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 SixDegrees.com 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 SixDegrees.com. 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….