might not be available to receive or respond to a text message at that moment. What is striking about this practice is that it is seemingly more personal…more, dare we say, human.

This conjures up some queries for me:

What does this mean for search?

I personally have been using Twitter as my Google for a while now. I rely on the expertise of my personal learning network of those in my field (or, through the magic of clever hashtags, people who I might not follow but who can provide an answer). I wonder how often students are asked to leverage all sorts of social media platforms in their inquiry, rather than defaulting to search engines. Increasingly, YouTube is being used as a search engine comparable to Google, and I’d not hesitate to say it is indicative of our drift away from the privileging of text (see my Gutenberg Parenthesis post).

What does this mean for curation? for network building?

Just yesterday a Twitter friend, @vladepap expressed delight with a link to a blog post I’d shared about cultivating digital presence. She mentioned she was going to put it in her “like library”, which led me to the portmanteau:



Just how much of our “likebraries” of curated resources are the direct result of our network – real people with whom we interact – rather than stumbled-upon items from surfing the web? Will it be, as I propose in this previous post, that we redefine “knowledge” as connection? If so, what will that mean for teaching and learning? Will we help students cultivate a rich network as a graduation requirement?

Another question that occurred to me was

Does this have anything to do with the trend towards more ephemeral platforms?

I remember when Snapchat came out, and all my 16-18 year students started using it more than Instagram and even text messaging. Why? Their answers were everything from “we like that selfies can be ugly/funny/not perfect” to “it’s easier to snap a pic and add a scribble overlay than text in my message app”.

While this boggled me at the time (was it really quicker than a text?), I get it. I know many teens who claim they remove an Instagram post if it doesn’t earn enough likes. It must be a relief to be able to post something less polished, less contrived, less over-edited and not worry about the consequences.

Is “asking one’s Ellie” related? Do we crave more temporal, less formal interactions, even if it means the information we receive is at risk for being less accurate? Does the recent hoopla over social media filter bubbles in light of Brexit and The U.S. presidential election reflect this trend?

A while back, Nicholas Carr asked Is Google Making Us Stupid?  David Weinberger, a favourite thinker of mine, writes about the possibility of networked knowledge making us smarter.

For more on this topic, be sure to check out the following from Brainpickings:


Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity

In the meantime,

I hope you find your Ellie.




4 comments on “#rawthought: Your Ellie – On the Primacy of Networked Knowledge

  1. alQpr
    December 10, 2016

    I think Carr and Weinberger have it backwards. Rather, that the question in your preceding paragraph – “Do we crave more temporal, less formal interactions, even if it means the information we receive is at risk for being less accurate?” should be answered with a resounding “Yes!” which means that it is quite possible that the way we most naturally use networked knowledge is making us stupider rather than smarter.

  2. IaninSheffield
    December 11, 2016

    Maybe there are potential ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ parallels here Amy?
    ‘Ask Ellie’ = ‘Phone a friend’
    Ask Twitter = ‘Ask the Audience’

    Perhaps we’re shunning either a single authoritative source or an anonymous search machine, in favour of asking people instead? People we know might know stuff. Could trust be at play here?

    Thanks for provoking.

    • amyburvall
      December 11, 2016

      Exactly my train of thought! Perhaps I should explore further…hmmm…

  3. Angela M Stockman
    August 6, 2017

    Does it have to be a dichotomy? The Buddha, cited in the Brainpickings bit, would say they don’t exist, right? Things just are. Networked knowledge is making us stupider and smarter. When it’s making us stupider, is it connecting us better? Which matters more? Good stuff here. Thanks for pointing me this way.

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