March 27, 2012

Why does someone have to tell us to care?

 

 Martin was killed in late February but it took weeks for the story to become so popular on the Internet. Why? Social media still needs broadcast network news for a story to grow and spread. Even though stories can take off much quicker they don’t get started until there is a catalyst like the story being broadcast on the nightly news. the Trayvon story wasn’t reaching mass readership until last week when two things happened: 1) Geraldo Riveria said something stupid about hoodies and 2) President Obama said something sensitive about the case.  After these two tags happened the story begand to take off.  

 

 

“In February and March there was relatively little national news about the shooting; early reports like this one on Trayvon Martin’s shooting offer few details and do not even question why the shooter was not arrested. Social media was focused on the Oscars (Martin was shot that same night) and new technology flowing out of Mobile World Congress. It took weeks for the #JusticeforTrayvon hashtag to emerge.” (From Mashable.com article 

It seems like we needed the media to tell us the issue was important before we really started to care as a society.  That is sad really.  

This does not bode well for citizen journalism in the future.  It seems we need experts, or individuals on record to tell us what we need to care about. Left to our own devices we re just going to keep googling  things like “Kim Kardashian Flour Bomb.”

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December 11, 2011

The Spam Book v2

The Spam Book
By Parikka and Sampson
900 – 1200 words
Sarah Wallace

Introduction
The term “spam” comes from a Monty Python sketch from the 1970s. The comedy routine consisted of the comedians continually using the term in a dialogue of what a dinner offers. The term is used over and over until it is ultimately rendered meaningless. It is believed that this is where the term “spam” comes from when used to refer to the unwanted email or messages sent to users over the Internet. The authors state that at the time of the publishing of the book, over 40% of all e-mail traffic is spam, which means that 12.4 billion spam messages are sent daily.

The authors continue in the introduction to explain that items can sometimes best be understood not in their homogeneity, but in the anomalies that a typically homogenous system creates. It is for that reason that they believe that studying spam, and the other unwanted bi-products of the Internet, could be the key to better understanding the new digital media and the network it has created.
The anomalies of the digital network are spam, viruses, network censorship and pornography. These four items will be what the authors attempt to better understand in the course of the text.
“Porn, spam and viruses are not merely representational; they are also component parts of a sociotechnical-logical praxis. For us, they are a way of tapping into and thinking through the advanced capitalist mode in the context of the network.” (p. 8 ).

In addition, the authors go further to say that these anomalies or “accidents” “express the topological features of the social and cultural usage of media technologies” (p.10). These accidents help to explain the truth about the structures and that while investigating them, we should not place moral judgments on them. We should not place moral judgments on spam, pornography or any of the other anomalies that the digital network creates.

 Part I: Contagions
Historically, contagions, whether digital or biological, have often been thought of as malicious or intrusive. The authors caution us to continue with this erroneous analysis. The first essay, Mutant and Viral by John Johnston, compares the ecology of software mutants to the self replicating capability of artificial intelligence (no moral bias here). In much the same way as mutant entities spring to life or self replicate in artificial intelligence, Johnston claims that software anomalies in the digital network also spawn rogue code. A “survival of the fittest” mentality takes over and allows these beings to even become deceitful to propagate their species, or in this case, daughter programs. The most thought provoking comment in this essay is where Ackley proposed that “the actual physicality of a computer itself may support richer notions of life” (pg. 33) than either software alone or the software candidates for artificial life. Ackley is saying that the computer and its programming alone are more akin to a natural environment than a computer that is meant to clone a natural environment. More can be learned about how a computer and its network operate about artificial life than creating an artificial being using a computer. Genius!

In addition, Johnston covers in his swarm intelligence section that the more a computer system reflects natural existence the more we can learn from it. The system should not be constricted or ought not be controlled.

Tony Sampson in How Networks Become Viral addresses three questions concerning universal contagion. First he inquires concerning the role that “too much connectivity” plays in the contagion network culture. Are networks too connected? Should we limit connectivity to protect them?

The second question is dealing with how to secure a network from a viral attack. The third question is concerning who the control of contagions plays out in a network system.

The most interesting part of Sampson’s essay is how he explains that have a distributed network system actually makes the network stronger and less fallible. By not having a central power or control source, the modern Internet is actually less vulnerable to sabotage or vicious viral attacks. “Both the absence of a threshold and the dominant role of promiscuous nodes suggest alternative ways of thinking through the tension between control and emergence” (p. 55).
Application
We only read the first 60 pages of the text, but it made me think the following:

  1. If we can now glean more intelligence about how “viruses” are spread by studying a digital media topology then couldn’t we begin to apply that knowledge to biological viruses?
  2.  If we are moving to more virtual means of interacting (less physical interaction) will a new breed of diseases appear? Will we start getting eye cancer from staring at screens? If we are less physically connected but more virtually connected what effect will that have on communicable diseases?
  3.  If we now understand that distributed networks are more powerful, more stable and more safe for inhabitants will more political environments be moving to systems that resemble democratization or socialism and resemble less systems of absolute or dictator power?
  4. Other than exposing vulnerabilities what benefits do online viruses provide the networks they are parasitic to? Are they like biological viruses in that they can make networks stronger by building up immunity to future attack?
  5. When will corporations begin to exploit the ability to spread software code in the shape of viruses to consumers? It seems to me that corporations should begin to use our “networkness” against us for their own profit soon. Maybe it is just so subtle that we don’t recognize it yet.
Tags:
October 2, 2011

The Spam Book

The Spam Book
By Parikka and Sampson
900 – 1200 words
Sarah Wallace

See video on Youtube.
Introduction
The term “spam” comes from a Monty Python sketch from the 1970s. The comedy routine consisted of the comedians continually using the term in a dialogue of what a dinner offers. The term is used over and over until it is ultimately rendered meaningless. It is believed that this is where the term “spam” comes from when used to refer to the unwanted email or messages sent to users over the Internet. The authors state that at the time of the publishing of the book, over 40% of all e-mail traffic is spam, which means that 12.4 billion spam messages are sent daily.

The authors continue in the introduction to explain that items can sometimes best be understood not in their homogeneity, but in the anomalies that a typically homogenous system creates. It is for that reason that they believe that studying spam, and the other unwanted bi-products of the Internet, could be the key to better understanding the new digital media and the network it has created.
The anomalies of the digital network are spam, viruses, network censorship and pornography. These four items will be what the authors attempt to better understand in the course of the text.
“Porn, spam and viruses are not merely representational; they are also component parts of a sociotechnical-logical praxis. For us, they are a way of tapping into and thinking through the advanced capitalist mode in the context of the network.” (p. 8 ).

In addition, the authors go further to say that these anomalies or “accidents” “express the topological features of the social and cultural usage of media technologies” (p.10). These accidents help to explain the truth about the structures and that while investigating them, we should not place moral judgments on them. We should not place moral judgments on spam, pornography or any of the other anomalies that the digital network creates.
 Part I: Contagions
Historically, contagions, whether digital or biological, have often been thought of as malicious or intrusive. The authors caution us to continue with this erroneous analysis. The first essay, Mutant and Viral by John Johnston, compares the ecology of software mutants to the self replicating capability of artificial intelligence (no moral bias here). In much the same way as mutant entities spring to life or self replicate in artificial intelligence, Johnston claims that software anomalies in the digital network also spawn rogue code. A “survival of the fittest” mentality takes over and allows these beings to even become deceitful to propagate their species, or in this case, daughter programs. The most thought provoking comment in this essay is where Ackley proposed that “the actual physicality of a computer itself may support richer notions of life” (pg. 33) than either software alone or the software candidates for artificial life. Ackley is saying that the computer and its programming alone are more akin to a natural environment than a computer that is meant to clone a natural environment. More can be learned about how a computer and its network operate about artificial life than creating an artificial being using a computer. Genius!

In addition, Johnston covers in his swarm intelligence section that the more a computer system reflects natural existence the more we can learn from it. The system should not be constricted or ought not be controlled.

Tony Sampson in How Networks Become Viral addresses three questions concerning universal contagion. First he inquires concerning the role that “too much connectivity” plays in the contagion network culture. Are networks too connected? Should we limit connectivity to protect them?

The second question is dealing with how to secure a network from a viral attack. The third question is concerning who the control of contagions plays out in a network system.

The most interesting part of Sampson’s essay is how he explains that have a distributed network system actually makes the network stronger and less fallible. By not having a central power or control source, the modern Internet is actually less vulnerable to sabotage or vicious viral attacks. “Both the absence of a threshold and the dominant role of promiscuous nodes suggest alternative ways of thinking through the tension between control and emergence” (p. 55).
Application
We only read the first 60 pages of the text, but it made me think the following:

  1. If we can now glean more intelligence about how “viruses” are spread by studying a digital media topology then couldn’t we begin to apply that knowledge to biological viruses?
  2.  If we are moving to more virtual means of interacting (less physical interaction) will a new breed of diseases appear? Will we start getting eye cancer from staring at screens? If we are less physically connected but more virtually connected what effect will that have on communicable diseases?
  3.  If we now understand that distributed networks are more powerful, more stable and more safe for inhabitants will more political environments be moving to systems that resemble democratization or socialism and resemble less systems of absolute or dictator power?
  4. Other than exposing vulnerabilities what benefits do online viruses provide the networks they are parasitic to? Are they like biological viruses in that they can make networks stronger by building up immunity to future attack?
  5. When will corporations begin to exploit the ability to spread software code in the shape of viruses to consumers? It seems to me that corporations should begin to use our “networkness” against us for their own profit soon. Maybe it is just so subtle that we don’t recognize it yet.
Tags:
May 1, 2011

Week 15: The Future of the Internet

Reading:  Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it

Zittrain explains in his book the history of the Internet and how it became so explosively successful given its “generative” nature.  However, he proclaims that the Internet is now going to be limited due to the fact that we are now just using the architecture of the Internet for tethered devices, like phones, pcs and gps units.  He decrys this short-sighted future and says that “Our information technology ecosystem functions best with generative technologyat its core.” (p. 64)

He wants us to go back to the way in which we used the Internet as a generative tool.  His main purpose of the book is to ask us to become more involved in re-steering the Internet to its better purpose:

This book has explained how the Internet’s generative characteristics primed it for extraordinary success—and now position it for failure. The response to the failure will most likely be sterile tethered appliances and Web services that are contingently generative, if generative at all. The trajectory is part of a larger pattern. If we can understand the pattern and what drives it, we can try to avoid an end that eliminates most disruptive innovation while facilitating invasive and alltoo-inexpensive control by regulators. (p.147)

Many Internet developers are now protesting corporate rules and policies that are being imposed on their Internet users.  Take facebook for example.  There are so many rules regarding participation that many people are begining to boycott the service.  The service is free after all but many users still feel like their rights are being violated and their personal information is being exploited or used in inappropriate ways.  See Facebook’s Rights and Responsibilities at http://www.facebook.com/terms.php

Many software developers are now going back to a manner in which they can develop software themselves for Internet users without having to comply with a large corporation’s restrictions.  This is like going back to the Linux model.

There are many software development websites for collaborative commons-based software development.  From wikipedia, there are examples of projects using commons-based peer production include:

 

There are also hackathons –

A hackathon, a hackerneologism, is an event when programmers meet to do collaborativecomputer programming. These events are typically between several days and a week in length. A hackathon refers not simply to one time hacks, but to a specific time when many people come together to hack on what they want to, how they want to – with little to no restrictions on direction or goal of the programming. (wiki).

 

There are a few drawbacks to this software development model.  First, since there is no corporation supporting the software development effort there is no software development lifecycle process.  There is a reason for good product management.  Development projects sometimes need to be managed so that the developers are not driving the requirements.  There needs to be a consolidated effort to weigh requirements.  Not all enhancements that can be thought of by innovative developers will make the software usable by a mass market.  If the software being created is for a niche market, say for other software developers than the users are the developers.  In this case it might work.  However, if the market or the users are individuals that are less technically sophisticated than a typical software developer this model might not work.

Secondly, the software solution might not have the benefit of being marketed.  The software might not be widely used because not many people will know about it.  Of course, the Internet makes word of mouth marketing much easier and effective, but it doesn’t replace the importance of marketing to a mass market.

And last, the architecture could suffer if there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.”  It seems that in certain software solutions the architecture and overall structure of the software needs to be closely controlled and there needs to be consistency in how menus and processes are handled in the software.  This helps with the usability of the application.

April 24, 2011

Week 14: Sacrificing Liberty for Security

Reading:  Lawrence Lessing’s Code 2.0 (Chapters 1 & 2 and all of part 3)

In Lawrence Lessing’s Code 2.0, he discusses how the introduction of cyberspace and the internet is causing our culture to make different decisions regarding personal liberties.  He seems to be worried about how the internet, if not better understood and protected, will be used as a tool of oppression by our government.

He says, “this book is about the change from a cyberspace of anarchy to a cyberspace of control”.  (p. 4 – I think reading on my iPad). “The invisible hand pushed by government and by commerce is constructing an architecture that will perfect control and make highly efficient regulation possible.” (p. 4)

He urges his readers to do something, to intervene, to start thinking of the internet in a different way:  “There is no reason to believe that the foundation for liberty is cyberspace will simply emerge.” (p.3)  We have to do something to protect it.  “We can build, or architect, or code cyberspace to protect values that we believe are fundamental.  Or we can build, architect, or code cyberspace to allow those values to disappear.”  (p.6). 

The problem is is that we don’t know what to do.  Our vision is limited and we only have our past “constitutional” values to draw from.  We are not capable (yet) of envisioning what types of encroachments will take place upon our personal liberties.  We don’t know what values should be protected, and which ones we can leave behind. 

In chapter 2, he makes an argument that we used to believe that the “real” world and the “virtual” world were two different distinct places.  Perhaps some people even believed that the “virtual” world doesn’t exist.  Lessing contends that the “virtual” world is as real as the “real” world and in fact the two worlds are not separate.  Your actions in your “virtual” world can affect your real life world, and vise-versa. 

“Both ‘on the Internet’ and ‘in cyberspace’ technology constitutes the environment of the space, and it will give us a much wider range of control over how interactions work in that space than in real space.” (p. 15)

In some of the stories he tells in chapter 2, (especially the Martha/Dank story), he explores having the ability to “code” problems away.  This is a very interesting idea.  I don’t think we can even fathom the moral ramifications of this.

At this point, he summarizes the rest of the book saying that all information that follows can be framed in the context of four themes:  Regulation, Regulation by Code, Latent Ambiguity, and Competing Sovereigns.

In Part 3, Lessing defines latent ambiguities as ‘those instances where fidelity runs out.”  (p. 155).  Where we no longer know what decision to make, what right to protect, or whose side to take because the technology has taken us too far, too quickly- that’s where latent ambiguities arise. 

 “Changing contexts sometimes reveals an ambiguity latent in the original context.”  (p. 165.)  I love this quote.  It is so true.  Sometimes when the context of reality is changed –  the context of an event – then we are able to understand how wrong (or perhaps, right) we were about a particular stand we were taking.  We might have been protecting the wrong right.

It was really chapter 11, that got me thinking about the Patriot Act.  The Patriot Act is our government’s response to protecting our citizens’ safety at the cost of their privacy.  I think the Patriot Act has been repealed in the Obama administration, but it got me thinking about how we are too quick to relinquish our rights out of fear.  It makes me wonder, how we will eventually do that with the internet and cyberspace too.  The tracking part of the internet – the way that our whole lives are now searchable is very scary to many people, yet, people put all sorts of personal information about themselves on social media and blogging sites everyday.  At some point, this information could be used against people in ways that they never envisioned. 

The title of the Act is a contrived three letter initialism (USA) preceding a seven letter acronym (PATRIOT), which in combination stand for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.[1] The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied. The act is currently set to expire May 29, 2011; after a 90 day extension from February 28 by congress. [2] (from Wikipedia)

The major problems with the Patriot Act have been cited as:  1) suspension of due process, 2) the inherent issues with the invasion of privacy, and 3) the act is too broad and not only is focused on terrorism as initially intended, but also targets normal, American civilians.

April 17, 2011

Week 13: Freeing Intellectual Property

Reading:  Information Feudalism:  Who Owns the Knowledge Economy by Peter Drahos with John Braithwaite

In the reading, Drahos examines how our current economic society focuses on how our emphasis on capitalizing on the “rights” and “profits” of ideas and discovery fuels (or stymies, as the case may be) creativity.  He compares it to what Feudalism did to Europe earlier.  It seems he is calling for this focus on intellectual property rights be overturned so we can go back to a time of my free-flowing ideas and progress.

Drahos claims that “one of the puzzles this book sets out to solve is why states should give up soverignty over something as fundamental as the property laws that determine the ownership of information and the tehcnologes that so profoundly affect the basic rights of their citizens.”  p. 11

Information feudalism is a regime of property rights that is not economically efficient, and does not get the balance right between rewarding innovation and diffusing it. Like feudalism, it rewards guilds instead of inventive individual citizens. It makes democratic citizens trespassers on knowledge that should be the common heritage of humankind, their educational birthright. Ironically, information feudalism, by dismantling the publicness of knowledge, will eventually rob the knowledge economy of much of its productivity. p.219

Drahos even complains that one of the two sources of new ideas: the university, is even starting to focus on patents and information protection much to the detriment of new idea creation.

Our claim is simply ta the two most important institutional supports of innovation – universities and intellectual property– are only parts of the story of a culture of innovation. p . 212

Drahos claims that the two of the three most important inventions of the 20th century have been the Internet and the Human Genome Project.  (The third being nuclear energy and he contends that came from a business venture basically – the Manhattan Project). 

In this book we have we have seen that two of the three most consequential technological breakthroughs of the last century– the Internet and the new molecular biology spawned by unlocking DNA– were the fruits of public investment mainly in universities, not the of the commercial pursuit of patents or copyright. p. 212

 

My question is, that if all significant social structures eventually come to an end, what will end this information feudalism situation? 

If the Bubonic Plague and the Hundred Years War are credited with ended the previous feudalism, then what great catastrophe or cataclysmic event can succeed in  releasing the strong hold that corporations, governments and elitist have on information and innovation?

As the Western Roman Empire fell, so did its system of government. The ideals of the Republic were being dissolved with the constant invasions of Germanic tribes that swept over Europe. Rather than a centralized government, Western Europe was broken up into small kingdoms, with the head being a nobleman or military man who offered the people under him protection in return for their labor and military service for him. This new governmental and economic system was called feudalism.Under the feudal system (feudalism), the king apportioned his land among his lords, called fiefs. The fiefs were further split up into manors, each ruled by a vassal, who served under the lord of the fief. Each manor was completely self-sufficient, and so in this way the small rural communities of Western Europe were cut off from each other and the rest of the world.The feudal system, side by side with the Christian Church, dominated the way of life during the Middle Ages from around the 900s through the 13th and 14th centuries.The reasons for the demise and ultimate collapse of feudalism are many and complex. However, the feudal system ended in part because of the Crusades, the rising middle class, and the bubonic plague, helping to usher in a new form of centralized government in Western Europe. Citation

 

It seems the most likely event will have to be a medical crisis, such as SARS or the Swine Flu Epidemic. It seems the AIDS problem in Africa are helped little by the intellectual property control over certain AIDS treatment drugs. 

 

Or perhaps it will be the inability for corporations and governments to prevent information piracy.  It seems the Internet and mobile devices are making it easier to copy and share information property outside of the laws and regulations set to protect the production of this information.

 

 

One of the other options is that maybe the world’s government systems will naturally morph into more of socialist governments and less democratic with more emphasis on information sharing and public rights and less an emphasis on protection of the individual and corporation’s intellectual property.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

April 10, 2011

Week 12: The Openness of Organizations

Reading: Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody

In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everbody, he examines the way in which social revolutions are not created based on when society adopts new technology but when society adopts new behaviors. A good technology is not what is needed. We have all seen the introduction and quick demise of a very innovative technology invention. The Segway comes to mind. But it is really the adoption of the new behavior that the technology allows society to adopt. I agree with the author’s overall assertion of this theory but for the most part of the book, he seems to stray from this objective.

I actually have a fundamental problem with many of the supporting examples and anecdotes he offers. In fact, my reading of the text makes me think I somehow missed some important subtext.

First I want to point out a few things that I thought were interesting from the book:

When Shirky talks at length (read:ad nauseam) regarding the girl’s missing cell phone he says that one thing we learn from this example is that
“new technology enables new kinds of group-forming” p.17

Yes! This is true. I agree. Traditional group barrier are broken down, proximity issues are erased, etc. Okay, its true but so what. We already knew that. He then takes that notion further and states:
“When we change the way we communicate, we change society” p.17.

This is perhaps a little more interesting. Did the phone change society? Did the telegraph? Did email? SMS? Yes, kind of. But fundamentally change society. I need more proof.

(an aside: love his explanation of Eric Raymond’s idea of the “sweet spot” of the “plausible promise”. )

“Without a plausible promise, all the technolgy in the world would be nothing more than all the technology in the world”

I love this because I believe all real successful technological adoption is about content, application and usage. If there is no promise – it can’t do something for you, provide some benefit, then it will be obsolete before you can say Seque.

Okay, now for what I really wanted to talk about in this post. Can people self organize?

“collaborative production, where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, is considerably harder than simple sharing, but the results can be more profound. New tools allow large groups to collaborate, by taking advantage of nonfinancial motivations and by allowing for wildly differing levels of contribution.”

Take Wikipedia… is it really a valuable resource? Can it be trusted? Couldn’t we have created a government/corporate cooperative that could have created the same content that was more accurate and had better standardization?

When Skirky mentions his three reasons for editing articles on Wikipedia he says he does it for the intellectual stimulation, the “Kilroy was here” idea of leaving your imprint on something, and the third was the desire to do a good thing. These seem like very authentic reasons for updating the snowflake article however, it doesn’t seem like those are the same motivations of the same people who I know. It seems like most of the uses of the modern-day internet and the communication that I see occurring with this technology (the communication that is supposed to change our society according to Shirky) is pedestrian, common, ignorant and at times just vulgar. I wonder how we can really think that if we are to bring all cultures together, allow unprecedented communication methods and (as read about in a previous book) that society in general is becoming more homogenous then heterogeneous on a macro scale… wouldn’t these three things bring us to the conclusion that we are actually “dumbing down” culture.

May be just may be, corporate organizational charts, MLA handbooks, an appreciation of artifacts from our historical past and common courtesy and politeness are things that we should regret leaving behind so readily.

April 3, 2011

Week 11: The Exploit

This reading was difficult. The manner in which the essay book was written seems to help support the non-traditional approach these authors employ in explaining their thoughts of the subject.

The authors seem to be explaining that as the advent of technological networks become more pervasive, their architectural structure will seize power from the historical powerful structure of sovereign, hierarchical networks. The power will inevitably shift from powerful political systems, people, icons and institutions into the actual technical network structure. The nuts and bolts, not the people and content.

First query: What is the profile of the current geopolitical struggle? Is it a question of sovereign states fighting non state actors? Is it a question of sovereign states fighting non states actors? Is it a question of centralized armies fighting decentralized guerillas? Hierarchies fighting networks? Or is a new global dynamic on the horizon?

If we took the events of the day, the authors would seem to think that they are ‘tired of the trees” of the common hierarchical power structures and that they are seeing power shifts to the more newer technical systems. If you looked at the events in Egypt, it would seem the authors would say the power resides in the network. If you looked at Obama’s intervention in Libya then the authors would classify that in that incident the power resides in the old hierarchal system, especially if you take into account that the president acted unilaterally, without congresses’ involvement. In the case of the middle east political uprisings, I believe the authors would say these incidents were all examples of the power being in the network not in the hierarchal political system.

In addition, it seems that the authors seem to be troubled as to where the future is headed. Will power ne inherent in the network and thus out of our control?

Without a doubt, these exceptional topologies are troubling. They exercise sovereignty, and yet there is noq one at the helm making each decision. One might call these societies “misanthropic” or “antianthrological.” The societies of control have an uncanny ability to elevate nonorganic life, placing it on par with organic life And yet there is a sense in which networks remain dynamic , always changing,modulating in flux, alive.

Difficult, even frustrating, questions appear at this point. If no single human entity controls the network in any total way, then can we assume that a network is not controlled by humans in any total way? If humans are only part of a network, then how can we assume that the ultimate aim of the network is a a set of human-centered goals?

Open society is an attempt by a political force to use that structure.

Networks aren’t natural.

(disclaimer: i just had minor surgery on friday. this post was written under the influence of pain medication)

March 27, 2011

Week 10: Social Networks

Week Ten • Manuel Castells, “Why Networks Matter.” • Connected: The Surprising Power of Out Social Networks and How They Shape our Lives Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler

(posted late…  sorry…  I was being lazy and waiting for our esteemed professor to publish the Castells’ article, instead of being proactive and searching for it myself..  😦 but alas, I found it, I think).

Connected reminded me of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and I believe reading this book has helped me define my paper topic for the conclusion of the class.

In Connected, the authors examine the effect of social networks on a variety of occurrences in societies.  They look at obesity, loneliness/happiness, smoking/ non-smoking, sexual activity, suicide and other various traits that people in a society possess and how those people are affected by their social network and their position in their network.

In the first part of the book, they declare five rules to a social network:

  • Rule 1:  We Shape Our Network
  • Rule 2: Our Network Shapes Us
  • Rule 3:  Our Friends Shape Us
  • Rule 4:  Our Friends’ Friends’ Friends Shape Us
  • Rule 5:  The Network Has a Life of Its Own

In addition, they identify two parts of a network – the connections and the contagion.  The connections are what binds you to others and the contagion is what travels around the network – whether that is a STD or the emotion of happiness.

The part I was especially interested in is on p. 26, where they discuss Six Degrees of Separation and Three Degrees of Influence.  The writers recall Stanley Migram’s experiment that shows that all people are all connected to one another by an average of six degrees of separation.

Miligram’s experiment, conducted in the 1960’s, involved giving a few hundred people who lived in Nebraska a letter addressed to a businessman in Boston, more than a thousand miles away.  They were asked to send the letter to somebody they knew personally.  The goal was to get it to someone they thought would be more likely than they to have a personal relationship with the Boston businessman.  And the number of hops from person to person that the letter took to reach the target was tracked.  On average, six hops were required. 

I realize that everyone in America is now familar with the Six Degrees of Separation concept but I doubt most understand the social experiment behind it.  I am fascinated by the idea and have long been interested in the experiment when I first read about it in The Tipping Point.  Now, I also realize that The Tipping Point is more of a mass market, NYT best seller kind of book, and that many more people probably read that book than have read Connected.  It seems The Tipping Point however, was published first.   (?). 

The reason I am interested in this concept is not because everyone is connected to each other, or that I am somehow six degrees separated from someone like Prince William…  I am more interested in a concept Gladwell applied to this idea.  He mentioned in his work that the social experiment showed something else, (forgive me, but this is from memory…  I don’t have the book in front of me….and I read it many years ago).  Gladwell said the experiment showed that not only was everyone in the world connected by an average of six degrees but that there were people who held these social networks together.   I believe he called them “connectors”.  In the experiment, almost all of the hundreds of letters got to the Boston business man through five or six people, ultimately.  He claimed that in the social network infrastructure, there were some people who were better connected (had more connections, with better influence that were stronger).  These people were actually better at managing their relationships too.  They seemed to put more effort into knowing their connections.  They cared more about their welfare and had minds that were better equipped at remembering details of their friendships.  Joe is married to Martha and they have three kids and one son is on a full ride at an Ivy League university and the two others are girls and they like to figure skate and travel to Italy…  etc. 

I find this absolutely fascinating.  I liked the example of why Hushpuppie Shoes became trendy again in SoHo during the 90’s.  Gladwell claimed it was because of these “connectors”.  They knew more people.  The people they knew found them charismatic and had more equity in their friendship.  When they decided something was “cool” so did everyone else in their social circle. 

Now to my idea for my paper…  I am thinking that I am interested in this course of study for one main reason (currently)… I believe that technology is changing the way the world is fundamentally working… that we are now situated smack-dab in the center of a historical shift in how people relate to each other and their environment.  I also believe that because of this huge shift, the rules are now different.  I want to focus on how the rules are now different in corporate marketing.  I want to investigate the way in which social networks and the revolutionary change in which we now deal with each other, can be exploited for commercial gain.  I know it isn’t idealistic or pretty (corporate exploitation is the soft underbelly of our society anyway), but I think it is very interesting and would help me in articulating how the rules are changing for brand equity, public relations and product promotion.

March 20, 2011

Week 8: The Internet as a Social Sphere

Readings:   1. Habermas on the public sphere. 2. Mark Poster, “Cyberdemocracy” 3. Pieter Boeder, “Habermas Heritage: the future of the Public Sphere in the Networked Society”?

Issue:  What the Internet is to become — is greatly dependent on where you reside…

The other two readings are really just a response to Habermas’  The Public Sphere.  In this article, Habermas is speaking about how the nature of the public sphere has been weakened with the emergence of mass media and the social state.  He is arguing that citizens are becoming less “citizens” and more “consumers”.  This sentiment is echoed in the other works. 

We can outline his argument as such:

1.  He defines the ‘public sphere’ as

 By “the public sphere” we mean first of all a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed.  Access is guaranteed to all citizens. (Habermas, p.1.)

2.  He believes in the importance of the public sphere.  The existence allows us to shape consensus thought:

Central in Habermas’ thinking is the notion that the quality of society depends on our capacity to communicate, to debate and discuss: Reason is crucial to communication. (Broeder, Reason Crucial to Communication section).

3.  He believes that mass media publications and the creation of the welfare state are eroding the existence of the public sphere and that is making each one of us more consumer, and less citizen.

4.  Habermas wrote before the electronic digital media revolution.  He could not foresee this but his analysis of what was happening in his time, can be applied to the Internet age.

5.  Poster believes that “the Internet is currently being understood as an extension of or substitution for existing institutions.  He states that with that thinking that we will never full realize what the Internet could really be.  We are limited by our scope of understanding the world by that frame.  He asks us to then try to understand the Internet in relation to democracy “by risking or risk challenging our existing theoretical approaches and concepts as they concern these questions.”

6.  Boeder then “piles on” the discussion by purporting that Poster is radically changing the discourse on the topic to claim that we cannot understand the Internet it terms of democracy (the prevailing political and social system of our day) but that we must understand that perhaps the Internet makes it possible to have a new political order… one in which we cannot understand yet.  He questions…

Are there new kinds of power relations occurring between communicating individuals? In other words, is there a new politics on the Internet? Poster approaches this question by making a detour from the issue of technology and raising again the question of a public sphere: If there is a public sphere on the Internet, who populates it and how? What kinds of beings exchange information in this public sphere? What kind of community can there be in this space? What kind of disembodied politics are inscribed so evanescently in cyberspace? What constitutes communities in cyberspace and cyberdemocracy? (Poster, The Modern Delusion Section).

7.  Which brings me to my argument… Given where we are today…  as we sit here in the United States watching regimes and histories of multiple decades of “dicatorships” topple before our eyes (read: screens)…  and we do nothing to participate in this global social change.  Yes, we are interested.  Much like passers-by at a automobile wreck scene.  Yes, some of us have empathy for the atrocities that have been committed to the citizens of the countries of Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya.  We sit by and root them on in much the same way we are rooting for our March Madness bracket picks.  But haven’t we become consumers of the world events and their ramifications without participating in the process?  Yes, there are the few isolated incidents of geographic and country boundaries being “eliminated” by the use of the Internet.  I have seen Twitter conversations between American citizens and the protesters in Libya.  But is there anyone in their safe and comfortable western culture that is actively participating in the social movement.  I have not yet seen evidence of it.  Yes, I have seen our media representatives on television speaking on location in empathic terms regarding the citizens and their struggles.  But no, I have not yet seen any American citizen participating in the social revolution of these countries.  I have only seen them use the communication infrastructure of the Internet as a consumer.  It makes me wonder if the Internet is different to us — American citizens — then it is to the people in less developed cultures and more disparate political systems.  Are they using it for a higher, greater purpose, why we use it (and extract the most value from it) to comparison shop, look for jobs and record and publish our last pub crawl?  I thought we were supposed to be more sophisticated than that.