Question Forum C

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The questions and responses in this forum refer to Chapters 4-5 (81-142) in Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. For reference, the Essay Sequence assignment. Discussion leaders will post their Keywords by February 25. Commentaries — Group 3 commentary — will be posted within a week after the class presentation on March 1.


Note: Please read ALL of the questions before you choose which ones to respond to. In order to make the class run smoother, we will probably only pick the three or four most responded to questions to discuss.

Chapter 4

1) On page 105, Shirky says, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting
until they get technologically boring.” He says that tools have to be around
long enough, and basically become invisible before they can really cause a
change. He notes that we are currently experiencing the “largest increase in
expressive capability.” The social tools we are using now (ex: Facebook,
Twitter, text messaging, etc…) are being compared to the inventions of the
printing press, telephone, recorded music and movies, and the radio. Do you
think that the newest social tools we are using to communicate will have the
same long-term effect that the telephone and printing press did? Or are these
new tools just a “fad” that will soon be replaced by the next “big” thing?

2) Without the inherent economic imperative in television and other traditional
media, what will guide people in the act of filtering in the
“publish-then-filter” era of social media mentioned on page 98? Will the
changes in the way people filter information be a positive change? In what ways
might this compromise the quality of information and analysis the public
receives? With the use of search engines is the power to filter purely in the
hands of the users?


3) I think that a good example of the “publish, then filter” formula that Shirky mentions in chapter four is the website Digg.com. To briefly explain the site, users submit webpages to the Digg community to be voted on. Enough thumbs-up votes will get the submitted site onto the front page where more users will see it, and thumbs-down votes will bury the site and no one will see it. Websites are published, then they are filtered depending on a very rudimentary version of voting—yay or nay. However, being a constant visitor of Digg, I have found out that certain users of the site are able to get just about anything they submit onto the front page because of the vast number of “friends” they have.

I think that these “power users,” as they are called, seem to throw a big wrench in the idea of social media. These people have a much larger hold on the filter that Shirky discusses and I am under the impression that this is a bad thing. What do you think? If popular vote becomes the main way of filtering content on the internet, and this issue of “power users” continues, then is this really any different than the old way of filtering, then publishing?
-Jared Putman


Answers
Chapter 4. Question 1.
The inventions of the first major communication tools, such as the printing press, were definitely new and mind-blowing at the time. The idea of Facebook and social networking has been around for awhile, even if the actual manifestation and popularity of the sites is newer. I think that communication tools will now improve incrementally instead of the big leaps we’ve seen in the past. As far as existing social communications go, I think we will be seeing more updating and less inventing.
However, radical new inventions that engage more senses and make 3-D and 4-D technologies more prominent in the home as well as the theater will probably still make a big splash in the way we use the Internet for communications. But as long as Facebook continues to integrate new technologies into their updates, I think people will still flock to it. However, while it may be unlikely in my opinion, another big social networking tool could overtake Facebook if it were able to utilize or develop a new technology first. The problem is that new technologies are generally made for other uses other than social communication so it’s hard for enterprising social networkers to predict, much less develop, the optimum alternative and commercial uses for a new technology.
-Lindsey Sutphin

Chapter 4. Question 1.

In no way will these new media tools have the same effect as the telephone and printing press. Why? The telephone offers a means of interpersonal communication nearly equivalent to face-to-face communication. Social networking is the most impersonal communication method offered today. However, tools like Facebook and Twitter are not just "fads" waiting to be replaced, rather they are a new generation of mass communication based on audience interest. They aim to facilitate communication between lost acquaintances, to offer prospective employees to potential hiring companies, and a way to publish one's opinions to be viewed by an actively participating audience.

-Brandon Shipp

Ch.4 Q. 1 Response:
I think that it is necessary to consider the entirety of Shirky’s quote on page 105 in order to fully discuss this issue. He states:
“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn’t create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.”

I disagree with his assertion that a tool ‘has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it’ in order for it to evoke change. Facebook popped up in my life at the beginning of my senior year of high school (September 2006—and yes, I had to wikipedia that date), back when high schoolers couldn’t join without being ‘invited’ by someone who already had an account. Back then, the entire notion of Facebook was foreign to me, and as a naturally shy person, I absolutely resisted establishing a publicly-accessible account for myself, despite the rising number of classmates who had them. By the end of my senior year, however, the effects of Facebook could be felt nearly everywhere. I couldn’t go to school without overhearing people discussing things that had been written on their walls, the collegiate activities of older graduates of our high school, photos of the weekend’s events, and so on.

When I first created my account, Facebook usage was still limited to a very small, very regulated portion of users, but its very existence had still made a HUGE impact on the day-to-day lives of users and non-users alike. This is why I disagree with Shirky’s opinion on the social interest of communications tools. Even from reading the wikipedia entry on the history of Facebook, it is clear that this technology, at least, has been creating significant social change even within 24 hours of its inception. Parents, I think, especially felt the pull of curiosity about Facebook, and were thwarted in their efforts to learn more about it, because of the careful age restrictions placed on usage.

At the beginning of my freshman year of college—September 2006—Facebook was opened to everyone aged 13 and older with a valid e-mail address, and although this led to the ‘normalization’ of Facebook usage within society, I would still argue that a huge change had been put into place long before then.

To quickly answer the posed questions: I don’t think that these new social communication tools are a ‘fad’ that will be replaced by ‘the next big thing,’ but I do think that they will continue to evolve as new technologies come along. Just as we still have a use—albeit decreased or altered—for the printing press, the telephone, and radio, I think that we will continue to rely on these online social medium for years to come.
—Katie Collins

Question 1 response-

I don’t think that there is any way that online social networking tools could ever be considered a fad at this point. Email communications have been around for decades. Websites which foster social interactions have been around for almost as long, and in the past few years have begun to really take off with the invention of networks like youtube and facebook. What is more important than the amount of time they have been around however, is how prolific they have become. Millions of unique users access these sites on a daily or more frequent basis.

If anyone were to look at the rate at which usage of the radio, phone and recorded movies increased in their early years, it would be clear that the internet has enjoyed a much faster growth. The technologies have become ubiquitous, by Shirky’s definition, and therefore more able to create social change.

-Elliott Ditman

Question 1 Response:

While I love the nature of this question and the thoughts it provokes, I find it hard to answer it formally. It makes me consider questions like: Are there people that think the printing press, radio, and telephone are becoming outdated because of newer communication tools such as the internet? Do people realize how essential these inventions still are? I know they’re basic questions, but sometimes I feel as though people lose sight of all the different technologies they use because they’re concentrating so heavily on today’s “big thing.” With this in mind, I don’t think you can say that any of our current fads (because in truth, even if “fad” is a dismissive word, facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. all started as just that; and in Myspace’s case, basically ended the same way when facebook came along.) will be replaced by the next big thing because we don’t seem to be replacing anything these days – we simply continue to build on the precedence which was set by the old, which inevitably pushes the technology further and further.
-Meagan Watson

Question 1 Response:

I personally feel that Facebook won't have the same impact as the telephone. While they both enable contacting people over long distances, Facebook has so much that I hope people will stop caring so much about. I keep looking for an excuse to delete my account since I can't stand the site. I'm embarassed whenever someone I know sees me logged in. Twitter is moving in the same direction for me, too. It's nothing but minor "OMG IM ABOUT TO WATCH A MOVIE" or "GEARIN UP FOR DRINKIN THIS WEEKEND HELL YEAH" statements that I really don't care about. I look forward to these being replaced, hopefully with something that I won't hate as much.
-Vance Roberts

Response to question 1:

I often think about new "inventions" and wonder if they are really original creations or just improvements upon things we already have. Things like the telephone and the printing press totally changed the way we live life and how people connect and communicate. I think the internet is the closest thing we have to something that altered life in the way the printing press did. The cellphone was a huge break through in telecommunications, but the concept wasn't new. It was still a device to call people, but it was more like a Telephone version 2.0. The cellphone is an updated, more convenient telephone. Modern, flat, compact tv screens are devices that are improvements upon older tv's. Yes, these new LCD monitors have brand new technology, but that brand new technology is incorpated to improve upon an existing one. TV 2.0.

— Mike Yi

Chapter 4, Question 1

While it's safe to say that technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging have certainly left an impact on how our society interacts, I'm not sure you can place them on the same breakthrough level as the telephone and other such inventions. I see these new technological improvements as just that — improvements. They're enhancements to an invention that was far before our time. I believe we discussed a similar topic in class one day; technology these days doesn't involve one single genius conjuring up a single genius innovation. It's more about building upon what already exists…what can we do to improve what we already have in the least amount of time?

I do agree, though, that some social networking sites and phone applications may die out as fads, but the main idea is still there: newer ideas arriving faster and faster for a society that can't seem to slow down. Our expectations have changed. We're no longer waiting years and years for Bell to invent the telephone, we're waiting a few months for Steve Jobs to give us another reason to believe that "there's an App for that."

-Lorelle Stephanski

Chapter 4, Question 1:

At the very least, I think it’s an interesting concept. Certainly technology becoming dated fuels new technological innovation, but it seems history hasn’t kept as sharp an eye on the social impact of tech stagnation. I suppose the impact of the printing press wasn’t felt until books became common and affordable, which resulted in a more educated and informed populace, and obviously was a major factor in the drive towards modern society. I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to compare social media (Facebook, Twitter, texting) to other communication innovations. The reason being, it’s almost like comparing a television to what programming is on. These methods of communicating are significant, but they aren't the underlying technology. The Internet will be what is remembered and what has the largest social impact, not some individual websites with minimally interesting and innovative ideas.

- Jordan Davis

Response to question 3:

If you consider Internet culture as an extension of the "real world," this is normal. Modern culture, as well as media, decides what things are worth paying attention to. If more people want a certain thing, it'll inevitably be more popular and get more play. Since we have that established in this context, are these "power users" really an unnatural occurance? I'd say top media moguls are "power users" in their own right in terms of their influence, and these people have worked hard to get where they are. I personally don't like the idea of a "power user" and their influence on Internet culture, but I think that's how life is. There will always be prominent leaders among us and they will typically guide culture in the way they like.

— Mike Yi

Chapter 4, Question 3:

This is definitely an example of a good idea gone rotten. It’s a great idea that everyone can have an equal say in what they believe is relevant news. And it would certainly be a welcome break from the mystic machinations of Google (who I trust, but perhaps blindly so). Unfortunately, much like our political system, everyone’s vote doesn't carry the same weight. Who you know and who is at the center of the network plays an unsettlingly large role. I am also not a fan of imbalanced systems like this, but they’re so prolific in the real world, I'm not exactly sure how we can try to expunge them from the digital one. Its certainly a noble goal, and perhaps social experiments online will help make the problem more clear to the general public. But for the time being, its just a reminder that the digital world isn’t completely independent from the physical one, and that if we don't resolve our social issues, we’ll just end up carrying them along with us between the two.

- Jordan Davis



Chapter 5

1) After reading about how Wikipedia works – the process of creating and editing
pages – and the idea that enough people care about the site and its contents to
make the pages valid, do you think that Wikipedia is a valid source of
information? Do you use Wikipedia? If so, do you use it for scholarly purposes
or recreational purposes?

2) Shirky writes on page 127 that “There is a steep decline from a few wildly
active participants to a large group of barely active participants […]” Does
this statement potentially support an argument that hierarchies in society are
a natural occurrence within any society or group? If a small group controls the
information and the rest read it and take it in what type of power structure
might be implied?


3) The idea of power law that Shirky presents is a very interesting one. The fact that the majority of Wikipedia’s content is generated by a minuscule fraction of the site’s users raised a question in my head that Shirky does not really discuss. I think that Wikipedia (and wikis in general) is in a very small group of projects that can actually benefit from power law. A problem that I can see here is that when a person does something that helps several others, they tend to want to take credit for it. This is a very human response: we do a job, and if it is done well, we expect some recognition and thanks. This is not so on Wikipedia, and I am curious about how this influences the site.

Can anyone give an example of other projects that could work using power law? Our own class has a wiki, who deserves the credit for it? Mr. Collier? You? Me? Say in three years I write a book that relies heavily on the answer you are about to post to this question, should I include you in my acknowledgement section next to my mom? I am under the impression that very few of us would ever volunteer to work a power law- structured project, but I am curious about what everyone else thinks.
-Jared Putman


Answers

Ch. 5 Question Responses:
1)I don’t know if I think Wikipedia is an extremely valid source of information, I think I usually take what I read there with a grain of salt. I do use Wikipedia as sort of a quick check emergency encyclopedia, but not really extensively as a source of information. I suppose use it for both scholarly and recreational purposes. I don’t ever use it as a reference in my papers, but I might look up something on Wikipedia then look at the books they quoted at their sources, then look for those books for information. Or if I don’t remember a person or event we talked about in class I might use Wikipedia later to look it up and remind myself what it was. Recreationally I would say I use it for the same sort of quick reference. For example I was having an argument with my Mom about how many times Cary Grant had been married; we looked it up on Wikipedia as well as a few other sites to check.
-Elizabeth Hardwick

3)First Portion: I think that yes, people usually want to take credit for a job well done, especially something they have spent free time doing. I am not sure of specific cases about how this sort of conflict on Wikipedia is dealt with, but I do believe that you have the ability to correct other people’s mistakes in what they have written. I imagine that there have been arguments over what is actually correct, and maybe mini-battles as to who can put it the way they believe it should be. Does anyone know of any cases?

Second Portion:I am not sure about other projects could work using power law. But I imagine that if you did use one of our responses to a question for a book, we would like a little credit yes. Maybe not directly under your mom, lol, but somewhere. As to who deserves credit for the own class wiki wouldn’t it be everyone who has contributed to it?
- Elizabeth Hardwick


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