Joi Ito (who’s promised me he’ll reenact this prank for my amusement) wrote an article in the NYTimes recently and posted an unabridged version on his blog: The internet, innovation and learning.

Some key relevant quotes below:

The belief system of the Internet is that everyone should have the freedom to connect, the freedom to innovate and the freedom to hack without asking permission. No one can know the whole of it; it cannot be centrally controlled and the innovation happens in small groups on the “edges” of the network.

I think a major component of the web literacy effort is to teach everyone about this belief system.  Not everyone knows that they have the freedom to innovate and hack, and many of those who do are too afraid of “screwing things up” to do so.

This is the one of the major lessons I hope will be approximately encapsulated in “web literate”: the knowledge that the web is a great platform for tinkering.

He then goes on to talk about how in start up land, it’s cheaper to try things out and iterate rapidly than to sit around and figure out whether or not you should try it out.  (I think Joi is about 5-7 years behind here.  Start up culture around here has evolved to now be about jumping through VC-created hoops, rather than about trying out ideas, but alas that’s a rant for a different day.  It does seem, however, like the spirit lives on in the Media Lab:)

At the Media Lab we focus on learning through creation instead of instruction. We are empowering individuals to experiment, create, and iterate. We produce demos and prototypes and share and collaborate with the rest of the world through the Internet and a distributed network of connections and relationships. We are not about centralized instruction but rather a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.

What has been a wildly successful model for consumer Internet startups in Silicon Valley turns out to be an extremely good model for learning and for a wide variety of fields and disciplines, and we are trying to empower more and more communities to also have access to technology and the ability to participate and create.

I think that this is exactly the right goal.  I’m hoping to go down and chat with some of the Media Lab folks in late January about these goals and how they seem to line up in so many ways with Mozilla’s.

It’s a million times easier to learn through fun, play and making, than it is to learn through rote or requirement.

It’s just like several of the smart people I’ve been talking to have said: we need to make people want to play.

You know that feeling when you’re carving a pumpkin and you reach your fingers in to scoop out the flesh and seeds at the bottom, and your whole forearm gets gooey, and the pumpkin flesh is squishy between your fingers, and it’s simultaneously kinda-gross and absolutely delightful?  That’s what I want people doing with the web.

When you reach in there, you’re getting your hands way more dirty than you normally would (unless you’re, like, a pumpkin carver by trade) in order to accomplish a fun task.  You don’t mind, because it’s in pursuit of making something in fun.  In fact (you may even be willing to admit to yourself), the gross task of being covered with pumpkin muck is kinda what makes it fun.

That moment right there is what I want to capture.

(And yes, in this analogy, the pumpkin guts is CSS rules for IE6.  Ewww, rinse it off!)