Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

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

Tagged with ,

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