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Sunday, January 16, 2011

ICS assignment #1

            In a mechanical, monotonic manner, the friendly voice inside my computer tells me the time on the hour.  I hear, “It’s 9 o clock….it’s 10 o clock….it’s 11 o clock”
            I know this entry should not be too hard to write, I took notes on the readings, read lots of posts from sites like the New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, and some Canadian outlets.  I have ideas about what I want to write about, but here I am -  stuck.  Well, not really stuck, just in a state of not writing.  Lots of looking, reading and clicking on links that relate to the Arizona shooting in one way or another, but when I switch over to my word document to try to write something, I just stare at the blank screen.
            Other than the obvious reason: this is my first assignment after winter break, and it is sometimes difficult to get back in the swing of things after a break.  I think I am avoiding this assignment because I really did not want to invest too much in this conversation, because that investment would require me to delve too deeply into the  mind of this accused killer. 
            It is one thing to read and passively surf through information, it is quite another thing to actually have to write about those events.   Writing creates a connection, you are no longer just an outside observer of the conversation.  And publishing what you write, even if it is just a blog for class, makes you a participant observer of the conversation.              
           This idea of participant observer is explained in the Beer and Burrows article, Sociology and, of and in Web 2.0: Some Initial Considerations. Beer and Burrows discuss social networking/web 2.0 research and the necessity of having more that just mere observers of the media.  The authors posit that in order to research properly and effectively, we must be participant observers of the media.  We have to actually get in there and create a Facebook page, post a blog, etc…the researcher must join the conversation.  I am reluctant to join this conversation; in my head I know this procrastination is just avoidance behavior….oh look… Saturday Night Live is on…
            So, while procrastinating, I came across this tweet by self-help/spirituality guru  Marriane Williamson on my twitter feed.  It was a Huffington Post article, Arizona Shooting: Words Have Meaning, published on January 16, 2011.  Ms. Williamson writes that “it's basically irrelevant whether Jared Loughner specifically related to the hate speech around him in some linear, causal way. Thoughts can go viral, as we have seen throughout history when group pathologies overcame the better angels of a people.”  Later in the article she goes on to discuss the tone and lack of civility in the discourse surrounding the shooting and the tone and lack of civility in the general discourse on the internet and news outlets.  While recognizing the First Amendment and acknowledging free speech rights, she states that it should not be “illegal” to talk about opponents in harsh, uncivil ways, but it should be “unthinkable.”  
            That statement got me thinking about the Rape in Cyberspace Article .  There seemed to be a code of civility among the citizens of LamdaMOO.  I do not think that exists anymore in the online world, or if it does, it is hard to find. 
            In a New York Times article, Looking Behind the Mug-Shot Grin of an Accused Killer, published on January 15, 2011,  the authors point to a time in the accused shooter’s life when he was engaging in conversations “with other players in an online strategy game.”   There was no mention of abusive or violent speech.  Then this morning, this article was on the New York Times site: In an Online Gaming World, Tucson Suspect Gave Hints of Problems, by Jenna Worhtam.  This present article went in to more detail, discussing the online gaming community of which the accused killer was a member.  I imagine that the online strategy game is probably somewhat similar to the LamdaMOO world discussed in the Rape in Cyberspace piece.  In the LamdaMOO world, words mattered, and a player was toaded for his offensive, violent, abusive words.  The New York Times article mentioned “Mr. Loughner’s postings often delved into dark territory, musing about abuse and rape”  but makes no mention of  Mr. Laughner suffering any punishments for his words.  One would assume that his speech was tolerated.  I can not help but think that if Mr. Loughner posted the same comments on LamdaMOO back in the day, he would have been toaded or removed.  It seems like we as a society have become used to abusive, offensive, violent speech; we have become jaded; on some level we have come to accept a certain amount of incivility in our normal public discourse, especially online.      
            Perhaps Web 2.0 is contributing to our cultural downfall.  In the article, Online Databases-Web 2.0: Our Cultural Downfall? Carol Tenopir explores Andrew Keen’s article that “addresses the trend that he sees as eroding the authority of expertise and threatening traditional journalists, authors, and other sources of quality information.”  The author explains that reasons for the cultural downfall could be that the “news” we get through the Internet may not always be the real news, but advertisements and political agendas in disguise.  Tenopir points to a lack of peer review as a contributor to the  downfall.  Taking that idea further, one could argue that the lack of peer review also contributes to the growing incivility in the discourse. 
            Boyd and Ellison explain the genesis and history of online social networking in Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship .  In their article, they walk the reader through the evolution of this media from to Facebook.  The common theme seems to be the idea of showing and taking advantage of visible links and friendships of people with which we have links and friendships.  The sites described in the article come and go, they expand and extinguish, but it is the idea of connections that survives.  Here is where the irony of the current situation presents itself.
            Much has been made of the role of social media and social networking in the accused killer’s life, but the whole idea behind social media and networking is connections, and Mr. Loughner seems to be painfully disconnected.  News reports mention that one of the finals acts the accused killer did was post “Goodbye Friends” on his MySpace page, but the news reports do not mention anyone commenting back.  The one thing that keeps popping into my thoughts when reading the plethora of articles about the Arizona shooting is how completely alone and disconnected Mr. Loughner was. 
            From this weeks readings and my own experience the definition of social computing can by summed up in one word:  Connections.  As mentioned in the Boyd and Ellison article the first “recognizable social network site” was  The idea of six degrees is that all of us on earth are connected to each other by six degrees (or less) of separation.  When we become a member of a social networking site and engage in social computing we not only make connections with like minded users, we also show other users our connections.  
           As noted above, Marriane Williamson, and spirituality teachers of her ilk would like to use social computing as a positive force, uniting humanity, connecting humanity.  But as the recent events have shown us, all this connection can also lead to a mob type mentality, one where incivility is the norm.  When it becomes necessary for the President of the United States, speaking at a mourning and remembrance event to honor the victims of the Arizona shooting, to remind us, as a nation  to be civil to one another, perhaps we have reached a turning point.  Perhaps these tragic events is just the kick in the pant we as a nation needed.  But the realist in me sees this as just another swing of the pendulum.  Which brings me back to the Saturday Night Live….


  1. This post presents some great connections between social media and the Arizona shooting. I was having a difficult time figuring out how the Julian Dibbell article fit in with the rest of the weeks readings, mostly because I do not know a whole lot about MUD/MOO. I did not make the connection with the online gaming community.

    Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine several months ago. We were talking about our first e-mail accounts. Back in the late nineties most of my friends and I had e-mail addresses that read like an inside joke. Mine was We were all afraid to put our actual names anywhere near our e-mail address for fear that someone might take advantage of that. I do not think I know of anyone who has an e-mail like that anymore. Today everyones e-mail is The point that I am attempting to make is that at some point in the last 5 or so years there has been a shift from total secrecy to total disclosure. I believe this is where the Julian Dibbell articles comes into play. You said, "There seemed to be a code of civility among the citizens of LamdaMOO. I do not think that exists anymore in the online world, or if it does, it is hard to find." I agree with this statement. Yet unlike the actions in lamdaMOO we are now more willing to have our names attached to these actions. (I have no experience with the online gaming community so maybe in those platforms there is still a large amount of hiding behind screen names. I have also found that most people who make comments on online news articles tend to do it with a screen name as well). Maybe I'm way off base here, but I have seen complete strangers argue and degrade each other on Facebook all the time and they do it with their full name attached.

    I realize I'm getting off track from your post a bit and for that I apologize. You made a good connection between what you see in the real world and what you see happening in the online world and that made me think about how we have evolved as online users.

  2. I like how you started off the post with what feels like a real blog entry. You described exactly what you were thinking, your thought processes before delving into the assignment.

    You said "Much has been made of the role of social media and social networking in the accused killer’s life, but the whole idea behind social media and networking is connections, and Mr. Loughner seems to be painfully disconnected."

    This is absolutely true. The effect of being "ignored" online could actually be devastating for those whose lives center around SNSs. Here's what MIT's Sherry Turkle said in a recent interview: "We're raising a generation that has grown up with constant connection, and only knows how to be lonely when not connected. This capacity for generative solitude is very important for the creative process, but if you grow up thinking it's your right and due to be tweeted and retweeted, to have thumbs up on Facebook...we're losing a capacity for autonomy both intellectual and emotional."

  3. Nana, it is pretty interesting how people are practically addicted to their SNSs, and I know there have been articles on such addictions such as
    This article mentions that Facebook has actually begun to take the place of actual face to face friendships..

  4. I can't help but think about how your comment about people becoming increasingly desensitized toward their actions online rings true. It wasn't too long ago that people were appalled by violence, harassment, and obscenity. Now, it's treated like it's a natural, everyday occurrence. I'm not sure of what can be done to reverse this mentality, but it's something that I'm not a fan of.

    Online relationships are also something that I've seen become more prevalent in recent years. People are moving away from anonymity and moving toward sharing personal information with complete strangers. Websites such as chatroulette are entirely based around interacting with complete strangers, some of which whose only purpose is to harass, and yet, people still flock towards it. I know people who can't live without Facebook/text messaging/Skype/etc. and weave it into their everyday life, making it so that life is second to social networking rather than the other way around.

  5. I am impressed by the two points mentioned in your blog: people are getting used to abusive, offensive, and violent speech without noticing and many pieces of news are in disguise. Controversial issues always can get the public’s attention. It is because of the human tendency that encourages some people to publicly spread unpleasant speech. Therefore, it is very important to set up rules to regulate the opinions posted online. The LamdaMOO users got together and expelled the word abuser, but the online gaming users did not. What caused the former to do so and why the latter failed to do that? This can be a starting point to let us, social media participants, to think about the difference between the two populations and their online behaviors. For example, how old are the people in the two groups? What is the ratio of males and females in the two groups? What are their purposes of using the social media? What are their attitudes toward flaming?
    Another point mentioned is the possibility that the news we get via the social media sometimes is advertisements or political agenda in disguise. Therefore, people who are unfamiliar with the manipulation of media are very likely to believe in what they watch or listen. As a result, people who manipulate the news sway the “naive” audience’s thoughts, which could lead to conflicts and chaos in the society. Peer review is a bright idea to prevent rumors and inappropriate speech from spreading out at an uncontrollable speed; however, we also have to admit that the method has not been completely realized in all social media. Some questions are waiting for answers; for example, who are qualified to do peer review? How many peer reviews are satisfactory for one posting? What criteria are used for peer review? Is there any alternative to maintain the quality of each posting?

  6. I loved how you opened the blog. I totally felt the same while I was typing my first post.

    I wonder if the perceived increase in uncivil discourse on the internet comes from taking a lot of the visual/aural cues we use during real world interactions out of the equation. On the internet, it's easy to forget that there is another human being on the other end of the screen because--barring webcams--you can't see them. It's hard to feel bad for a block of text and there still isn't much of a precedent for punishing anti-social rhetoric used online in order to provoke.

    Anyway, great post! You gave me a lots to think about and I look forward to future updates.

  7. Thanks for sharing! You did a great job tying the reading to the current event -I think the highlight of your post was your comments on the irony of the situation in terms of the Mr. Lougher's disconnect with social media. While there are so many chiming in after the fact, as you stated it appears that his connections before the shooting were weak - for example, he posted "goodbye friends" on his facebook page and no one commented. And only when something tragic happened did people start tuning in. It was Loughner's way to get attention - I wonder if he had any idea what would follow after the shooting. It also appears that others commenting on your blog honed in on this point as well.
    Nana's comments about not knowing how to live without constant connection and the lonliness that can go with it ring in true about our generation and it is very sad to think about - it especially frightening when it could contribute to violence against others. There are obviously trade-offs to everything in life and this is one of the downfalls with technology & being so wired-in all the time. Of course there are those who know how to strike a balance but then there are those who don't ...

  8. > it is pretty interesting how people are practically addicted to their SNSs, and I know there have been articles on such addictions

    Caloha, I agree with this point of yours. Drugs are addictive, and drugs sell. SNSs are addictive, to some extent, and, apparently, they sell!

    There were studies showing Internet is addictive, and strongly affect people's minds and behaviors. We are aware of it but we're still on this roller coaster that we've been on for the last 20 years. Probably, for most people, we cannot even go without checking emails every day. It comes down to allocating our precious time wisely.

  9. about addictions - i realized this morning that i check my twitter feed before i turn off my bedside lamp, and my email, before i get out of bed in the morning.....sad....i gotta change that

    PS: thanks for all the thoughtful posts! have a great week this AM

    PPS: For those interested, Justice Alito is WSRSL's Jurist in Residence this year, there are events all week, check the LS website