Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Social Media and Clay Shirky's View of World Politics


 One complaint about the idea of new media as a political force is that most people simply use these tools for commerce, social life, or self-distraction, but this is common to all forms of media. Far more people in the 1500s were reading erotic novels than Martin Luther's "Ninety-five Theses," and far more people before the American Revolution were reading Poor Richard's Almanack than the work of the Committees of Correspondence. But those political works still had an enormous political effect. (Shirky, Foreign Affairs, 2011)
Clay Shirky has finally made it.  Often championed as one of the modern thinkers of technology and society, but also maligned as a mere naval-gazing pop intellectual who talks the talk, Shirky's recent article The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change in the long-renowned journal, Foreign Affairs, has penned some thought provoking gems about the changing political order thanks the effects of ordinary citizens' use of social media technologies.
  
Social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world's political movements, just as most of the world's authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it.In response,the U.S. State Department has committed itself to "Internet freedom" as a specific policy aim. Arguing for the right of people to use the Internet freely is an appropriate policy for the United States, both because it aligns with the strategic goal of strengthening civil society worldwide and because it resonates with American beliefs about freedom of expression. But attempts to yoke the idea of Internet freedom to short-term goals-particularly ones that are country-specific or are intended to help particular dissident groups or encourage regime change-are likely to be ineffective on average. And when they fail, the consequences can be serious.

1.  A New Political Science? -  What social media has done is essentially re-write the rules of political science and even the social sciences.  It would be impossible to describe the recent political crises in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Moldova, or Thailand (among the many) without discussing the use of mobile media and online tools by those resisting against authoritarian governments.  Such social technologies have mobilized grassroots citizenry and civic grassroots journalism to not only effecting change in the political landscapes in countries, but ultimately bringing down regimes.

2.   What Is Civil Society? -  What social media has down is ultimately breaking down the state's ability to use violence and oppression, truly allowing for a degree of civil society unheard of before the age of the internet.   Shirky views this as a shift in the balance of power between the state and civil society that has ultimately led to a largely peaceful collapse of communist control.  As such, when civil society triumphs, many of the people who had articulated opposition to the communist regimes-such as Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland and Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia- became the new political leaders of those countries.  Communications tools during the Cold War did not cause governments to collapse, but they helped the people take power from the state when it was weak. The same should be seen from the power of social media -- perhaps even in a more intensified process.  And we're witnessing that as we speak.

3.  The "New" Public Sphere - The famed social philosopher Jurgen Haberman's concept of the public sphere is being challenged and perhaps will soon be thrown right out the window in this age of intensive social media.   Developed during the Renaissance in Western Europe and the United States, Habermas viewed a vibrant public sphere acting as a positive force keeping authorities within bounds lest their rulings be ridiculed.  As such, the public sphere is a place between private individuals and government authorities in which people could meet and have debates about public matters.  With such critical discussions taking place, they anchor as a counterweight to political authority.  The "public spheres" more importantly, happened physically in face-to-face meetings in coffee houses and cafes and public squares as well as in the media in letters, books, drama, and art. Forward three hundred years, and we’re seeing the physical public sphere turn digital: in the blogosphere, twittersphere, Facebook, and viral video sharing sites.

4.  Communications -  Although mass media alone do not change people's minds, the process does.  As Opinions and ideas are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. Eventually, it is the social network that influences and forms political opinions.  This is the step in which the internet in general, and social media in particular, effects change. As with the printing press, the internet spreads not only media aconsumption, but also media production.  As Shirky argues, "It ultimately allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views."   How's that for social change?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Have You Been Screw-gled Lately?

Greg sighed. He knew Google too well: Every time you visited a page with Google ads on it, or used Google maps or Google mail -- even if you sent mail to a Gmail account -- the company diligently collected your info. Recently, the site's search optimization software had begun using the data to tailor Web searches to individual users. It proved to be a revolutionary tool for advertisers. An authoritarian government would have other purposes in mind. (Scroogled, 2007).
Canadian writer Cory Doctorow is best known as the proponent of copyright laws that should be liberalized and allowed for free sharing of all digital media. Arguing that copyright holders should have a monopoly on selling their own digital media, he proposes that copyright laws need only come into play when someone attempts to sell a product currently under someone else's copyright.  How's that for digital democracy?

Doctorow is also a science-fiction writer, and a futurist.   In 2007, Doctorow penned a fascinating, but eerily nihilistic view of the Google-dominated universe.  Like the panopticon, Doctorow's short story, Scroogled, is about a world gone terribly astray, where every action parsed directly or indirectly by Google is effectively used to monitor our every action. 

Not surprisingly, there is a search engine that goes by this very title that  Scroogle, a site designed for those who don’t want Google tracking their searches back to them.  Disguising the Internet address of users who want to run Google searches anonymously, Scroogle is a web service that gives users the option of having all communication between their computer and the search page be SSL encrypted.

Think about it: Google can keep your searches on record for up to a year and a half.  It's said that if you do not want a record of all your searches in storage, then using Scroogle's "scrapper" might be an effective method.

Are we living in a paranoid dimension here?   The librarian in me says that freedom of privacy and information is of course central to a democratic society.   Think about it: Google does have an enormous influence on us, although we are only subtly aware of it:

1.  Societal Influence - It has been a mental influence on people that if your search is not found on google it does not exist.  In fact, if it's not ranked highly, it isn't important.  And if one Google yourself (which a lot probably do), it's a reflection of one's "importance" virtually and physically, too.  Think of all the resources that companies are exercising in raising their Google ranking. Think of all times you search for meaning and answers to life, all coming from Google search results.  If Google isn't a convenient magic eight ball, then what is?

2.  Street View - I must admit, I am an admirer of Google Street View, especially when I want to see places I haven't been before.  However, it has also been accused of taking pictures and coming too close inside people's private homes and people who walk down the street not knowing they are being watched on Google's service.   While they were at it, Google collected about 600 gigabytes of data from users of public WiFi stations (which are not owned by Google) during 2006-2010, including snippets of emails. 

3.  Politics - Being the world's largest company ultimately drags it into the political sphere, too.  Case in point: although Mainland China had already enforced by filters colloquially known as "The Great Firewall of China," Google.cn search results were further filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, or websites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, or the Falun Gong movement.  It wasn't until only recently after a clash with China that Google stepped out of placating the world power.   But is Google tempting fate as a multinational corporation?   I guess while we wait for the answer, we should at least give Scroogle a try.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beyond the Nation-State and Social Media


It's a recent phenomenon: social media is altering world history. As the recent Iranian resistance from twittosphere has shown, as well as the recent events in China, Burma, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt resistance, not even the tightly drawn cloak of authoritarian regimes can regulate what seeps through the social web. Just look at what Wikileaks is doing to open up once tightly withheld information, and ultimately, the political order.

Don Tapscott argues in Macrowikinomics, that we have entered the age of "beyond the nation state." Microfinancing, virtual activism, and global agenda partnerships via the social web are but a few developments that are breaking down the nation-state's grip, and challenging the very notion of its importance to its citizens. Non-governmental organizations (NGO's) are clearly gaining legitimacy and relevance, even by nation-states. NGO's have become effective change agents. And social media is only intensifying this change.

Vancouver-based HootSuite is one example of how social media is challenging the stronghold of the notion of the state. In particular, social media helping people in Egypt circumvent the government's shutdown of the Internet. Hootsuite, which offers social media portal feed for cross-posting to Twitter and Facebook, is reporting that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with the most from this past week of January -- mostly from mobile devices.

The company, which offers users a social media dashboard for posting to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, reports that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with most in the past week and most from mobile devices. Blocking Internet access and text messaging as well as Twitter and Facebook, the Egyptian government hasn't deterred its people from going through proxy servers or using third-party applications like HootSuite and TweetDeck to voice their dissent.

Here's something interesting: although HootSuite users who had already signed up before the Internet are being shut down in Egypt, they are still able to use the service as new users who must register a new account online at twitter.com. Moreover, iPhone users can sign up for new HootSuite accounts through the mobile app. From all the developments we're witnessing about the transformational change social media has afforded us, it's changing the course of history as well. We'll see more in the upcoming years ahead.

Cross-posted at Smertlibrarians blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The 5 Well Beings In Life

It turns out that in between work and career are still important things in life.  Love, work, play.  Regardless of what profession one is in, I think there's often unfortunate disconnect between living and working.   News stories are increasingly reporting people around the world working overtime, inordinately more than the prescribed 40 hour work weeks so prevalent a generation ago.  Reports seem to indicate that people are turning into workaholics.   In the follow up to their highly successful Strengthfinders 2.0, Tom Rath and Jim Harter's Wellbeing is really about how to reverse all that -- how to live a happy, fulfilling life of love, generosity, and gratitude. Though their findings, the authors argue that there are five key essential ingredients.  I think these words of advice (and research) indicate some lessons we can all learn. 

1.  Career Wellbeing - Do you like what you're doing each day?  Whether a librarian, policeman, salesman -- whatever it may be -- people high with marks in this category wake up each morning looking forward to doing something each day at work.  Instead of workaholics, turns out these people actually take more time out to enjoy life though!

2.  Social Wellbeing - More likely to make time for vactions or social gathering with friends and family, these people have several close relationships that help them achieve, enjoy life, and be healthy, as well as surrounded by people who encourage their development and growth.  Positive energy on a daily basis.

3.  Financial Wellbeing -  It's hard to be happy without meeting basic needs.   Managing their personal finances well and spending their money wisely, these people not only buy experiences instead of just material possession, they also give to others instead of always spending on themselves.

4.  Physical Wellbeing - It's about having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.  Exercising regularly, good dietary choices, enough sleep to rejuvenate, these individuals are able to do everything people their age can do.  Maybe even more.

5.  Community Wellbeing - This trait indicates a high security of where one lives and take great pride in their community.  Not only do they want to give back and make a lasting contribution to society, there is a sense of engagement with where a person lives.  This is what separates a good life from a great one.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Librarian 2.0?

It seems to have died down: the Library 2.0 mantra.  For a while, controversy abound over the appropriate usage of Library 2.0, so much so that Wikipedia threatened to take it down altogether.  Many argue that such a term diminished the profession while others charge that Librarian 2.0 rejuvenates what is a lagging field in an increasingly interconnected digital world.  Australian librarians Helen Patridge, Julie Lee, and Carrie Munro have recently come out with an ethnographic analysis, "Becoming 'Librarian 2.0': The Skills, Knowledge, and Attributes Required by Library and Information Science Professions in a Web 2.0 World (and Beyond)."

The authors' methodology is simple: focus groups of about 81 librarians to discuss what they think defines "Librarian 2.0."  Although diverse, the answers are unnervingly clear and concise.


1.  Technology - There is a difference between IT skills an IT appreciation skills.   Librarian 2.0 should be a role model, not in being an "elitist" in terms of technology, but as a credible source for understanding and imparting knowledge of new technological developments.  They are plugged in, but can easily walk away from it, too.


2.  Learning and Education - Willing to grow with the job, librarian 2.0 in the web 2.0 world is interested in what is happening around them, and scan the horizon and are aware of the outside world.


3. Research and Evidence Based Practice - An essential element, research is a way for librarian 2.0 to be making best decisions, best practices, and establishing benchmarks.


4.  Communication - Good at negotiation and diplomacy, librarian 2.0 should be able to use whatever "language"is needed to persuade or influence the target audience to their point of view.


5.  Collaboration and Teamwork - Is about building relationships and partnerships while establishing networks with individuals and groups wherever it is needed.


6.  User Focus - Interested in creating communities, they are driven by a focus on people, not resources.


7.  Business Savvy - Entrepreneurial, they are know how to get things done -- they go out and seek business


8.  Personal Traits - Adaptable, flexible, persistent, and resilient