Digital MDST Exam 1 - SHANTI Pages

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14 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 11 μήνες)

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Brian Fitzsimmons

Digital
MDST
Exam

1


1.


It is easy to say that new technologies change society. Just like in a biological habitat,
when you introduce some new element,
of course
the processes of life there will be disrupted.
Media are slightly different, however, for they
form

their

own
environment

(McLuhan, 1964)
.

A
s
Ian Bogost put it, media
can be approached in terms of

“microecology,” with each med
ium
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”
(McLuhan, 1
964).
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
ered human
memory (Illich and Sanders, 1988).
However, one has yet to apply this to digital media

and
applications
such as

the World Wide Web, videogames, cell phones, and, of course, social
networking sites.
Most

importantly,
we have to ask
w
hat
is doing
the changing
.


There are three main paradigms for this question. Technological determinism, for which
McLuhan was
a deity, believes that
technology

changes society and behavior (Baym, 2010).
When the TV entered the living
room, all other furniture turned t
o face

it


the TV did not adapt,
but forced society to adapt to it. Next, social constructivists think that
people
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
so
cial lives (
Digital Nation
). 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
technology
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
are

social processes
responsible
?


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,
Web 2.0
)


but that
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
communication
.” 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

any

meaningful discourse at all

(Hall, 1973)! With digital medi
a now
domesticated, we have to look at this in terms of “mediated publics
,


where “people can
gather
publicly through mediating

technology”

(b
oyd, 2007, pg 2)
.

Because digital media are
ubiquitous, mediated publics are practically equivalent to non
-
mediate
d publics, if not more
populated. Here, the technology allows information to travel “faster than thought” (Abelson et
al’s “Koan

#7,” 2008, pg 12);

people can create perfect
copies
of data

(Abelson et al, 2008),
find
anyone instantly

(boyd, 2007)
, and reac
h a whole swath of audiences from a single
source

(Baym, 2010).
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

is a
“mixed modality,”

(Baym, 63) or a medium incorporating different types of communication into
it
(textual, visual,
and auditory
) that allows for “remediation,” or the blending or writing and
conversation styles with conventions of popular media (Baym, 66).
Such communicatio
n cannot
be represented merely by “sender


medium


receiver.”
Thus, when we look at the
users’ input
,
efficiency takes on new meaning. For example, digital media are “lean” compared to face
-
to
-
face
interaction, because they limit social cues
, or the phys
ical markers we display that communicate
non
-
verbally

(Baym, 2010
). In addition, as
John Lanier

pointed out, people “reduce” themselves
online, effacing many tidbits that make them who they are (Sm
ith, 2010, pg 7)
;

and
what they
say online is not necessari
ly what they w
ould
say
offline
(boyd, 2007).
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
transm
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
data has
created

problems for

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
bite.

And, thanks to the ease of “searchability”

(boyd, 2), it is possible to find quotes without having to read the context, and thus misinterpret
them.
Therefore
, efficiency can go both ways


the technology shapes society by allowing
thought

to transcend space and time, but

we shape the technology by

integrating it into our social
interactions.



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
minds


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?

Or would
this

result i
n
“filter failure” (Shirky, Lecture 1/26), where
articulation
of any quality can be
heard
?

From the
hacker

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
-
15).
It is al
l about sharing
, which entails that
on
c
e
a
person’s knowledge
goes online, it
becomes everybody’s knowledge,
(in fact, this is

what
the Framers ori
ginally intended
for

copyright

laws

(Vaidhyanathan,
Why
Would TJ

Love
Napster
?
)
)
.
The technology
also creates

“bonding capital” between voices, connecting
originally
isolated ones
across the globe
(Baym, 82), and allowing suppressed voices refuge


gays and
other minorities, for example

(Baym, 2010).


So the technology has built the bridges


do people actually
cross them? Yes…and no.
For instance
, because
industrial
society has so decentralized the individual, one voice is nothing
without
followers
. Just as Vaidhyanathan said in
Me? Person of the Year? No Thanks
, “you” is
nothing without “we.”
(Vaidhyanathan, 20
06)
. This
connects

to Bogost’s microecology,

in that
e
ach online voice is its own microhabitat

within the internet environment
.

But n
ow that there are
billions of them, the value of each
has decreased
.

Furthermore, s
ince we are social animals, we
have used

these highways of articulation under

John Lanier
’s pack mentality (Smith
, 8
)
, not
wanting to distinguish
ourselves
,

but our group
. It should also be noted that
while
voice is
influenced by identity, according to Baym, identity is influenced by social inte
ractions a
nd their
contexts (Baym, 2010), which in turn can be affected by what the technology allows.
Just as
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
follows the
transcontinental
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 “
encourage[s]
progress.



This is certainly deterministic, but in truth
, g
enuine

progress
can
not occur unless
people
act appropriately with the tools given
.
And f
or this reason, it is useless to blame

or extol

technology for
altering

the flow of social advancement.
W
hen critics like
Karpinski

disparage
media for making us stupid,
claiming

that Facebook harms grades (Wilson, 2009)
,
and when
proponents
like Steve Johnson

and Jane McGonigal

praise media
, they do not give due credit to
th
e social processes involved
.

It is not the ripples of the microhabitat that distort the pond


it is
the fact that someone threw the
pebble
.

Yet most of us miss this, which leads

to “moral panics,”
as Abelson et al called it,
such as

the infamous privacy v
ersus protection debate
s

outlined
in
Chapter 7 of
Blown to Bits
,
and

the flaws of intellectual property demonstrated by
Vaidhyanathan in
Why Would TJ Love Napster?

If we realized that we shape the technology just
as much as it shapes us, such alarm would b
e unfounded.
T
he lines between real and virtual are
becoming blurred

because we have
chosen

to domesticate the internet into our daily lives
.

It is
simply an extension of us (McLuhan
, 1964
).
In any case
, it
is not society being transformed
, but
our social
norms

(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

“perpetual beta”
(O’Reilly
, 14), where the te
c
hnology and social processes complement each other in new and
unpredictable ways.
Just look at the history of the internet: it was intended to keep our
communication lines
intact

in the case of nuclear
bombardment
,
but social cogs turned it into an
economi
c and communal

melting pot

of

creativity!


In connection with “communal havens
,


Zuckerberg asserts that digital
media bring us
closer together. Certainly, the internet has
rendered

distances moot

for communication, but
people have shaped this capability
in accordance with social
conventions

of
exclusivity
.
No one
wants
his pack to allow total admittance



they want it to be special.
For example,
The Social
Network

revealed
that even Facebook, the paragon of social inclusion, used this

as
its

founding
prin
ciple.
Therefore, does exclusivity within
the internet’s
inclusivity still bring us together?
Again, i
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

Easterners, mi
ght not
recognize a
ny

distinction
. But for the
exclusive elites
, like Americans, these digital communities
might be nothing more than
opportunities to assert the
ir

selective culture
.
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,
2008)
-

t
hat is why Dana boyd suggests a
hands
-
off approach

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
allows
our
social nature to extend across time and space, but we choose who to extend it to.

In
conclusion,

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

now

ine
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.





2.

Jane McGonigal’s theory
that playing videogames for 21 billion hours a week will save
the world is eccentric, to say the least. Her
idea is

sound, but her attempt to sell the transition
from virtual to real
-
world problems falls shor
t. The four characteristics of gamers


urgent
o
ptimism, social ties, blissful productivity, and epic meaning
(McGonigal, 2010)


can definitely
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
the
real
-
world
application and embedding of
gaming

in
moder
n, everyday

life.

She could have easily done this with the help of Ian Bogost. Bogost showed that the new
media environment is full of

gaming

“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
technology
and
people shape the media environment (Baym, 44).
By accepting the notion that
digital media are now complet
ely immersed in human activity (
Digital Nation
), McGonigal
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
culture.
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)

like
World Without Oil
, but she did not stress their real lif
e
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
learned
back to real life.”
That sort
of argumentation practically begs for skepticism
.

She needed

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”

like
DDR

and
Wii Sports
,

“public policy
games” that
teach

gamers about
politics
versus politicking

like
Take Back Illinois
,
“Zen games”
like flOw, alternate reality games or performative such as McGonigal’s
World Without Oil
and
Cruel 2 B Kind
, and more. In his short essays on the
se

microhabitats, Bogost convinced the
reader that both

the media environment

and social/cultural environment have a reciprocal
relationship with these games.

They
shape

us as we shape them.
As for how they
shape

us
, as
Professor James Gee said,


how we think is through running perceptual simulations in our he
ads
that

prepare us for the actions we’re going to take
.
By modeling those simulations, video games
externalize how the

mind works


(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
shape videogames
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
Steve Johnson’s
articl
e
that

concluded that gaming develops “generalized skills that apply in
real
-
world situations” (Johnso
n, 3).
For example, James Rosser found that laparoscopic surgeons
who played games made
37%
fewer errors than their non
-
gamer counterparts (Johnson, 3). These
gamers “
think well about systems; they’re going to be good at exploring; they’re going to be
good

at

re
-
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
nonlaterally
” (Johnson, 5).
In connection, Steve Johnson’s other article,
Dom
e
Improvement
,

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
by
the environment the subject is raised in. Today, of

course, we live in a
media environment
(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
studied
thousands of years ago.

As technology advances, virtual realities will take on more life
-
like
properties and simulations, and therefore the skills gamers develop will be more applicable to the
local
environment.
Had

McGonigal
underscored

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
a super
-
soldier

who chops

up

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).
Furthermore
, if we combine this with
John
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

change
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
es
on hand. Had she applied these
, she would have been much more persuasive.



3.


The idea of mediated publics
, or “environments where people can gather publicly through
mediating technology” (boyd,
2007)

has existed for centuries.

The internet is simply the “latest
generation of mediated publics” (boyd, 2007).
However, applications like social networking sites
do

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
f properties


Baym, for
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
from other
electronic
forms certainly, but with the growing domestication and embedding of
technology is mode
rn society, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate mediated and
non
-
mediated publics. Indeed, some authors, such as Baym,
think

that you can no longer distinguish
offline
versus
online



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
-
mediated publics.



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).
Space

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

as
Second Life or Facebook’s “W
al
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
n
otion of
a separate
“cyberspace
,


clai
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)


y
ou can always tell a Call o
f
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
al

norms that are

ever
-
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
reading a
certain novel
.

In addition, when a member performs the current norm exceptionally
well, he can rise in status among the group

(Baym, 80)
.

As boyd said, “t
he Internet mirrors and
magnifies all aspects of social
life


(body, 2007), and the goal of any social adventurer is to be
popular.


Facebook users, for instance, post what will make them
“cool”

among their Friends

(Smith, 7)
. The same can be said for our book club metaphor:
those who contribute the just want
t
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
them
.
Nevertheless, both
can change depending on who fills
which

roles. For example, if the “c
onstant
meme
-
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
meeting
s
.
Of course,
know

that
,

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).


Next, s
har
ed resources and support include

the sharing of social capital, like bridging

(meeting people you normally could not or would not meet) a
nd bonding

(maintaining strong
ties)

(Baym, 82).
In this area, online and offline communities differ the most, for
digital media’s
transcendence of time and space allow much more bridging capital, which can then lead to
bonding capital.
This connects to boyd’s “searchability,” which promotes bridging across the
globe.
Offline, you are restricted by geography and
physic
ality
. This is one of the reasons why
SNS are so popula
r: because they allow easy
maintenance

of weak and strong ties (Baym, 134).
While any
offline
community member can do this, it is much harder when
distance

restrains you.


Last, i
nterpersonal relation
ships are

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
y
given off
(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
themselves

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



Facebook

official.”
And due to latent ties (
potential relations
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
teens

decades

ago. Therefore, are mediated public
s really different from non
-
mediated ones, or are
they just evolutions of
modern
social context?


Based on these criteria,
we can

say that
the line between
offline and online
are
becoming
increasingly blurred
. 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
-
mediated publics.







Works Cited


Abelson, Hal, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis.
Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness

after the Digital Explosion
.
Boston, MA: A
ddison
-
Wesley, 2008. Print.


Baym, Nancy.
Personal Connections in the Digital Age: Digital Media and Society Series
. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010.
Print.


Baker, Nicholas. "Painkiller Deathstreak."
The New Yorker

9 Aug. 2010. Print.


Bogost, Ian.
How
To Do Things With Videogames
. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.


boyd, Dana. "Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What?"
The Knowledge Tree

2007. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.
<http://kt.flexiblelearning.net.au/tkt2007/edition
-
13/soci
al
-
network
-
sites
-
public
-
private
-
or
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