Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

Infostreams and Action

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Contributing to the Internet stream of circulating content in a meaningful way is vital to bringing about change. Megan Boler’s “Digital Media and Democracy” discusses tactical media and it’s attempts to exploit online communities to bring about political change.  The arguments around tactical media’s role in democracy can also be applied to the use of crowdsourcing as a way of making individuals and communities feel involved in the process of change.

Crowdsouricng is a problem-solving model that sends out an open call for solutions to a crowd. For our purposes we will distinguish this crowd as an online community. The crowd is encouraged to submit solutions to the problem and the best solutions are then owned and implemented by the crowdsourcer (the submitter of the problem). This method of problem solving  offers the benefit of low-cost solutions in a short amount of time, use of a wide range of talent outside of internal network, insight into desires of crowd, and the crowd developing a sense of ownership through their contributions.

One of the benefits I’d like to hone in on is the idea of contribution through crowdsourcing. In the article “Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Capitalism” Jodi Dean discusses the Internet in terms of a circulating data stream where messages are not necessarily new, just repackaged, “…the message is simply part of the circulating data stream. Its particular content is irrelevant. Who sent it is irrelevant. Who receives it is irrelevant. That it need to be responded to to is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is circulation, the addition to the pool (107).” Individuals and small communities can contribute to the infostream, which makes them feel as though they experience a registration effect; they are contributing to the big picture. But if the information surrounding the message is irrelevant, then how does the individual gain a sense of ownership in the Internet space, in effect, how does the individual feel valued? Dean says that “Precisely because of this registration effect, people believe that their contribution to circulating content is a kind of communicative action. They believe that they are active, maybe even that the make a difference simply by clicking on a button, adding there name to a petition or commenting on a blog (109).”


Written by HiuHiMedia

February 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Social Media

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About This Blog

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The Good Crowd: the convergence of corporate social responsibility, social media and social good. Questions in methodology, responsibility, and current issues and trends will be addressed, with the hopes of a better understanding the effects and relationship between corporations and social responsibility.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Posted in Social Media

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Following the Crowd

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In an attempt to define my topic of discussion for this class, I’ve been playing with the idea of philanthropy and social good, specifically in terms of social media. I came across an article that I believe will help me narrow this topic down to something more tangible than the enormous umbrella I was previously brainstorming under.

The article: What Value is Crowdsourcing to Corporate Social Responsibility? provides a survey of fortune 200 business owners involved with philanthropic or community outreach to determine the value of crowdsourcing and social media to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

The questions to be asked in relation to this topic are:

  • Defining corporate social responsibility
    • corporate model examples
    • benefits/drawbacks
  • Crowdsourcing methodologies.
    • data gathering
    • demographics
  • Current trends
    • statistical analysis
    • successful ventures, compare and contrast failures
  • Impact for the future, for both corporate and philanthropic
    • projections from both corporate and philanthropic perspectives

The problem with my initial topic choice was not only that it was too broad, but I came at it from the perspective of social media being a positive vehicle for change and discovering how. It felt much more like a marketing strategy than an researched analysis. What I find appealing in this topic is that it is a relevant example of corporations utilizing social media tools, with a bit of controversy thrown in. It’s also an interesting way to approach the issue of civil engagement through technology.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Social Media

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A Cyborg Civilization

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How we define the technology effects of the Internet is a highly debated topic, not just its present form, but what it will look like in the future.

In order to formulate a concept of what the Internet looks like and how it effects the civil society, we must see it first as not a “thing”, an object of manipulation, or a stand-alone institution, but as a “decentralized communication system – a network of networks (Poster 261).” In Cyberdemocracy, Mark Poster goes on to say “The way to define technology effects is to build the Internet, to set in place a series of relations which constitute an electronic geography (261).” If we frame the Internet in geographic terms, it is easier to see how networks of individuals move about, connect, disconnect on top of a surface area; the surface area merely provides a space.

So now that we understand perfectly what the Internet is in relation to technology, what do we do in it?  How do we as citizens of the digital world act in a the digital world?

But we do not understand perfectly. In fact, we have a difficult time understanding it at all, especially with regards to democracy. Part of the difficulty is that the Internet allows the individual to create new identities, separate from those in real life. In fact, the Internet doesn’t just allow for morphing identities, it promotes it through the variety of communication interactions we are free to explore.

Poster likes to frame this identity morphing as a kind of cyborg identity “because the internet inscribes the new social figure of the cyborg and institutes a communicative practice of self-constitution, the political as we have known it is reconfigured” 269.” We are cyborgs because we maintain our individual selves in the physical space, but in the Internet space we have the ability to take that identity and construct a new identity depending on the interactions we have with others within the digital space; half man, half machine.

The problem with defining individuals as cyborgs in our shiny, newly defined Internet space is that we then have to ask the question of authority. In Gary Hall’s article “Hypercyberdemocracy”, he poses the question, not of who controls, but rather “is control a good term to use in relation to digital culture?” This is mind-blowing, in the sense that the Internet space allows us to reformat our collective wiring on the role of democracy. Is it necessary, is it good, is it even possible?  And if it is not good, what takes it’s place?

Both Poster and Hall intentionally leaves the question unanswered, pointing out the need to look at democracy and politics from a post-modern perspective; democracy will be shaped by what comes after the Internet explosion, but by what came before as well. This goes back to our primary question of how do we cyborgs participate in the digital space?

One answer is to look to the past, specifically focusing on civil societies with a high degree of citizen participation. Modern political theorists often assume that if participation of the average citizen within a democratic system is active, than the democracy will be ultimately healthy and productive, reaching out to all its members and reflecting their voice.

In “The Dubious Link” by Ariel Armony, this assumption is questioned, and proven false by providing examples of Weimar Germany and race politics in the U.S. Southern States. “I argue that civil society may or may not lead to democracy because what matters is the context in which people associate, not because association is inherently or universally positive for democracy (Armory 2).” The two examples Armory provides demonstrates how the social networking of individuals can lead to oppression, conflict, and the crumbling of a society, just as easily as it can support a utopian democracy. Associations and a high degree of social capital can be weapons to use for good or evil, a scary thought when we attempt to look into the future.

The internet provides us unlimited space for networking and communicating with others who have similar interests and concerns. We are now continuously connected cyborgs, operating in the Internet, where the possibilities for redefining our civil society and creation of social capital are vast, but what kind of communication is happening?

Understanding historical context, that this can be both beneficial in defining a new age of politics and detrimental to the very foundations of society is critical. We may not be able to control what happens in the digital civil society, but we must continue to ask the questions and be vigilant in observing communication and connections happening all around us.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 16, 2011 at 7:23 am

Posted in Politics

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Surveillance and Spectacle

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The individual must be controlled for the health and betterment of society , but how?

Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish: Panopticism” compares and contrasts two different kinds of power exertion on the individual in order to instil discipline and promote productivity. The first example of control is quarantine plague victims with strict procedures and surveillance enforced by top-down authority in order to minimize risk and keep order. This method of control was effective in small, easily policed village without advanced communication systems, but Foucault outlines a far more effective power structure for the modern world: the Panopticon tower.

Now this is where Foucault starts to scare me. He describes the tower as a type of prison cell where the inmate is viewable by his captor at all times, but he cannot see them. He is aware of his own visibility to authority, and at the same time to cut off from the source of authority and the rest of the inmate population.

“Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised (Foucault 75).”

Foucault argues that the very awareness of his visibility forces the inmate toward self governing behaviors. Power in this instance works internally with a limited amount of resources, making it highly effective. In fact, no one has to be watching the inmate. It’s the knowledge that there are always eyes watching that dictates his behavior.

Now why would this be scary? Well, let’s make an parallel to J.R.R Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The Dark Lord Sauron’s All-Seeing Eye was able to look across the Land of Morder and track the movement of the Ring. It was also able to exert power over minions of orcs to wage war against middle earth. It did this by being an ever-present authoritative power. The characters in the novel (as well as the reader) were in constant fear, always aware of The Eye’s gaze, even if it was not directly focused on the Ring.

Foucault’s Panopticon tower is also an architectural and optical system. It “…has a role of amplification; although it arranges power, although it is intended to make it more economic and more effective, it does so not for power itself, nor for the immediate salvation of a threatened society: its aim is to strengthen the social forces – to increase production, to develop the economy, spread education, raise the level of public morality; to increase and multiply (Foucault 75).”

While Tolkein’s All-Seeing Eye amplified the power of evil, Foucault’s Panopticon amplifies power over society by continuously and subtly exerting power in all parts of human life; the power force always being present, even if the individual has no awareness of it.

So how does the power function without us knowing? By promoting institutionalized discipline, that’s how. The State creates institutions: military, economic, education that promote the health of society but also dictate the rules of society, forcing the individual to act within those rules. But it’s not discipline that is the apparatus of control, “it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or an ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology (Foucault, 75).”

In essence, the entire construct of our society is surveillance.

But wait, Foucault changes his perspective in his later lectures entitled “Studies in Governmentality”. He defines the Art of Governing as less of a single unseen, institutionalized power force than “a triangle,  sovereignty-discipline-government,  which  has as its  primary  target  the  population  and as its  essential mechanism the apparatuses of  security (Foucault).” He speaks of how government should be likened to the governing a ship, in charge of the interactions between crew, cargo, destination and functions all at once. This governing should also be driven by the needs and desires of the population, rather by the control force of the governing body.

The question becomes which one of these theories is accurate to modern governance in the digital age? If we refer back to “Blown to Bits” we are still in the middle of the internet explosion. Governments are unable to keep up with the complexities of governance on a global scale and formerly stable institutions are having to be redefined on the fly.  It feels to me as though we are in a new age of vigilantly justice.

Living in an uncharted terrain without institutions, regulations to enforce security and no defined power structure doesn’t seem consistant with  Foucault’s Art of Government. And although it is a world of constant surveillance like unto the Panopticon Tower, individuals now have the ability to disconnect from the network. The truth is that answer to governing in the digital age, is as yet unknown, but it may end in a virtual saloon brawl or a pistol draw at high noon.

Written by HiuHiMedia

February 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Politics

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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