Wednesday, March 30, 2011

01 Village finding a phone

Summary:    8-12 sentences:

Ivanna lost her phone and the person who found it wouldn’t give it back so her friend Evan made the story viral.  The support rallied by Evan, over the loss of the phone resulted in mass public interest that when conjoined affected the outcome of the situation showing the power that groups possess.

The attention that becomes possible with mass Internet access creates the opportunity for individuals to communicate, broadcast issues, receive support, and thus change situations that they would not otherwise be able to alone. Evan utilized internet social media tools to rally support and create a kind of movement, that was rare, difficult to manage, full of experts, and almost impossible to create 5 or 10 years ago.

Human organization is highly complex and critical to group formation and collaboration within societies, but technology now allows easier access to organization and raises important ethical questions related to access and power. With new technology we are able to form groups easier, which thus provides different forms of motivation for individuals contributing to society.

The introduction of the internet, as it currently exists, along with cell phones, e-mail, and other forms of communication allow people to more easily organize themselves and accomplish collective action, without the institutional structure that was once needed to manage organizations. People are now capable of group action with out the need for traditional institutions to bring social change.


In class we discussed why and how is this new.  Below are  related concepts from social science that came up during that conversation:
  • social capital
  • transaction costs
  • emotion and helping behavior
  • helping and altruism
  • social support
Comment from FB post:

I posted a link to this post on FB.  A good friend of mind sent me an email with the following comment.  He raises a really interesting point:   does the phone example raise an important problem-- that the collective action made possible by internet community often gets directed towards trivial ends while far more important ends go wanting,

"Hey Ted,

I saw your post on FB about your students collective action projects and I thought their posts were interesting.  I have not read the book so I can’t comment in detail but a few things strike me.  There are interesting side effects of low cost social activism, the degradation of propinquity as a barrier to message spread and the absence a gate keepers in information sorting.

 For better or worse, there has been a fundamental change in what is important and or worthy of activism.  In this case there is a collective action event aimed at getting someone’s phone back.

 Is that a worthy cause? 

Is that the best use of participants agency, or is it just popular and of the moment?   Why does a phone merit such action while incidents of child abuse, starvation and murder go unacknowledged.  Clearly that is an oversimplification but there seems to be a lack of perspective in the digital world.  In this day and age a story of lost phone or a burning Koran somewhere is Florida can go viral and become the center of a large online movement.  In the first case a phone is returned but in the second people die.  In both cases the viral stories are trivial outside the world of social media.  A girl had her phone stolen, as I am sure 1000 people do every day and a guy burned a book in his tiny 14 person church.

  Perhaps this should be called the Charlie Sheen effect.  The unimportant takes center stage while real events are all but ignored.  Social media and its dependency on novelty and simplicity has, perhaps, warped the perspectives of participants because social media has no inherent perspective.  Maybe it was the barriers to collective action that signaled when a collective action event was truly important. We don’t tend to do trivial things when they are hard.  Now a lost phone and the collapse of the Berlin wall might get equal time."

Thanks Deven!

Connections to current events in the world:

The cognitive surplus:

Several of the ideas that we discussed in class started to connect with Shirky's new book.  Above is a TED talk that summarizes some of those ideas.

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