It is easy to say that new technologies change society. Just like in a biological habitat,
when you introduce some new element,
the processes of life there will be disrupted.
Media are slightly different, however, for they
Ian Bogost put it, media
can be approached in terms of
“microecology,” with each med
representing a microhabita
t whose idiosyncrasies impact broader society like ripples in a pond
(Bogost, 2011, pg. 6). According to McLuhan, these “ripples” change the scale or pace of
society, and inevitably alter our consciousnesses
hence, “the medium is the message”
Many scholars have expanded upon this, such as Neil Postman, who
concluded that TV has made us illiterate entertainers with short attention spans (Postman, 1985)
and Illich and Sanders, who revealed that the transition from print to oral culture alt
memory (Illich and Sanders, 1988).
However, one has yet to apply this to digital media
the World Wide Web, videogames, cell phones, and, of course, social
we have to ask
There are three main paradigms for this question. Technological determinism, for which
a deity, believes that
changes society and behavior (Baym, 2010).
When the TV entered the living
room, all other furniture turned t
the TV did not adapt,
but forced society to adapt to it. Next, social constructivists think that
cause the change,
based on the context they live in. In other words, technology arises from social processes (Baym,
39). And last, social sh
aping lies somewhere in between: people and technology influence each
other (Baym, 45).
Yet, no matter which paradigm you follow, it seems that digital media
technology is now “domesticated,” as Baym put it, to the point that it is fully embedded in our
cial lives (
). This confounds the division between online and offline, as we will
see later with authors such as Dana Boyd, Zadie Smith, Ito et al, and Nancy Baym. As for Mr.
Zuckerberg, by his letter to potential investors, we can see that h
e leans towards technological
determinism, saying that
leads “to a complete transformation of many important parts
of society” (Zuckerberg,
Letter to Investors
Is this true? Has technology led to more “efficient”
communication? Has it “brought
us closer together?” Or
This essay asserts that technological innovations cannot change society without the input
of those who use them
as Tim O’Reilly said, “users add value” (O’Reilly,
media can influence that input as well as the context it is made in. In other words, this essay
takes a social shaping stance to these questions.
In order to show this, we must clearly define what Zuckerberg meant by “efficient
.” In the transmission model of communication, quickness and accuracy of a
message would determine efficiency. But in Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding model,
it would be
efficient if there were
meaningful discourse at all
(Hall, 1973)! With digital medi
domesticated, we have to look at this in terms of “mediated publics
where “people can
publicly through mediating
oyd, 2007, pg 2)
Because digital media are
ubiquitous, mediated publics are practically equivalent to non
d publics, if not more
populated. Here, the technology allows information to travel “faster than thought” (Abelson et
#7,” 2008, pg 12);
people can create perfect
(Abelson et al, 2008),
, and reac
h a whole swath of audiences from a single
This certainly seems efficient,
but what of the social processes involved? For
something as complex as digital media, the transmission model is too limited. The internet
(Baym, 63) or a medium incorporating different types of communication into
) that allows for “remediation,” or the blending or writing and
conversation styles with conventions of popular media (Baym, 66).
be represented merely by “sender
Thus, when we look at the
efficiency takes on new meaning. For example, digital media are “lean” compared to face
interaction, because they limit social cues
, or the phys
ical markers we display that communicate
). In addition, as
pointed out, people “reduce” themselves
online, effacing many tidbits that make them who they are (Sm
ith, 2010, pg 7)
say online is not necessari
ly what they w
Baym complements this
with her study of online identity, which demonstrated the multiplicity digital media allow for
profiles, or “disembodied identities” (Baym, 105).
Therefore, even if we do follow the
ission model, digital communication would be inefficient because the “message” of who a
person is would be severely limited.
Furthermore, the “perfect reproductions” and “reach” of
industries combating piracy (Abelson et al; Baym)
, as well as for
public figures who must constantly watch
what they say
lest the “persistence” of online data
(boyd, 2), which nev
er goes away,
come back and
And, thanks to the ease of “searchability”
(boyd, 2), it is possible to find quotes without having to read the context, and thus misinterpret
, efficiency can go both ways
the technology shapes society by allowing
to transcend space and time, but
we shape the technology by
integrating it into our social
Much of this social interaction is accomplished through our “voice,” as Zuckerberg puts
it. Voice can be thought of as the verbal articulations between thought and action we make in our
we each have
our own voice that makes us unique. Before the internet, only a select few
voices could be heard. But afterwards, anybody with a connection could present their
articulations. Consequently, does mass articulation equate to efficiency?
“filter failure” (Shirky, Lecture 1/26), where
of any quality can be
point of view
, the more voices there are the better
since Web 2.0 is a “collective
intelligence” where “users add value” (O’Reilly, 13
It is al
l about sharing
, which entails that
goes online, it
becomes everybody’s knowledge,
(in fact, this is
the Framers ori
“bonding capital” between voices, connecting
across the globe
(Baym, 82), and allowing suppressed voices refuge
other minorities, for example
So the technology has built the bridges
do people actually
cross them? Yes…and no.
society has so decentralized the individual, one voice is nothing
. Just as Vaidhyanathan said in
Me? Person of the Year? No Thanks
, “you” is
nothing without “we.”
to Bogost’s microecology,
ach online voice is its own microhabitat
within the internet environment
ow that there are
billions of them, the value of each
ince we are social animals, we
these highways of articulation under
’s pack mentality (Smith
wanting to distinguish
but our group
. It should also be noted that
influenced by identity, according to Baym, identity is influenced by social inte
contexts (Baym, 2010), which in turn can be affected by what the technology allows.
what we say in public can be influenced by who we “hang out” with (Ito et al, 2008), so too can
our online comments be defined by the norms of th
e pack. The only difference is that the pack
bridges built by the technology.
The effect: the globalization of
behavioral norms that no one foresaw the technology promoting.
Zuckerberg next makes a sweeping statement that digi
tal technology “
This is certainly deterministic, but in truth
not occur unless
act appropriately with the tools given
or this reason, it is useless to blame
the flow of social advancement.
hen critics like
media for making us stupid,
that Facebook harms grades (Wilson, 2009)
like Steve Johnson
and Jane McGonigal
, they do not give due credit to
e social processes involved
It is not the ripples of the microhabitat that distort the pond
the fact that someone threw the
Yet most of us miss this, which leads
to “moral panics,”
as Abelson et al called it,
the infamous privacy v
ersus protection debate
Chapter 7 of
Blown to Bits
the flaws of intellectual property demonstrated by
Why Would TJ Love Napster?
If we realized that we shape the technology just
as much as it shapes us, such alarm would b
he lines between real and virtual are
because we have
to domesticate the internet into our daily lives
simply an extension of us (McLuhan
In any case
is not society being transformed
(Ito et al, 2008)
. Dynamism is endemi
c to the very nature of Abelson’s koans
and Baym’s social cues. They are constantly evolving
embodying a true
, 14), where the te
hnology and social processes complement each other in new and
Just look at the history of the internet: it was intended to keep our
in the case of nuclear
but social cogs turned it into an
c and communal
In connection with “communal havens
Zuckerberg asserts that digital
media bring us
closer together. Certainly, the internet has
for communication, but
people have shaped this capability
in accordance with social
his pack to allow total admittance
they want it to be special.
that even Facebook, the paragon of social inclusion, used this
Therefore, does exclusivity within
inclusivity still bring us together?
t depends on the social context involved
those who have lived their offline lives
isolated from much of the outside world, such as the Chinese or Middle
. But for the
, like Americans, these digital communities
might be nothing more than
opportunities to assert the
And indeed we see
this. For example, Ito et al showed that
teens use the internet now as “youth places,” where they
can hang out away from the prying eyes of parents and teachers. And when that barrier is
breached, teens are more than annoyed (Ito et al,
hat is why Dana boyd suggests a
to guiding teens through the internet (boyd, 5).
So when Zuckerberg states
that digital media can bring the world together, in reality, the technology simply
social nature to extend across time and space, but we choose who to extend it to.
whether technological innovations are truly the cause of transformations of
society depends on your approach. Here, we took social shaping because technology cannot do
anything without the human element, yet humans are
xtricably linked t
o technology, for
it is embedded in our daily lives.
Sure, communication may be faster than ever now, but what
really matters is how people will use it. The technology has made it possible
the people will
make it social.
Jane McGonigal’s theory
that playing videogames for 21 billion hours a week will save
the world is eccentric, to say the least. Her
sound, but her attempt to sell the transition
from virtual to real
world problems falls shor
t. The four characteristics of gamers
ptimism, social ties, blissful productivity, and epic meaning
manifest themselves into
a problem solving community
, but McGonigal fails
to illustrate the
importance of the
growing connection between online and offline wor
lds. The skills garnered
from playing games most certainly can
aid society on its epic quest to save the world, but to
convince the skeptics, proponents like McGonigal need to provide evidence for
application and embedding of
She could have easily done this with the help of Ian Bogost. Bogost showed that the new
media environment is full of
“microhabitats,” like individual processes within an
ecosystem that influence the entire chain of life (Bogost, 6)
. In turn, those processes are impacted
by the ecosystem itself. This theory then takes on the form of social shaping, or the idea that
people shape the media environment (Baym, 44).
By accepting the notion that
digital media are now complet
ely immersed in human activity (
could have revealed the causal mechanism between the microhabitats of games and their impact
on human activity: these games influence an environment that is already inseparable from human
Had she clearly demonstrated this, her argument could have been stronger.
In addition, h
er empirical evidence was lacking as well. True, she did mention a few
“performative games” (Bogost, 120)
World Without Oil
, but she did not stress their real lif
implications well enough. It would have been much more impressive had she handed out actual
statistics, not just say “these gamers are bringing the lessons
back to real life.”
of argumentation practically begs for skepticism
to pull real
life examples that the
audience could relate to. For example, Bogost looked at dozens of games that were socially
shaped and had real
world impacts: “Exergames”
Take Back Illinois
like flOw, alternate reality games or performative such as McGonigal’s
World Without Oil
Cruel 2 B Kind
, and more. In his short essays on the
microhabitats, Bogost convinced the
reader that both
the media environment
and social/cultural environment have a reciprocal
relationship with these games.
us as we shape them.
As for how they
Professor James Gee said,
how we think is through running perceptual simulations in our he
prepare us for the actions we’re going to take
By modeling those simulations, video games
externalize how the
(Johnson, 2005, pg. 5)
In other words, videogames let us
practice our actions in reality simulations, thus preparing us for
actual problems. In turn, we
through “context and convention” (Bogost, 122).
Revealing the symbiotic
nature of gaming and culture could have greatly enhanced McGonigal’s credibility.
Next, McGonigal should have
tackled the view that games
just kill brain cells (as gamers
kill the brains of aliens or Russians)
She had at her disposal many of the studies referenced in
concluded that gaming develops “generalized skills that apply in
world situations” (Johnso
For example, James Rosser found that laparoscopic surgeons
who played games made
fewer errors than their non
gamer counterparts (Johnson, 3). These
think well about systems; they’re going to be good at exploring; they’re going to be
conceptualizing their goals based on their experience; they’re not going to judge
people’s intelligence just by how fast and
efficient they are; and they’re going to think
” (Johnson, 5).
In connection, Steve Johnson’s other article,
purports that games might be responsible for the recent rise in IQ scores. He cites the “Flynn
Effect” for his argument, saying that any small genetic differences can be greatly enhanced
the environment the subject is raised in. Today, of
course, we live in a
(McLuhan, 1964), so any relative alterations will be attuned to and by the technology at hand.
Videogames happen to be one of those technologies
hence the skills developed by games can
have an even greater impact i
n today’s digital world than any games Herodotus
thousands of years ago.
As technology advances, virtual realities will take on more life
properties and simulations, and therefore the skills gamers develop will be more applicable to the
the significance this
her audience would have
been that much more convinced.
While it is hard to convince the public that any form of entertainment, especially one that
puts you in the environment of
aliens (or Russians!) for leisure, can
in fact be educational, videogames nevertheless have the potential to develop strong problem
solving mindsets. They can be models for experience, offering new kinds of learning that can
influence our off
line/online culture (Bogost, 2011).
, if we combine this with
Lanier’s “pack mentality” mentioned in the previous essay (Smith, 8), we may start seeing
hordes of gamers coming together to solve the world’s issues. And before we know it, the
we are hoping for may soon be upon us (Abelson et al, Koan #5, pg 9). This is what Jane
McGonigal was trying to illustrate
a perfectly possible if not probable idea. But she failed to
convince because she never emphasized the growing symbiosis be
tween the digital and social
environments, and her arsenal of empirical evidence fell short despite having numerous studi
on hand. Had she applied these
, she would have been much more persuasive.
The idea of mediated publics
, or “environments where people can gather publicly through
mediating technology” (boyd,
has existed for centuries.
The internet is simply the “latest
generation of mediated publics” (boyd, 2007).
However, applications like social networking sites
have characteristics that are unique to this digital medium: what you say
never goes away
you can always find what or who you are looking for, content is replicable, and your audience is
invisible (boyd, 2007). Other authors have supplemented this list o
example, acknowledges the replicability, portab
ility, and storage of data,
the medium’s far flung
reach, and its synchronous/asynchronous temporal structure (Baym, 6
12). In addition, Abelson
et al outlined “koans”
that govern digi
tal media, such as t
he fact that “nothing goes away
which connects to boyd’s “persistence”
These features set digitally mediated publics apart
forms certainly, but with the growing domestication and embedding of
technology is mode
rn society, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate mediated and
mediated publics. Indeed, some authors, such as Baym,
that you can no longer distinguish
the internet is now an essential tool that we use in daily
life (Baym, 152).
Nevertheless, it is prudent to compare and contrast all we can in order to clearly understand what
constitutes mediated versus non
The crux of the issue is the digital evolution of the community, for o
nly when people
come together in the form of a community can public discourse occur.
According to Baym, we
can compare and contrast communities based on space, shared practice, shared resources and
support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationship
s (Baym, 75).
is the environment
in which users meet for discourse, such as a park or coffee shop. For online communities
however, we can interpret space as the website
s or virtual realities
that people meet in, such
Second Life or Facebook’s “W
l.” Can we really say one space is more real than another?
Discourse occurs in both, does it not? The only difference is physicality, which society did away
with ever since the first telephone call was made. Indeed,
Professor Vaidhyanathan objects to the
ming that instead of creating another
reality, digital media
simply connect the realities we have lived in for so long (Lecture, 1/23). This connects to boyd’s
“youth places” and Ito et al’s digital back alleys for “h
anging out,” which teens now use to avoid
adults, just as they did before the internet came into being (boyd, 2007; Ito et al, 2008).
Facebook is a prime example of a “youth place.” Although millions of parents and teachers have
profiles as well, much of t
he teen gossip is exclusively among teens. Moreover, it can become
pretty awkward when an adult chimes in on
an obviously teen
oriented post. POS!
Next, shared practices characterize both offline and online communities, but those of
online ones can becom
e much more esoteric.
Practices are the routinized behaviors and norms of
communities that all members partake in (Baym, 77). For example, gamers have very specific
language markers, as Nicholas
Baker discovered (Baker, 2010)
ou can always tell a Call o
Duty player from a Halo fan. Baym called this “speech community” (Baym, 77)
, and it connects
to Bogost’s microhabitats in that
each one has its own idiosyncrasies that all members can
recognize. These idiosyncrasies then lead to behavior
norms that are
evolving, just like
Abelson et al’s koans and Baym’s 7 digital principles.
This compares to many offline
communities, who also evolve their behavioral norms to fit modern contexts. The tendency for
gamers to warn SPOILERS, for example, is very simila
r to a book club’s warning against
In addition, when a member performs the current norm exceptionally
well, he can rise in status among the group
As boyd said, “t
he Internet mirrors and
magnifies all aspects of social
(body, 2007), and the goal of any social adventurer is to be
Facebook users, for instance, post what will make them
among their Friends
. The same can be said for our book club metaphor:
those who contribute the just want
o show off their knowledge
half the time
This connects with shared identities, or the roles people play within communities (Baym,
86), in that they too promote social norms. Once a position, such as the “expert,” is occupied,
there is resistance to oth
ers trying to fill it. We see this in both offline and online communities
the main difference is that online communities house more roles and more openings for
can change depending on who fills
roles. For example, if the “c
spammer” on Facebook happens to like cat memes, then much of the discourse will
revolve around just that. This is similar to any public official, who often shapes the agenda of
were the public meeting held onlin
e, anything said could be
easily searched for, copied, shared, and stored for future use. This is in fact one of the main
debates over Facebook: should law enforcers be able to use Facebook posts as evidence? No jury
has decided yet (boyd, 2007).
ed resources and support include
the sharing of social capital, like bridging
(meeting people you normally could not or would not meet) a
In this area, online and offline communities differ the most, for
transcendence of time and space allow much more bridging capital, which can then lead to
This connects to boyd’s “searchability,” which promotes bridging across the
Offline, you are restricted by geography and
. This is one of the reasons why
SNS are so popula
r: because they allow easy
of weak and strong ties (Baym, 134).
community member can do this, it is much harder when
the core of offline versus online debates. Which one
is best for creating and maintaining intimate relations?
The critics argue that nothing will ever
beat face to face communication
because it provides the most social cues and cues unconsciousl
(Baym, 2010), therefore representing the person more accurately. However, more and
more successful relationships are formed online every day. Although mediated publics may be
leaner than non
mediated ones, media multiplexity allows richer commu
nication to occur as
relationships develop (Baym, 2010). They use more technologies that can accurately describe
as their ties strengthen
. This connects to Ito et al’s study of how youths find ways to
integrate new media into their “hanging out”
processes (Ito et al, 2008).
Facebook of course is a
huge relationship maintainer/creator. Relationship statuses are increasingly important to whether
a relationship is authentic or not
And due to latent ties (
with friends of Friends), many people first start flirting over Facebook (Baym, 101).
This is now
engrained in youth culture, just as asking someone to a dance or dinner was the norm for
ago. Therefore, are mediated public
s really different from non
mediated ones, or are
they just evolutions of
Based on these criteria,
the line between
offline and online
. They both use space, shared practices, identi
ties, support, and both develop
lasting relationships. As Baym said, “the idea that these are separate realms does not hold up to
scrutiny” (Baym, 152). Despite boyd’s searchability, persistence, replicability, and Baym’s
portability, social cues, and reac
h, mediated publics can be considered merely the contextual
evolution of non
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