Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

The Inevitable Virus

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A virus is not a virus. At least in the way we have previously described the characteristics of a computer virus compared to that of a biological virus. In “The Spam Book” by Jussie Parikka and Tony Sampson the characteristics of a computer virus living in the networked spaced are analyzed, which leads to a greater understanding of how contagion spreads and ultimately, how the Internet space functions as a whole. Because of the analogies placed around computer viruses as similar to biological entities of the same name, we assume a negative connotation, but that may not be the case,as a virus challenges systems to evolve.

Computer viruses are seen as anomalous, nothing but trouble in what would be, should be a Utopian space where higher forms of communication are free to spread. Emboding the ideal of the 18th century coffee house; a meeting place where ideas were cultivated into diplomacy through connectivity to bring about the will of the people. If only there wasn’t so much junk floating around, infecting the conversation and getting in the way. But that junk is not junk at all. It’s inherently part of the system. It’s part of the information flow, the same (albeit often annoying) as any other discourse happening online. Viruses, spam, anomalous entities take up just as much traffic in the Internet space as “normal” operations, so why then, do we see it as an infecting, dark agent of destruction? Because it is. And it isn’t.

One of the more interesting points of “The Spam Book” is that an attempt to eradicate computer viruses  by mapping their life cycle may lead to new realizations that our initial vision of the structure of the Internet space was all wrong.

“The very notion of technology as a tool for management and manipulation (which then becomes a means of capitalist profit) is here giving birth to another kind of world composed of a multitude of tiny, self-organizing entities that neither form part of the natural order nor directly serve human interests., although the hope is that they can be gently nudged into doing so. For many, however, this is indeed a frightening prospect: a swarm of hopefully friendly creepers (38).”

In an Internet space where nodes are multiplied on top of nodes, with unnumbered possible points of connectivity the task of combating the spread of dangerous viruses and other spam seems impossible. They act differently than a biological virus because they have open, limitless space that is “scale-free” in which they are free to communicate, mutate, infect and die off. But is it best to act as a defensive player, building firewalls and seekers to combat and destroy, or is it possible to shift roles to a new paradigm?

“Furthermore, what makes this approach different from other studies of contagion, like those that focus on network security is that emergent virality is not solely grasped in oppositional terms of “bad’ code threatening to destroy a ‘good’ system. On the contrary, contagion modeling suggests that a system, however stable it may appear, cannot determine its own stability. Viral environments are thus not regarded here as a manifestation of some dreadful dark side of organic unity (41).”

Tracking the movements of a virus across the digital landscape and various mutations, life cycle and parasitic characteristics helps provide insight into virus potentials as well as the construction of the network space. A shift in understanding contagion can lead to a new relational concept between “good” and “bad”.

“The Spam Book” editors give several solutions that have been proposed to handle contagion, but few seem to have an overarching commentary on what is really happening online. Maybe that is because we don’t know for sure and we can’t predict with any real certainty. The information bits have blown up exponentially, too fast for our policing and procedural capabilities. What we can do is continue to ask questions; “…power and resistance are intimately coupled to pragmatic questions concerning stability and instability of connectivity in a network (45)” The questions addressed by the editors include the amount of connectivity we experience makes us more susceptible to mass contagion, offensive and defensive modes of network conflict, and arguments over the conception of epidemic network power as defined and promoted by media and government powers.

This is at the heart of the editor’s argument; we have to let go of the notion that we have any sense of control over what is happening online. We cannot control the rate of connectivity, nor should we want to. There is not a clear delineation between good and bad online and that includes viruses and other “threats” as designated by current societal norms. We have a media/ government promoted fear of them, but they are a natural part of the web ecosystem.

A computer virus may have similar characteristics to a biological contagion, but using the terminology in tandem causes problems with how we see the role of a computer virus. They do not work the same because the structure of the space in which they separately live is different. Contagion will inevitably spread in a network of unnumbered nodes and it is impossible to accurately map the strength or weakness of those nodes in order to fight the viruses. The argument presented in The Spam Book” by Jussie Parikka and Tony Sampson suggests we must shift toward the belief that virus enemies can be advantageous and those we consider to be anomalous are an active, ever-present, internal part of the free-space system.

Written by HiuHiMedia

October 3, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Technology

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Balance of Powers and Privacy

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To balance freedom versus control on the Internet, we must acknowledge historical norms and meanings that cross physical borders. This is especially true when we give credence to the fact that we now live in multiple communities that have various ethical, financial, and value structures.  But what then is the thread that will weave all participates on the Internet together in a harmonious unit?

I will not lie, reading and comprehending Lawrence Lessig’s  “Code 2.0” was a challenge. It was even more of a challenge to flesh out what Lessig felt was a sufficient answer to the blending of the online community.  He speaks of how social control can be embedded in the code that works in the background of the Internet, but that code has a bias inherent by the writers of the code. The engineers hold the balance of power. Do we trust technology engineers with the infrastructure of future society, those hackers and cyberpunks inserting their will by wielding their technical knowledge?  No. Saying we are uncomfortable with the idea is a drastic understatement. Look at Wiki-Links, which in essence was created by the hacker culture and is now infamous for their tactical movements online and off.

One of the more important effects of the Wiki-Links scandal was that it helped the general public realize that our view of both the Internet and physical space has changed forever, and with that shift comes the framing of new community values.  But each community whether real or Internet based has the freedom to decide what their values will look like and the freedom to ignore other community’s chosen structure. Lessig says “When we live in multiple communities, accountability becomes a way for one community to impose its view of propriety on another. Because we do not live in a single community, we do not live by a single set of values. And perfect accountability can only undermine this mix of values (219).” He does not believe there is one solution, or one structure that works across the network space.

One way to argue the parameters of this mix of values is to look closely at copyright law, which is hotly debated as it effects every level of communication, networked technology. Lessig says “We are not entering a time when copyright is more threatened than it is in real space. We are instead entering a time when copyright is more effectively protected than at any time since Gutenberg (175).” This power of regulation is only becoming more fine-tuned as corporations, government entities, and media understand the flow of the networked space better. They will use that flow to their advantage, which relates to my topic of research, how corporations harness connected communities through crowd sourcing. But then what about copyright?

If corporations use collective intelligence and creativity to bring about change, who or what is the source? In the case of crowd sourcing, the corporate sponsor takes ownership over any participants’ contribution immediately. There is no room for legal dispute, but that goes against the nature of creativity. The goal of crowd sourcing is to promote collaboration, but with zero possibility of attributing authorship to those deserving, In this way, it seems that freedom of expression could be threatened by the craze of crowdsourcing and all copyrighted property, intellectual or otherwise, is locked down.

What we think is a new method of utilizing the new reality of connectedness online and off seems like freedom because of its participatory nature, but is it really a promoter of freedom? My opinion is if we involve a corporate structure of any kind the answer is no. A resounding NO.

Lessig, I think would agree; “Creativity activity that never needed to grapple with copyright regulation must now, to be legal, clear a whole host of hurdles, some of which, because of insanely inefficient property system that copyright is, technically impossible. A significant portion of creative activity has now moved from free culture to permission culture. And the question of values of free speech is whether that expanded regulation should be allowed to occur unchecked (269).” Corporations take on the responsibility of copyright, along with the perks of ownership over creative product and actual and residual products, but what happens to the artist? 
What happens to the individual with a brilliant solution to a real-world problem? They willingly give up their creative rights without understanding the impact. And they don’t understand the impact because current ownership rights and copyright laws did not have the complications of the Internet in mind when they were established. Similar to Lessig’s constitutionalist view, it is impossible to know what the framers of the constitution would say about laws relating to privacy and free speech on the Internet because they had no way of knowing what questions to ask.

We still are unsure of what questions to ask, and both the physical and networked space is convoluted and exciting. It’s easy to get swept up in a movement to effect change, the Internet makes collaboration a breeze, but we must be careful about who is making decisions in the background. The arguments over copyright and freedom of creativity we are involved in now will shape the future of utilization and information gathering/sharing.

What Lessig warns is that we have to acknowledge there must be a multi-layered system of protections inherently built in the collective networked community online and off. There are entities that push back against the system in small and big ways, and they are necessary for restructuring. With regards to copyright protections and corporate interests, awareness of individual creative rights is key to enacting and enforcing those rights.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Please Vote! Vote! Vote! Thank you.

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This last week I’ve been doing some investigating for my research topic. I’ve decided to focus my attention on Kohl’s Cares and Pepsi Refresh campaigns, as they are the most prominent users of crowd sourcing for corporate philanthropy and they primarily focus their efforts on voter campaigns.

In a few of my readings I came across some questions I had not yet considered. One of the major problems with corporate giving campaigns is that they are not legally required to disclose information about their charitable giving. The crowd sourcing component helps alleviate some of this secrecy, but if you peruse either campaign’s website, it is difficult or impossible to find statistics or concrete information about completed projects or where the dollars were distributed.  Both projects provide a spotlight for less visible charities, as well as the possibility for financial support, but from what I’ve observed, there are so many charities vying for the same grant that it feels overwhelming for the voter. After all, Pepsi Refresh’s campaign slogan is “refresh everything”, quite a tall order if you ask me.

Kohl’s focuses their charitable giving efforts on women, children, and environmental causes, while Pepsi Refresh spans the spectrum of social causes, community and nation-wide. What both companies tap into is their customer’s brand loyalty, but could they potentially lose their followers by aggressively promoting voting campaigns? Customers may be confused by the number of charities to vote for, they may question the effectiveness of the grants being distributed, And they feel pressured to constantly vote, they will become apathetic to the cause and overwhelmed. These concerns will likely be a challenge for corporations to overcome as the future of crowd-sourcing  expands.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

The Tumblr Echo Chamber

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Because of the complicated, multi-networked structure of the Internet, the concept of Freedom of Speech has been put under a microscope. We now conceptualize that freedom differently in a democratic society, simply because of the amount of information available and space in which to share that information.  What is important to understand when talking about Freedom of Speech in the network is that there needs to be parameters set to protect it, but more importantly it needs to be understood as a connector in and of itself.

Let’s first look at what freedom means online.  In his book “Republic 2.0”, Cass Sunstein claims “Freedom should not always be identified with ‘choices.’ Of course free societies usually   respect free choices. But sometimes choices reflect, and can in fact produce, a lack of freedom. But perhaps the argument is rooted in something else: a general hostility to any form of government regulation (Sunstein 153).” One of the primary uses of the Internet space is the spreading of ideas and information, and blogging has become a contributor of this spread, especially with regards to the political landscape.  Blogging provides a platform for individuals to say whatever they want, free of government censorship or corporate media influences.  They amass followers, support grassroots political efforts, and pick fights with the opposition while enjoying virtually no intrusion or censorship. Every voice can be heard, every idea fleshed out, and the consumer has the freedom to access and participate in all sides of the dialogue, all at once.

Now that we have this kind of freedom of expression, it is a natural reaction for us to want to protect it, fight desperately against interference or any form of regulation. What this does, however is open up the floodgates of access to all information. And once the floodgates open, it is extremely difficult for the public to decide on a filtering system for unwanted, unnecessary or damaging information.  Sunstein argues that filtering the system limits sharing of information and compromises freedom “For citizens of the republic, freedom requires exposure to a diverse set of topics and opinions” but he also acknowledges the echo chamber phenomenon that persists, in part to the overwhelming amount of information.

My personal echo chamber is the micro-blogging platform Tumblr.  Tumblr allows users to post text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio to their tumbl-blog and they can follow other Tumblr users, share messages, chat, and re-post content.  The user has a dashboard where they conduct communication and view the tumbl-blog posts of all the other users they follow. This type of blogging platform is designed to promote ease of use and connectivity within the community, and it works quite effectively distributing information. I can track how my posts move across the Tumblr community and the more followers I have, the more my voice is shared with the community, the more social capital and influence I build.

This is what makes Tumblr so appealing, the community of ideas is already set in place and the individual just has to start contributing. The Tumblr community has set up a fund for Japan relief, has organized social cause movements, distributes news in immediate time, and provides support to members. But there is an inevitable opposite to all this social and community good, sharing, happy fuzzy bunny stuff.

The Tumblr community, like most online communities has an echelon of posters who dominate the collective voice of the community. Because of their social weight, it is easier for them to set the tone of the group as a whole.  Tumblr is also open to all types of contributors, which means that voices from corporations, news organizations, fringe groups, individuals, everyone is sharing all the time. Sunstein says “These shared experiences provide a kind of social glue, facilitating efforts to solve fellow citizens, and sometimes helping ensure responsiveness to genuine problems and needs, even helping identify them as such (117).” But the individual has a choice in which blogs they follow. This filtering creates an echo chamber effect that Sunstein discusses at length. The people I follow on my personal Tumblr are people that are like me. They, for the most part share my ethics, interests, even political leanings and I purposely filter out Tumblr’s who don’t. In some ways, the people I communicate with on the platform are simply a reflection me.

And maybe this is the fear Sunstein talks about his book. He reiterates his concern about our new concept of freedom and how it actually causes group polarization, “But freedom properly understood consists not simply in the satisfaction of whatever preferences people have, but also in the chance to have preferences and beliefs formed under decent conditions – in the ability to have preferences formed after exposure to a sufficient amount of information and also to an appropriately wide and diverse range of options (45).” The danger is everywhere. It confronts you every time you join a conversation, read information, participate. And confronting the natural tendency to filter the amount of information your exposed to on a daily, hourly basis is exhausting.

Most people in the network don’t take the time to listen outside of their personal echo chambers, which is the real danger we face. So, will I open up my Tumblr following to different points of view? Will I start following Fox News’ Tumblr to balance NPR’s or The Atlantic’s Tumblr? I’ll have to think about that one.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

Posted in Social Media

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Technological Butterfly Effect

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Technology changes all the time; human nature hardly ever (Morozov 315).”

This quote feels like a nice starting place for trying to understand the relationship between how the Internet operates in relation to the individual. It is abstract and has a feeling of inclusivity and a sprinkling of truth that one feels when participating in the Internet space. One can easily spiral down the rabbit hole of questions of change, but for the brevity of this blogpost, I will hold back. Let’s stick to cyber-utopianism, and even smaller, how the battle for cyber-utopianism is failing, and how it needs to change focus with specific regard to how we harvest information from crowd-sourcing tactics.

In the “Net Delusion” by Evgeny Morozov, There is an assertion that Internet is not what media and Government (specifically western form of Government) think it is. “The border between cyber-utopianism and cyber-naivete is a blurry one. In fact, the reason why so many politicians and journalists believe in the power of the Internet is because they have not given this subject much thought. Their faith is is not the result of a careful examination of how the Internet is being used by dictators or how it is changing the culture of resistance and dissent (21).”

The Internet that was once seen as a novel “voice of the people” with the ability to overthrow an oppressive power source is now being used by effectively by the oppressive power source. As the quote above points out, naivete reigns over those nodes that have the ability to spread information faster.  Because in the network space, there is no way to identify and isolate a single power source, and if you cannot isolate the source, how can we fix the problem?  A further issue is if we cannot trust those nodes that are responsible for protecting democratic values, the network will spawn technological fixes that are unable to foresee all effected variables and potentialities.

Morozov applies these questions to democracy and governance on the Internet, but I would like to focus on a single technological fix that corporations are using as a way to gather information, problem solve, and generate high profits.

So what is the issue with corporations (as well as government and non-profit entities) wielding the power of the networked space to collaborate, streamline, innovate, etc. especially when many crowd-sourced projects are used to better communities small and large?
The issue is that everyone has jumped on the crowd-source bandwagon.  I saw this when I attended the Interactive Media Conference at SXSW. Many panels I attended used the buzzword “crowd-source” but no one addressed the potential risk involved.

“As the Internet makes technological fixes cheaper, the temptation to apply them even more aggressively and indiscriminately also grows. And the easier it is to implement them, the hard it is for internal critics to argue that such fixes should not be tried at all (303).”

“The Net Delusion” points this issue out over and over. The excitement of a new technology blinds the network from acknowledging that anything new comes with unknown costs. And those costs will change, while the individuals linked probably wont. Those unseen costs will most likely require sophisticated solutions, and those sophisticated solutions have the potential to aggravate other social problems.

So now, something as simple as crowd-sourcing project proposals to help rebuild a community after natural disaster sounds like a great way to utilize network technology. When I google any topic relating to crowd-sourcing I get an endless list of websites that proclaim crowd-sourcing is the key to solve any problem! In three easy steps! Share this exciting news with your friends! But if you look deeper at the solution, you can see the spiral grow, partly because a technological fix is being used solve a non-technological problem, and partly because of the infinite number of risks.

“Well, perhaps it was a mistake to treat the Internet as a deterministic, one-directional force for either global liberation or oppression, for cosmopolitanism or xenophobia. The reality is the that the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously (29).”

I would like to emphasize the last part of this quote “the Internet will enable all these forces – as well as many others – simultaneously” and propose that this is true of all efforts for change made in the networked space, whether defined as good or bad. It is the seemingly abstract, always changing butterfly effect. Our reaction as individuals is to throw bigger, stronger more complex technology fixes at the problem, but what if the solution is smaller than that.

In his conclusion of “The Net Delusion” Morozov suggests that we, the nodes need to look further than utopian solutions and complicated technological fixes, but not look further, look in a more finite way, closer at how networks operate on a small scale. In this regard I agree with his conclusion, we need to first notice the flicker of the butterfly wing.

Written by HiuHiMedia

April 6, 2011 at 5:43 am

Posted in Technology

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The Unconscious Crowd

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Our relationship with media has changed forever. Reading “Premediation” by Richard Grusin was a revelation for me because I was able to look at my own responses to the information flow of the news media, government and military entities from a new perspective.  The salient point that arose in the book is how we document and exchange images, memories, personal stories through digital media, so much so that it has become an ordinary occurrence in our lives. Grusin refers to this as our “technological unconscious – the way in which they are integrated within our everyday unconscious use of technology (72).” When we experience something, we immediately want to share that experience, and what better way to do so is through the wired network?

When we are participating in an experience via a media source, we have an awareness that others are simultaneously experiencing the event as well. This provides a feeling of connection, regardless of physical proximity, which seems like an important argument for the benefits of interactive digital communication. Grusin acknowledges this , but he explores the questions of how our interactions with media technologies elicit emotional responses and how those responses effect us socially and politically.

I would like to take this a step further by exploring how our relationship to each other through a digital platform can be utilized in an effort to promote change. Grusin focuses his arguments in “Premediation” around the change that happened after the attacks of 9/11. He believes that the powers of the government, military and news media focus our collective attention on possible threats as a way to instill immediacy and fear, while also establishing a protective patriarchal relationship.

As stated above, this effects not only how we view the information flow we live in, but it also effects how we view other individuals swimming in the flow. To turn the idea on its head a bit, if individuals can be mobilized as a group force for political concerns, as we’ve seen in the War on Terror or Tea Party rallies, than it’s not a stretch to assume that individuals can be brought together to play an active roll in bringing about change in the world, specifically through crowd-sourcing methodologies.

Grusin’s theory in “Premediation” is that we each have a technological unconscious is reinforced by the sheer volume of the information distribution in the network space and our awareness of our participation in the sharing will only grow smaller and smaller as technologies improve and information spreads. People experience a sense of connection on the web daily, whether it be the photos their share, their activity on social media platforms, their blog responses or their charitable donations (i.e. clicktovisim).

Government, corporations, and activist groups are well aware of this participatory landscape and seek out ways to exploit connectivity.  Crowd-sourcing has already been established as an effective way to direct the flow of information, so much so that people are often unaware of their contributions. The question then becomes not whether it is possible, but how using a group participation model to elicit ideas and information changes our relationship to each others and the idea of group cooperation.

Written by HiuHiMedia

March 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Posted in Social Media

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Pepsi and Participation

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Corporations that want to glean information from a crowd have one important job: to get the participants to care.

In this post I discussed the non-profit’s use of corporate sponsorship to draw an audience for social good, but what if it’s the corporation that is trying to attract attention?  Is it effective to use themselves as a brand? Will they be able to gain participant trust? It is widely understood that individuals will act if there is something in it for them, hence the rise of contests and prizes in crowd-sourcing efforts. However, corporations that are successful at attracting participants understand that it is more than giveaways that attract people to their cause, it is tapping into the participant’s passion and sending out an effective challenge for action.

An effective model of corporate crowd-sourcing with regards to this example is the Do Good for the Gulf, a campaign propelled by Pepsi Refresh to fund participant’s ideas for “refreshing” the Gulf Coast states effected by the oil spill.

Anyone could submit a grant proposal, large or small for voting on the Pepsi Refresh site. The grant prize was determined by the scale of the proposal, from $5,000 – $250,000, with a total of 1.3 million in grant money. Pepsi provided guidelines for the proposal and emphasized the need for timely execution of the proposal (one year). The project had a blog attached and was connected to Twitter and Facebook to promote further advertising and interaction.

The Do Good for the Gulf project was successful because the model promoted an ownership value. Participants could visualize their ideas come to life, just by making a submission and Pepsi could use their ideas to promote a feeling of connection to the community and market their product. It was a win-win. The Do Good for the Gulf campaign is one example in the PepsiRefresh social good model. There are currently 384 grants that have been funded, all through crowd-sourcing. Pepsi Corp. is an excellent example of how corporations utilize group participation. They promote their product by presenting corporate-sponsored social good campaigns that shape how individuals feel about their participatory role. Campaigns are so effective not because of product placement alone, but because they are to able to motivate people through community-based activism.

Written by HiuHiMedia

March 3, 2011 at 11:44 pm