Monday, December 21, 2009

Most Influential Post of 2009

Requisite--So I Haven't Blogged For A While...

Lately my on-line participation has shifted more towards Twitter and the relatively new social networking site for BC educators, CEET (Community of Expertise in Educational Technology). Coupled with starting to using Moodle for course delivery and learning more about online course design, I've been less active with my blog.

Edublog Awards

Though I haven't been blogging much, I have watched with interest the Edublog Awards. I never got off my butt to make any nominations--so thank you to all those folks who did. The nomination list is always a good place to find interesting voices that are new to me.

Better Late Than Never... My Nomination

Though I didn't nominate anyone, I would like to highlight this post by Stephen Downes as the post that I found most influential in 2009. The post, titled The Monkeysphere Ideology, refers to a Cracked article from 2007 (yes, that Cracked.) From Downes:
Now let's look at the Cracked article, which suggests that each of us has a limit of about 150 people we can know and understand and relate to. The theory is based on Dunbar's number, and Cracked calls it - with more than a little alacrity - the 'monkeysphere'. The article, which was written in 2005, is making the rounds again.

Sock Monkey Group by sunsetgirl creations
Sock Monkey Group by sunsetgirl creations
One of the key points that Downes makes is:
Our failure lies not in the fact that we cannot know and understand more than 150 people. That's just a fact of physiology. Rather, our failure lies in how we characterize the remaining 99.99 percent of humanity: as though they were automatons.

I see this 'us and them' mentality pervading so much of life. Now whenever I do I think of the monkeysphere. For example; there has been so much in the news lately to do with global warming, and CBC ran this piece last week on the disputed island of Miningo. Because of global warming the water temperature in Lake Victoria is rising and water levels are dropping. This, along with overfishing, is resulting in increased pressure on the Nile perch stocks in the lake. Miningo island has become the flash point for Ugandan and Kenyan fishers who are finding it increasingly difficult to catch enough fish. From the CBC story:
The change in Lake Victoria is important because some 30 million people rely on it for their livelihood.

It is in situations like this that the monkeysphere ideology comes into play in a powerful way. Take this quote from the CBC story:

Kenyan fisherman Paul Odhiambo sorts through his catch of Nile perch in the bottom of his boat moored along Migingo's rocky shore. His anger rises quickly when thinking of Uganda.

"They just come with tear gas. And spraying us with the tear gas," he says. "So these people are not human. Just look at them. They are carrying guns. Why? Why carrying guns at this small place."

"So these people are not human." Where have you heard this before? Where else has this been justification for treating other human beings like garbage? But this is not a Uganda/Kenya problem. It is a human problem.

Since I read Downes' post, I've been thinking about the monkeysphere quite a bit. I am more aware when those around me and those I hear and read about "characterize the remaining 99.99 percent of humanity: as though they were automatons." or worse...

What About You?

What do you think about the monkeysphere? And what blog post, book , article, etc has influenced you in a big way this year? Thanks as always for reading, and I welcome comments. Cheers!


  1. Great post. I am having trouble currently with how people relate to everyone else. Because of this i haven't blogged much (as well as some personal losses this last year that has me stepping back some.) I haven't been able to formulate posts that don't have a "them" feel to it as it is still something I am dealing with. the understanding is the first step and the path to dealing with it is perhaps the hardest.

    It is good to see you write again. I am going to "schedule" writing time as it is too easy for time to go by. This should be easier as we go one to one in January and I have some good ideas to show how laptops are very effective every day (and not just for search...)

  2. Hi Louise, thanks for your candid comment. I'm sorry to hear that things have been difficult lately.

    I like your idea of scheduling time to write; I find that I have started lots of blog posts in my head, never to actually write and publish them. It takes me a lot of time to write; it doesn't come easily and I think I'm too concerned about making it as perfect as I can. Gotta focus more on getting short posts out there and starting discussions.

    All the best in 2010--I look forward to hearing how the one-to-one works out :-)

  3. I know how you feel! (Ditto on Twitter and CEET, too!) I'm doing the "haven't blogged for awhile" post right now! I'm seeing it as a good thing. Not spending time at the computer has meant I've spent time doing other good things like bake cookies, read, sleep, and enjoy the time leading up to the holidays!

    The 'monkeysphere' is an interesting concept. It makes sense, especially with so many people on the planet.

    I do think that those living in small communities might have a different perspective. I live in a town with ~2000 people and I know hundreds of them. When you live in a small town you know everyone in one way or another. It's one of the things I like about small town life. I love city life but the unfriendly quality of interpersonal interactions always bothered me. I always felt like most people didn't care. I guess I didn't like being treated like an automaton...

  4. Hi Errin, thanks for your comment. There is definitely a different perspective in terms of living in a small community versus a large one. I don't think this eliminates or reduces the monkey sphere mentality, but it does modify things a bit. Probably more of the people you interact with in a smaller community belong to the 'us' group whereas in a large city most of the people you interact with belong to the 'them' group.


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