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Archive for January 2011

Brand It

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As referenced in my previous personal post regarding social good, I am trying to formulate a better understanding of how to connect people in a meaningful way to bring about change. Reading Habermas left me a bit disillusioned in my thinking because of his scorn for modern consumption and our reliance on external assistance.

I assumed that if you provided the infrastructure, a slick marketing campaign, and serious networking was the formula for success. But this formula is missing the dangling carrot. In a society that is overloaded by consumerism, people will not act unless there is some real benefit to them. Ie: people will much more likely buy a campaign (RED) t-shirt than send a check in the mail to Africa because they are getting something out of the bargain.

In fact, JoinRed gives a list of corporate sponsors, all providing products to consumers who want to do good and get something too.

(Note the Starbucks cup above designed by Jonathan Adler thrown in the mix)

Clearly having corporate sponsorship legitimizes your non-profit. It also helps promote brand awareness and adds that “coolness” factor. The most successful non-profit humanitarian organizations have presented themselves as a brand, which makes one ask the question of do the means justify the end result?

My conclusion for now is that if we believe Habermas’ assertion that modern society is driven by the life of leisure consumerism and it is impossible to connect with others, then I suppose we need to go after society’s desires. We have to dangle that corporate branded carrot in front of their noses.


Written by HiuHiMedia

January 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Connected Consumers

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Modern society is dependent on cultural consumption. We have structured our social and economic relationships around new media platforms that allow freedom of expression and exchange of ideas and information, but are we really connecting?

In “the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” Jurgen Habermas argues that there is no room in modern society for rational debate, modernity has made us all lazy and individualistic with no connections to each other or to the great good, but is this true?

Habermas gives an overview of the development of the separation between public and private spheres in society. He argues that the rise of the bourgeois reading class was the vehicle for public discourse and for the identity of man to become both property owner and human being. Man’s new subjective identity changed his relationship to society, town, and conjugal family.

“In the intimate sphere of the conjugal family privatized individuals viewed themselves as independent even from the private sphere of their economic activity – as persons capable of entering into ‘purely human’ relations with one another. The literary form of this at the time was the letter (48).”

With a sense of independence in station comes independent thought, and the vehicle to express that thought was discourse in the coffee houses and later, writing. But don’t we have these interactions in the modern world? Individuals in modern society pride themselves on independent thought and action.

When I walk into Starbucks (the modern coffee house?) I see a dozen people clicking away on their laptops in a communal space with ambient music, overpriced coffee and comfy chairs. Starbucks in an inclusive space, open for everyone. Wouldn’t this be the ideal place to have a political discourse? To ask the questions unknown?

The people I observe at the coffee house appear isolated at their tables.  They may lean over to talk to their neighbor about the Oscar nominations, but there is no need for them to explore the meaning of life, death and taxes.

And what is it they’re viewing on the laptops? I can’t speak for strangers, but I will admit that my RSS feed contains more websites focused on entertainment and fashion than politics or straight journalism. I’m much more likely to peruse the internet than start up a philosophical debate with gentleman checking MLB stats sitting next to me, which leads me to wonder; if the public discourse that existed in 18th century Europe doesn’t exist in our modern coffee houses? Does it happen in the virtual community?

Habermas says no. He believes that the separation between public and private spheres that existed in 18th Century Europe cannot survive in our illusionary world of a dominate private sphere.

“Leisure behavior supplies the key to the floodlit privacy of the new sphere, to the externalization for what is declared to be the inner life. What today, as the domain of leisure is set off from the occupational sphere that has become autonomous, has the tendency to take palce of that kind of ublic sphere in the world of letters that at on time was the point of reference for subjectivity shaped in the bourgeois family’s intimate sphere (159).”

By this Habermas means that our modern culture of escapist, entertainment-centric conception disconnects us from subjectively viewing ourselves and developing personal relationships with our intimate associations. The separation of public and private spheres (due to free market strategies and other political variables) has caused a shift in the subjectivity of the individual. The space available for critical debate has moved online, but new media platforms provide as much or more opportunities for consumption as they do for enlightenment.

So, is Habermas right in his conclusion that the public sphere is dead because we are now a bunch of consumers with no real connections to each other?


I say maybe because I have an optimistic leaning when it comes to man’s innovation and potential. What strikes me as funny to is that we are all consumers, and the connections we make between each other are mostly based on consumption. This doesn’t mean there cannot be another shift to explore the nature of the subjective individual. I just don’t see it happening yet.

And on that note, I need to add a few books to my Amazon wish-list.

image: Lloyd’s Coffee House, London by William Holland 1789

Written by HiuHiMedia

January 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Do Good

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I am fascinated by how people develop connections, whether it be in real life or the digital world. Most people have a presence in both spaces, experiencing a freedom unknown before the explosion of the internet to create personas, expand relationships, and exchange information on a global scale. This kind of communication and community building has the potential to promote much social good in the world. Yes, I said good, but before I mount my humanitarian soapbox, I want to explore how peoples postions on supporting social causes have shifted, are shifting, and will continue to shift because of the internet (and more specifically social media).

While reading “Blown to Bits” by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, I kept coming back to the problem of changing the individual’s perception of how they live in the digital world. What does this mean? Can it be done, and if it can how do you do it? Changing perceptions happens slower than the the growth of technology and flow of information, much slower. People are naturally suspicious of new ideas and change, and to get them to experience a paradigm shift in thinking feels near impossible. And that’s just the thinking part. Getting people to act on a shifted perception is like moving a mountain (a lame attempt at metaphor I know, but you get the idea).  So how does this relate to doing social good?

There are numerous campaigns flooding the web, drumming up support and funds for social causes, so many that the individual quickly feels confused and overwhelmed. How can clicking a link or reblogging a post help starving children in Africa? Which social causes to trust, who controls the dollars, how to participate, the list goes on. There is also the perception that the younger generations are apathetic to the idea of being socially active.

My own concern with doing social good by harnessing social media platforms is how construct a model that is effective in changing how people perceive their role within the community. Instead of clicking a button for a second of instant gratification, they feel that they share a long-lasting responsibility for supporting and promoting the greater good, which promotes connections and community building in both the real and digital realms. I suspect that a shift like this happens via slow, incremental change, but by exploring methodologies and trends of current social causes we can more accurately predict the future of social good, thereby designing programs and implementing changes more effectively.

Written by HiuHiMedia

January 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Blown to Bits

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“The truth of the matter is that as a society, we don’t really know how to deal with these consequences of the digital explosion.”
-Blown to Bits
The digital explosion challenges our definition of the individual. Why? Because the digital explosion manifests everywhere, all the time, and it hasn’t stopped yet. in their book, “Blown to Bits”, Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis discuss how we are in the middle stages of the formation of the digital revolution and we have no idea what the final shape will look like, nor do we understand our place as individuals or communities within the new framework. We are all acting as information consumers and producers shifting, morphing into each other’s roles with no clear guidelines of how to interact in the new world.
A large portion of “Blown to Bits” focuses on privacy. Personal privacy has shifted drastically in the name of convenience and accessibility. People are willing to give away their information for a small benefit with little concern regarding the distribution, theft, and exploitation of said information. We have an awareness that we should guard against security breaches, but we are slow in taking the necessary steps for protection. For example, how many of us actually read through the terms and conditions when we sign up for an online account?
Ignoring our right to privacy puts the individual in a vulnerable position, not just for those who are willing and able to exploit for illegal purposes, but for those who want to know more about us. The individual is  blind to how their actions are monitored. The structure of the internet allows for seemingly endless amounts of storage and what better way to utilize that storage than keeping track of how consumers think? Performing a simple web search can provide a profile of your interests and needs, “the search tools that help us find needles in the digital haystack have become the lenses through which we view the digital landscape. Businesses and governments use them to distort our picture of reality (110).”
So in essence, a search is not just a search, it is a powerful form of control. You are being led through the mire, shaped by an algorithm designed to nudge you in a certain direction. “Every communication technology has been used to control, as well as to facility, the flow of ideas (237).” Freedom, even on the internet, is not free because you have valuable time and consumer dollars to spend and someone out there knows better than you how to spend it.
Most of the time we willingly ride along with the flow of information, unaware of the control cogs working in the background, but what happens when we feel “freedom” on the internet has gone too far by threatening our right to privacy? The threat often causes a reactionary response, a public outcry that leads the charge to set strict regulations to protect the privacy rights of the individual. The problem that legislators have come up against when trying to determine protections is that stricter regulations mean inhibiting the flow of communication.
Let’s stop the loss of privacy by shutting down the internet!
Unfortunately, we cannot control how our private information is exposed by restricting technology.  We have to acknowledge the social component of the issue, which in this case is our willingness as individuals to give up our freedom for convenience. Designing better controls and safeguards, strengthen policing, and reassuring a frightened public is fruitless because all that electronic privacy and information is just a cloud of bits. We need to confront the perception of personal privacy. “What will replace that if the concept of personal identity becomes meaningless?” Will the very notions of privacy and identity be destroyed in the explosion? (297)”
In “Blown to Bits we see the internet is still exploding, privacy boundaries will continue to be breached, a person’s fingerprints will be mapped across the internet. It is meaningless to try to control the sharing of electronic information in this developing world. The idea of individual of privacy is a construct, a myth, so you might as well stop the resistance and go with the flow.

Written by HiuHiMedia

January 20, 2011 at 1:58 pm