Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shirky vs. Gladwell

Those of you who followed Priscilia's link on the Facebook group last week to a New Yorker article written in October 2010 by UofT alum Malcolm Gladwell ("Small Change: Why the Revolution Will not be tweeted") may be interested in finding out a little more about his thoughts post-Arab Spring, as well as delving a little deeper into how/where Gladwell and Shirky's arguments diverge on the issue of  SNS as a tool for political activism. You'll notice that Gladwell both critiques Shirky's book and provides an alternative theory about why the demonstrations in East Germany attracted so many participants. I'll talk a bit more about Gladwell's arguments tomorrow, but in the meantime, you can read ahead by checking out this exchange between Gladwell and Shirky, published in Foreign Affairs magazine last year. The exchange occurred in response to an article Shirky wrote for an earlier issue of the same publication, entitled The Political Power of Social Media (log in through UofT Library site for full access), wherein Shirky provides an updated version of the argument he makes in Here Comes Everybody, and responds to some of his critics - including the ones outlined in Gladwell's "Small Change" article. Shirky describes:
"There are, broadly speaking, two arguments against the idea that social media will make a difference in national politics. The first is that the tools are themselves ineffective, and the second is that they produce as much harm to democratization as good, because repressive governments are becoming better at using these tools to suppress dissent. The critique of ineffectiveness, most recently offered by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker, concentrates on examples of what has been termed "slacktivism," whereby casual participants seek social change through low-cost activities, such as joining Facebook's "Save Darfur" group, that are long on bumper-sticker sentiment and short on any useful action. The critique is correct but not central to the question of social media's power; the fact that barely committed actors cannot click their way to a better world does not mean that committed actors cannot use social media effectively. Recent protest movements--including a movement against fundamentalist vigilantes in India in 2009, the beef protests in South Korea in 2008, and protests against education laws in Chile in 2006--have used social media not as a replacement for real-world action but as a way to coordinate it."
In terms of the second critique, which was eloquently articulated by Evgeny Morozov in this RSA video that was posted to the FB group by Anna, Shirky has this to say:
"This obviously does not mean that every political movement that uses these tools will succeed, because the state has not lost the power to react. This points to the second, and much more serious, critique of social media as tools for political improvement--namely, that the state is gaining increasingly sophisticated means of monitoring, interdicting, or co-opting these tools. The use of social media, the scholars Rebecca MacKinnon of the New America Foundation and Evgeny Morozov of the Open Society Institute have argued, is just as likely to strengthen authoritarian regimes as it is to weaken them." 
So - back to the Gladwell v. Shirky exchange. This is what Gladwell had to say about Shirky's THe Political Power of Social Media article:
"...[J]ust because innovations in communications technology happen does not mean that they matter; or, to put it another way, in order for an innovation to make a real difference, it has to solve a problem that was actually a problem in the first place. This is the question that I kept wondering about throughout Shirky's essay-and that had motivated my New Yorker article on social media, to which Shirky refers: What evidence is there that social revolutions in the pre-Internet era suffered from a lack of cutting-edge communications and organizational tools? In other words, did social media solve a problem that actually needed solving? Shirky does a good job of showing how some recent protests have used the tools of social media. But for his argument to be anything close to persuasive, he has to convince readers that in the absence of social media, those uprisings would not have been possible."
To which Shirky responds:
"I would break Gladwell's question of whether social media solved a problem that actually needed solving into two parts: Do social media allow insurgents to adopt new strategies? And have those strategies ever been crucial? Here, the historical record of the last decade is unambiguous: yes, and yes.
Digital networks have acted as a massive positive supply shock to the cost and spread of information, to the ease and range of public speech by citizens, and to the speed and scale of group coordination. As Gladwell has noted elsewhere, these changes do not allow otherwise uncommitted groups to take effective political action. They do, however, allow committed groups to play by new rules."
Anyway - there's more to it, so please do check it out for yourselves.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Storytelling through Social Media

Having taken the introductory course in media from St. Michael's College last year, I have since been constantly thinking about McLuhan's theory that our society right now is in the process of re-tribalization. I.e., same as the modern age was the age of individualism, the post modern will be the age self association with different groups and tribes.
I carried this idea with me to another class, this a study of Boccaccio's The Decameron from the 14th century (thus, the pre modern era). Since the book itself is all about story telling, I couldn't help but equate the circle of the 10 characters who spend 10 days telling each other stories as something quite similar to SNS -- our Facebook newsfeed is solely comprised of "stories" of our friends' activities; twitting links to the world is nothing short of telling a story either.
Thus, it seems to me that we are back in a culture which relies on story telling to make sense of the world around us. The web contains countless forums of discussionsm, and in a way, their sole purpose of existence is to create a particular narrative about a given subject which will allow us to experience it collectively. Examples of these are book discussion forums, for instance, or even the current debate about whether or not Chris Brown should have been allowed to perform at the Grammy's last Sunday.
Another example is something I saw on  the news last week about a car crash of 11 cars. One of the witnesses was making a statement about the fact that he was the only one that went out to the people that were on the brink of death to console them in their last minutes, whereas everyone else that was present at the scene were more interested in capturing the scene on their phones and cameras. He was complaining about the indignity that these by-standers incurred to the victims by making their deaths into a "spectacle". This brought me back to thinking once again that we have become a culture which needs to share "stories" with our networks (or tribes) in order to be able to experience it ourselves.
It could be that McLuhan's ideas of all-encompassing tribalization of society might have been too broad, but it seems to me that SNS, and the story-telling culture which they allow and perpetuate, are a very clear example of a post-modern culture which is more tribal in nature than the modern.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More than "Yourself"?: YouTube's Redesign

For a brief but important update on Gauntlett's discussion of YouTube in Chapter 4, check out Ethan Tussey's (UCSB) recent post on the In Media Res (Media Commons/Future of the Book) site on YouTube's recent redesign and new emphasis on niche/personalization. His starting point is a video that the company released in December entitled "Get More Into YouTube" - a shift away from "Broadcast Yourself" that Tussey deconstructs for us by drawing our attention to the politics and implications (both positive and negative) of a more personalized, entertainment-driven YouTube experience. Here's an excerpt from the original post:
On December 1st, 2011, YouTube released a video, “Get More Into YouTube,” that previewed and promoted its redesigned interface. The major focus of the redesign was to “channelize” YouTube by asking users to subscribe to the video feeds of particular content creators. YouTube has long had a subscription function but the redesigned interface makes this the primary feature of the website, framing YouTube as an entertainment destination like HBO instead of a place to search for the clips everyone is talking about. For many users, “Getting More Into YouTube” would mean abandoning their current habits and joining a “monetizable” niche demographic.
I am not as unsettled by this prospect as many of my colleagues or the 15,000 people who “disliked” the video announcing the website redesign, I am more concerned with the way YouTube, a website that originally promoted itself with the motto “broadcast yourself,” is abandoning its digital ethics to become a better version of television.
Does this new design/focus change the ways in which YouTube operates as a "archetypal digital creative platform" (Gauntlett, p.89)?? Or is it just a more efficient way of organizing your own viewing/use experience? Or something else entirely?

Also - what does this redesign tell us about the ongoing struggle to curate, sort, filter, evaluate, make sense of, file and archive the endless reams of data and content available to us on these various platforms (or even the web more generally)?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Craft and the New Economy

Via City of Craft and the Ontario Crafts Council (OCC) website, news about an upcoming symposium at OCADU (part of an entire "CrafTalks" series) examining the relationship between craft, new business practices, technology, DIY and social responsibility. Not sure how much of these will relate directly to social media/tech, but I suspect there will likely be at least a few talks/presenters examining things like Etsy, Pinterest, etc. Here are the details, copy-pasted from the OCC site:
Presented by the OCC in partnership with OCADU’s Material Art & Design Program

Taking place at OCAD University
100 McCaul Street, Toronto

Craft and the New Economy is a one-day symposium that brings together international, national and local speakers to address the relationship between craft and issues of sustainable business practice, technology, DIY and social responsibility. The term ‘new economy’ does not simply address issues of recession and global connectivity, but the development of new tools, processes of engagement, and the role of craft in the 21st century. Craft and the New Economy is an opportunity to explore the complex terrain of craft as object, profession, and cultural intermediary.

Craft and the New Economy will be held at OCAD University, located in the Auditorium at 100 McCaul Street, Toronto. Please see Directions and Accomodations for maps and more details.

Generous support for the Craft and the New Economy symposium is provided by the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council. Special thanks go to the OCADU Material Art and Design Program for their ongoing partnership in the CraftTalks lecture series.

Craft and the New Economy is also generously supported by:

Primary Sponsor Organizations:

The Textile Museum of Canada, sponsor of Sheila Kennedy

Support Organizations:
The Gardiner Museum
Harbourfront Centre Craft Department
Sheridan College Crafts and Design Program
The Design Exchange
Toronto Craft Alert
City of Craft
The Glass Art Association of Canada

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keeping up with Facebook

Keeping up with all the changes, innovations, redesigns and additions constantly unfolding in Facebook is tough enough as a user...Never mind trying to analyze the site and its underlying matrix of business transactions, data exchange, market research and "synergies". A possible resource that may be useful in this regard is Inside Facebook - an industry news site that reports on all business-related Facebook developments. Here's a description of the site from it's official "About" page:
"Inside Facebook is the leading source of news and analysis on Facebook’s global growth, corporate developments, and product innovations. Inside Facebook provides daily news and analysis for developers, marketers, and investors.

Inside Facebook is an independent news service of Inside Network, the industry’s leading research and news organization dedicated to providing original market research, critical analysis, data services and news on the Facebook platform, social gaming, and mobile applications ecosystem"
While this type of site does NOT provide the type of critical discussion and analysis that we'll be doing in SMC300, it can nonetheless be useful in giving us background data and the frequent updates we'll need to stay current in this ever shifting, oftentimes quite confusing, world of SNS/personal data economies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Clay Shirky on SOPA

Relevant to this week's readings, as well as today's web-wide protest against the "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA), Clay Shirky shares his thoughts with TED on SOPA/PIPA and delivers a manifesto on why creating and sharing online is important:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friending Your Parent/Friending Your Kid

Check out this new research infographic released by lab42, which summarizes the results of a Facebook study the market research firm conducted last December on parent-child habits within social networks (sample size = 500 social media users, but can't find out what age range they include in their category of "child" - clearly these parents are parents of younger kids, but how young???).

Reproduced in full here, courtesy of ZDNet:
©2011 lab42

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The More Things Change...

Hello and welcome students (and lurkers) of SMC300 "Mediating the Social." I will be using this course blog to post my lecture slides, additional thoughts & clarifications on lecture themes/concepts, as well as the occasional news story or development of interest. Such as the following:

©2011 Taylor-Ruth Baldwin/Hanging Rock Comics
Ah the power of blogging - social networking meets content creation, a perfect case study for a Book & Media Studies course on social media. Via Marisa Meltzer at Wired, a cute yet revealing story about the reach and accessibility of web 2.0 blog apps. Here's an excerpt:
Taylor-Ruth Baldwin, 17, created Hanging Rock Comics, a first-person chronicle of high school angst. The Star Wars-obsessed junior started her Tumblr last summer, posting comic panels from her diary. “It was a way of venting my frustrations,” Baldwin says. “I didn’t think much would come of it.” But she struck a nerve, and in a few months she had 15,000 followers. Her posts often get thousands of notes—reblogs, likes, and replies. One got more than 35,000, which is on par with posts by mainstream news orgs. And last fall, a Baldwin lookalike contest got 400-plus adults, kids, and animals aping her style of band T-shirt, big glasses, and braid.
The particularly interesting thing about this story is that it could easily have been written 10+ years ago, albeit for an earlier platform (Lycos' ChickPages comes to mind), and perhaps featuring slightly lower numbers than the ones seen here. This semester, we'll be talking a lot about the idea of web 2.0 and how WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") tools, apps and other technologies democratize media/content production...but we're also going to try to remember the deep continuities that exist between these "new" developments, prior online phenomena, as well as more traditional (analog) cultural practices. Here, I'm not only thinking about the ways in which the example above (teen-made comic, venting frustrations, dedicated fan base) is reminiscent of the kinds of stuff that appeared via earlier blog tools and personal websites, but also in paper zines, independently-published comics, etc. On the other hand, the immediate and dynamic social aspect of this story certainly distinguishes it from those earlier incarnations. The fact that readers can repost, like posts, comment, submit content, etc., adds this extra layer of conversation and iteration to the mix. Can't wait to chat more about this in class next week!