In this time of personalized books for children, dolls with artificial intelligence, and smart devices in the homes of millions, the timeliness of developing nuanced understandings of personalization cannot be denied. The book’s contents trace thematic links between trends that are often addressed separately, e.g. the curation of self through social media and the personalization of educational resources. Considering that children as young as three can take their own selfies, create their own multimedia books and customise their avatars, we need to be asking deep and detailed questions around how to best respond to the opportunity and threat of digital personalization for young children.
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The opening chapter describes the history of personalization and patterns and practices of datafication in an era of considerable technological shifts. I propose that any meaningful expression of ‘self’ needs to be connected to the ‘other’ within the Personalization-Pluralization balance (building on the argument first presented in Kucirkova & Littleton, 2017). I define personalization as a nexus of products, services and practices relevant to one human being. For optimal outcomes, personalization needs to be balanced out with pluralization. Pluralization is about human differences, diversity and collectivism. When yoked together, personalization and pluralization provide an ideal structure that is both personally determined and collectively co-constructed. If education leans more towards the pole of personalization, a competitive ‘me first’ attitude will dominate over collaborative learning with others. If we lean more towards pluralization, the collective will be commended at the expense of celebrating individual achievement. Throughout the book, I foreground personalization in my questions and remember pluralization in my answers.
Quantity and Complexity
‘What is the optimum quantity of digital data for children to be able to thrive in the current, “Infosphere” era?’ I argue that the 21st century is characterized by large quantities of complex personal data and that therefore, the unique challenge faced by Millennials and post-Millennials is a mindful and effective management of their own personal data. In addition to data shared by their family members and friends, children generate data by cataloguing their lives themselves. As a result, children’s data are sprinkled in various places, supervised by various unconnected institutions, including private companies and schools. I argue that the current datafication of children’s lives is uncoordinated, unsystematic and unregulated. Moreover, children’s education is datafied using a “Netflix-inspired” commercial model. A major driver to fundamentally rethink the underlying infrastructure of how data-collection and data-sharing operate needs to be the fact that Web 2.0 was not designed for children. I make theory-based suggestions with examples of technology prototypes (e.g. HAT’s microservers) for creating the next evolution of the personalized Web (Web 3.0 and Web 4.0).
Agency is the universally human competence to volitionally take control, and to personally determine and influence one’s own existence. Agency has become a frequently uttered word in relation to digital personalization. Chapter 3 reviews children’s agency in light of the prospect of automated futures in the 2000s. I argue that whether it is children’s use of digital media, playing with friends or learning at school, agency is a double ended arrow between the self and other. Agency is the expression of answering the quintessential questions ‘What life will you craft for yourself?’ as well as ‘How will you show up in other people’s lives?’ The answer to these questions requires both powerful self-determination and vulnerable belonging to others.
When did the so-called personalization revolution start? It is no coincidence that the personal data economy mushroomed in the era of industrial capitalism, characterized by high-consumption and high-production. The path for industrial capitalist societies has been paved by lack of intellectual supremacy on the governance level of democratic nations, undermined by a large amount of vested interest money, voting rights violations and most recently, social media manipulations. In a highly volatile macro-world, individuals crave the comfort of micro-worlds delivered by the personal data economy. In addition, I argue that the global interest in personalized micro-worlds was triggered by the 21st century mass migration. Accelerated changes to collective and personal identities in the 2000s have meant that there was no one leading narrative for individuals to converge around. Changes to local and global communities got validated by capitalist and technological dominance and a burgeoning personal economy. The seeming function of these systems was to give individuals choices and manage their personal data. In reality, however, the acceleration of externally imposed personalization possibilities has created a breeding ground for uncertainty, doubts and confusion. These complex migration-related factors are the reason why data-driven personalization became the preferred tool for online and offline way of being in the 21st century.
Our relationship with other living and non-living beings leaves a new layer in our memory and an imprint on our body, increasing the potency for activating and growing the ‘self’. We then assimilate and project these extensions onto others. The Relational Self theory is part of a family of socio-cultural theories that explain how our ideal and real selves co-exist in an intricate web of connections with others. This ‘other’ can be another human being but can also be abstract characters or material objects. These theoretical perspectives stand in stark contrast to the linear model of children’s identity used in the current digital personalization models. I argue that data-driven resources, such as personalized smartphones, are dense with personal data and this makes them replica rather than extensions to children’s thinking.
Chapter 6 debunks three myths that speak volumes to the metaphors buried inside personalized education. The first myth proposes that personalized and standardized education are mutually exclusive. The second myth relates to the mistaken assumption that educational technologies can transform children’s learning in ways that teachers cannot. When we lift the veil of such technology-driven personalized education, we will see that the programs are not personalized but customized. Digitally-driven personalized education ensures that children learn at different sequence or pace and in doing so, they accelerate children’s learning. The third myth is the assumption that an individual’s motivation to belong is separate from the individual’s motivation for self-determination. All three myths circulate around one powerful myth that combines them all: the sequence myth. The simplistic binary that underlies the sequence myth is that personalization/ pluralization ought to be separated. If personalized and pluralized learning approaches are separate, then they can be sequenced (first we personalize children’s education and then we standardize it). I argue that children are motivated to personalize their learning and experiences because they want to belong to their peers and family members. At the same time, children are motivated to personalize their experiences because they want to resist and challenge others and stand out from them.
Stories provide a unique context for studying the distance between personalization and pluralization. Stories can take many forms: oral story-telling, films, comics or literary novels. I argue that an optimal distance between readers and protagonists is essential for ensuring that children are motivated to read and they also learn something new in the process. An optimal distance is essential between the ‘self’ and ‘other’ not only for educational outcomes but also for building balanced empathy (I use the example of parochial empathy that is empathy towards in-group members where the distance between the self and the other is shorter than in rational compassion for out-group members).