Is disassociation caused by technology?

Jodi Dean, the voice of ‘communicative capitalism’, claims that communication technology has resulted in increased surveillance, acceleration of work culture, and our tether to the world 24/7.  I agree with some of her points in that technology has likely made it easier for us to do some of these things, however I disagree that it is causal. She states that digital networks, the Internet and ubiquitous communication technologies have displaced our energy, caused widespread de-skilling, intensified our inequalities, and introduced a lack of coherent opposition.  If these things have occurred, it would be hard to argue that technology is the cause.  Digital communication should enable sharing across the world, and with anonymous groups.  It should enable equal access and if indeed it is not equally accessed (which we know it not to be), that may be best explained by a human propensity towards hierarchy and power.

However I might agree that the current economy of information is unsustainable (we multi-task and connect to thousands of other beings so easily, but are challenged to manage our own lives).  It is entirely possible that we may lose possession of common knowledge and capacities as we Google everything and are required to know very little to gain access to this knowledge.  But if true, this is not a result of our reliance on the internet but might rather be the result of a capital society.  If we are losing our basic capacity to repair daily use items, to manage financial and/or time pressures, to cook a good healthy meal, then it is nearly impossible to determine whether this is a result of technology or a result of society.  In my opinion, this isn’t about the tools but this is instead about us and how we relate to each other.  Technology is a result of our desire to move fast, we have become capitally-driven, and our technology reflects us.  

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Social justice through a digital platform

Today’s class was fantastic (thank you to Eve and Jamil)!   In the end the discussion was really about social justice movements and whether the objectives of various social groups are bettered by digital tools or would not have been possible without them.  

So am I cyber-realist or cyber-utopian in this particular discussion?  I remain unsure but in the end, it is the active participation of people that incites change, whether it is fueled by digital action or by a man burning in the street.  The Internet enables communication, and has liberated the speed of collective action.  I doubt that any day soon, anyone will believe that the march is no longer required, just as I”m sure no one should doubt the increased power of networks that has come with digitization.

What is Anonymous?

This particular group of digital social activism was of particular interest to our class today.  I think the description I preferred was that Anonymous is not a ‘who’ but rather the intent(s) of thousands, without a single leader, and without a celebrity representative.  It encapsulates multiple expressions, evolved from lulz (for enjoyment and jest) and morphed into collective action (social justice). 

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WikiLeaks Video with Mr. Smith

Class presentation video on WikiLeaks.  Enjoy!!!

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“Build your web” with special thanks to @adriarichards and Anita Sarkeesian

Wolf Spider

And I don’t mean website..though perhaps it is one way to start.   This is about social capital, and in some way it always ends up being about social capital.  Whether you are starting up the next Hell’s Angels (I wonder if I should tag that…) or whether you are trying to solve a knitting pattern problem, social capital might just have your answer.  The more you have, the better off you are for whatever your purpose.  We saw some depressing examples of those who have social capital and use it to bully others, we also saw what can happen when your social capital is removed (I am however confident that Adria Richards will rebuild any social capital she lost, she is smart and dedicated unlike those who ran her smear campaign).  Personally I wonder how many men were too uncomfortable to speak up in her support…anyways I digress.  We also saw the power of social capital to insight change (Anita Sarkeesian and her amazing research on the portrayal of women in gaming – she raised over 128K despite another smear campaign).

In this world and particularly this digital age, it is all about who you know.  Build your network, connect to your friends and colleagues connections, and do it while it is still ok to ‘link’ with a colleague of a colleague.  But know this: your social network can be used for good intention or bad, as can everyone else’s.   Pick your causes carefully, and surprisingly your web of networks will likely be your best resource for success.

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A Personalized Internet

Does the “The Daily Me” affect us?  This is the idea that the internet will present you with things that match you.  I did a quick check.  I ran a search through Google on ‘politics’.  In my top ten results, I was provided with Canadian political media sources and even one result was on the recently adopted Emergency Management 911 Act.  I ran the same search on Duck Duck Go (DDG) that promotes a commitment not to track or bubble its users.  The same search for ‘politics’ on DDG brought up the Wikipedia definition and a range of political definition and general content webpages from across the world.  In DDG, my search had not been Canadianized nor did it present any specific emergency management focus. To Google’s credit, at least they admit that they track in many cases and at least they didn’t give me only one political party as a response.  Others refer to this as ‘the you loop ‘– and it introduces the dangers of the personalized internet, whereby we believe we are getting neutral and true results, but the opposite is true.

All this to ask – are our networks become increasingly controlled?  Google is a switch point.  If they are able to mine my data and control that switch, it is likely that will influence how my network is formed and sustained.  Access to technology is supposed to create competitiveness.  Instead I am left wondering if this is a bit of an illusion and though I am pleased with my Google results (they are so relevant!), I am wondering what happened to net neutrality…

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Connection, collaboration, and creation

Are we more isolated or connected because of social media?  I took some time today to snoop through the Facebook pages of others (I know, I am guilty of lurking).  Some people have over 1,000 ‘friends’.  This would seem to suggest at first blush that we are now more connected.  Alternatively however, I had an old friend of whom I used to be very close to but I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  I did not see her but, as she implied to me later on Facebook, she was too..uncomfortable (?) to say hi to me in passing last week.  Instead she chose to write me a few days later on Facebook to apologize and request that we catch up soon….Have we become too reliant on the medium?  Has the medium reduced the social anxiety we used to feel in uncomfortable situations, so much so that we prefer digital mediated communication to person-person contact?

On the other hand the value of so many networks, added to the diversity of new technology options, has enabled a “new” neighborhood.  This new neighborhood empowers those who couldn’t find their voice in the more traditional mediums (either because of the effort involved or limited access).  Now anyone can project their voice.  Anyone can participate.  Anyone can create and publish.  Creating content solves problems, helps make better decisions, increases social standing, and leverages support.  Connection, collaboration, creation….these are important results of social digital networking.  But let’s not lose the human to human contact we know keeps us grounded.

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“We live in Democracies but work in dictatorships”

Today’s discussion resonated with me.  The above quote has been repeated several times (Kadushin and S. Bishay from to name a few).  As Kadushin (2011) goes on to explain, leaders seem to be generally appointed not elected and this contradicts our concept of equality and choice.  But how do we work outside the pyramid?  There seems to always be someone who has more of a say than we do, and not always because they know more, have better experience or are better leaders.  Frequently our hierarchies restrict us; we are not enabled to work to our true capacity, held down by those above us.  So why do we insist on working in an ancient structure that worked in the past but is perhaps no longer effective?  Culture? Habit?

The concept of Open Enterprise (Bishay, gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, we can break out of the rigid structures that most of our organizations operate in. It is based on three principles:

  1. No fixed structure – no titles but that of “human” and “associate”.  No more executive directors and administrative assistants, or any other gatekeeping category.
  2. Transparency – in everything: meetings, salaries, priorities, mistakes.  When we can see what is going on, we feel trusted.  When we feel trusted, we take ownership of our actions and results.
  3. Meritocracy of ideas – all ideas have validity, all ideas are considered until proven otherwise.  Anybody can suggest good ideas, and good ideas will be best drawn from the crowd.  And no it is not sufficient to occasionally grab an idea from the bottom and promote it, just so that you can say “See? We listen to our employees!”.   This is about everyone, having an equal chance to put forth value and letting the best ideas (not ranks) float to the top.

Like I said an excellent class – I wonder if my bosses will read this?  Part of me hopes they will.

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Collective Action in Animal Rescue

A few high level points from today’s class that stuck with me:

  • Evolution happens not when society adopts new technology but when society adopts new behaviours (Shirky)
  • The evolution is the movement from a read-only to a read-write audience, where the audience is participating in the creation of the message, and the message is about convening and supporting groups.

Collective action has been empowered by digital media. The effort required to collaborate and coordinate has become so low that groups are able to convene over a lost cell phone and insight assistance from virtual strangers.  United in cause alone, large and disparate groups organize without formalization to accomplish the unthinkable.  In some cases the benefits are astounding.

In the summer 2009, the largest exotic animal seizure to date occurred in Arlington Texas.  Among the 29,000 animals who were inhumanely stored in the facility, thousands including just over 700 hedgehogs were successfully rescued and rehomed.  I was involved in the hedgehog rescue and cannot imagine how this would have been possible without our digital networks…The rescue took tremendous effort all coordinated digitally with hedgehog rescues and experts across North America and the world.  We all worked quickly through our networks of contacts to place and arrange transportation (specifically ‘trains’ – where several people form a chain cross the country each taking a leg of the journey) to get each and every hedgehog into an established hedgehog rescue organization or with approved adopters.  The hedgehogs were mobilized across North America.  Contacts across the globe collaborated to provide necessary hedgehog supplies (with no convergence) to the various rescues that needed the supplies and vets logged in to guide those on the ground with the rescue operation.    Not bad for a large scale animal operation, I’ve seen human rescue operations with less complexity experience more issues.  Perhaps as we become increasingly familiar with collective action, we will get increasingly better at it.  Let the evolution continue!


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Psychological Foundations of Social Network

As we continue to develop and build our individual networks, one thing has become abundantly clear: our sphere of influence may be growing.  According to Kadushin (2011), our desire to be networked with other humans stems from our need to get things done and from our ego.  We are, at our very core, community beings; our connection to others satisfies a very basic human need.  Even evidence from recent examinations of hunter-gatherer society demonstrates that we have a need to be connected to others and in particular those who are like us (homophily), and near us (propinquity). 

However the innate desire to be connected is at odds with an equally innate desire to be independent and competitive (Kadushin, p. 60, 2011).  As self-actualizing beings, we compete for time, space, attention, and dominance.  Though we desire the safety of close connections, strong ties, and even mutuality (reciprocity of our tie to another), we also yearn for efficacy, competence, and autonomy.  There are advantages to being both connected to a dense network and establishing a link outwards with another loosely connected group.  When we can be both networked and “structurally autonomous”, we can leave and come back from a strongly knit group, and act as a bridging force between networks who would normally operate in isolation.  With increased digitization, our network nodes are increasing, as are the loose connections.  However we should remain leery of the networks that surround us outside of a platform of 1s and 0s. 

Here is an interesting graduation speech (I take no credit, that goes fully to David Wallace and The Glossary) but interestingly it reminds me of how we often become so entrenched in our close-knit networks and busy lives, that we fail to recognize those loosely connected around us.  If it doesn’t remind you of loose network connections we ignore, then at least I hope it provides a tiny bit of understanding for us all as we sit in traffic or a line-up frustrated by the world around us, but often missing the connections between us that are never acknowledged…

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