Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Further Ruminations about Social Networks.



I know my posts are bad when even I won't read them! The last post I did wasn't coming together and instead of just sitting on it and thinking some more, I clicked "publish." Socioeconomics is not new, but I was quite impressed with the point in the video A City Made of Waste that the important thing to pay attention to was the "layering of its socio-economic procedures." I was curious to explore this notion of "layering of socio-economic procedures" and online social networks. I quickly got lost in the weeds.

I'm probably not going to do any better tonight than I did the last time, but I still want to try to think a bit more (aloud) about the relationship of online social life and economic activity.

I put forth the incident of a PR executive's Twitter posting which insulted his client. I think it's just a given that when people are putting up a lot of content online, some where along the line some of that content is going to be embarrassing.

At my age I know teens and folks in their twenties who I remember well as babies. They've grown up using the Internet. As far as what I put up on the Internet, for the longest time I figured hardly anyone I knew would see any of it. That assumption no longer holds much water thanks primarily to Facebook. Not only do I get updates from teens and twenty-somethings I know in my newsfeeds, I'm in theirs. My name is very common, so I don't turn up high on searches. But now with the newsfeeds, I provide regular search terms which substantially improve the results, if someone wants to find out more.

I don't go snooping around my young friends and relatives online content (much). Many of them have 500+ friends. I realize that for them the higher potential for embarrassment is not something I will find in their content, but that something goofy I put up will be seen by friends of friends of friends. Since I didn't seek them out to friend me, I have to conclude they must have calculated the risk and found it acceptable. Needless to say I know young people who haven't friended me. Had I grown up online like they have, I'm not sure that I would be one to friend my uncles and friends of my parents!

When I was that age, the last thing I wanted was for my parents to know what I was really doing. Some things never really change that much. Anthropologist danah boyd observes how young people use the Web to engage with friends outside of adult supervision. It's amused me having access to feeds at Facebook how hilarious the Urban Dictionary is now. Like Wikepedia the Urban Dictionary is a wiki, but translating slang is tricky business. Attempting to decode youthful argot using the Urban Dictionary seems to yield a greater chance of misunderstanding than understanding. Anyhow, young people have ways of avoiding discovery on the Web. but they also seem to understand better than people my age the upsides of sharing online, even with clueless old folk like me.

Recently an Internet friend sent me an IM. He'd just gotten back from a frustrating trip and needed to vent. Years ago when he was a teen we chatted frequently, now now so much. In this conversation almost in passing he mentioned an email I sent to him way back when a friend of his was killed in an automobile accident. It amazed me that he said he still had the email! Sure we've got some history, but both now and then I was just some guy on the Internet. Yet, somehow I'd managed to say approximately the right thing at approximately the right time for him. I think this is simply an example of something that's commonplace now.

Young people often have lots of friends in their online social networks. A lot of the correspondence is chatter with a good dose of teasing. Still, when there is a need, friends respond. Being on the receiving end of attention is important, but just as significant is the responding. People my age miss how good and responsible young people are towards their online friends.

At Seed Magazine there's a salon between Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and James Fowler. Folwler's work on social networks and happiness got a lot of attention in the popular press. In the Seed Salon piece he points out how new it is that so many of us are aware via online social networks of friends of friends of friends. He notes there are two general ways to react:
You can think about it in one of two ways. If you think that you are tied to all these people that you don't know and have never met, yet they are going to have an influence on you, you might just feel like, "Geez, I have no free will. I might as well just give up. I am just a piece of flotsam on the sea, floating up and down with the movements of everybody on the network."

But the other way to react is to take responsibility for all those people because they are also influenced by you. I have noticed that it has been easier for me to lose weight now, for example. And when I am walking home from the bus stop, I make sure to put on my favorite song. Because I know now that if I enter my house in a crummy mood, I'm not just going to make my son unhappy and my wife unhappy; I'm going to make my son's friend and my wife's mother unhappy. There are going to be all sorts of indirect, unintended consequences of my behavior, which makes me feel that I should take more responsibility.
For young people, and for people who spend a lot of time online, the umbrage over the PR executive's Twitter message seemed overblown. Being responsible feels less about the faux pas and more about doing something good when you can.

In my last post I also mentioned Micheal Arrington being spat upon at the DLD Conference and Jason Calacanis description of IAS--"Internet Asperger's Syndrome." What Arrington and Calacanis are talking about is something different from the Twitter flap. In some ways it seems what they are talking about is something that happens to people who become widely read like they are. But in another way what they are talking about is common and often called cyber-bullying.

There's quite a lot to this. I brought up the shutting down of Omidyar.net and the ups and downs of Tribe.net and connected it to what Arrington and Calacanis talked about in their posts. Phil Jones pushed back in the comments saying about Tribe:
I don't remember seeing any bullying or overt threatening behaviour there.
He's right, at least from my experience at Tribe too. Omidyar.net was an online social network of do-gooders. While I am not quite so quick to say that bullying wasn't going on there, bullying is far too simple a description for very much more nuanced goings on. I have often thought that Omidyar.net would make a great research study of the social dynamics of social networks. Lots of what happens in online social networks isn't obvious, and requires careful research to really understand. Needless to say I haven't done the research.

Calacanis concludes:
"[H]ow we treat each other does matter. It matters because, without empathy, our lives are shallow, self-centered and meaningless."
That's an important observation. Empathy is a huge topic in it's own right. But my thoughts turned in a different direction as I wrote. I knew going down that path would take a bit of time, so I simply published what I had already written.

I've written more than a reasonable length for a blog post already today. So I'll just put sketch out a little towards what I was thinking about. Zbigniew Lukasiak is a really smart guy. He's thought about the decay of online social networks for a long time. Zbigniew has been looking to devise algorithms in the software to make such decay less likely. When I've read some of what he's had to say about it, generally my response has been something very much along the lines of Calacanis's point that we've got to learn to be nicer to each other. But Calacanis's observation didn't seem enough after reading his excellent essay. That lack, and the image of "layering of socio-economic procedures" from the video gave me a glimmer that there's a lot more to the way Zbigniew has been addressing the problem than I've been comprehending.

To finish up this post I want to point to a few links. Last summer I stumbled upon an essay by Gotthard Gunther, Number and Logos: Unforgettable Hours with Warren St. McCulloch. Knowing me even a little, it's obvious there is so much I don't understand. I don't know much about logic. I don't know so much about the problems of logic, merely that there are some. For example, I know that Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica opened important philosophical questions and controversies, but I don't know much about them. More simply I know that timeless logic often becomes self-contradictory when trying to map circular or more complicated sequences of cause and effect. Since circuits are fundamental to electronics and computing, I know that the trouble with logic bothers computer sciences. Alas, yet again I know little about electronics or computer science. I don't really understand Gunther's essay, but it excited me because it seemed to be pointing to new approaches to logic which address some of the problems with classical logic.

The Web site with Gotthard Gunther's essay was put up by Rudolf Kaeher who also has ThinkArt Lab. I'm not sure how, but I'd stumbled upon ThinkArt Lab a few times before reading Gunther's essay and had never known what to make of it.

Remembering how I get to sites isn't always easy, nor is my memory always right. Rarely is the way to a Web site straight forward, generally it involves some sort of pincer movement. I think that I kept arriving at ThinkArt Lab via Paul Ryan, for example this page on Peirce and Work. The funny thing is I don't understand Ryan very well, and he doesn't link to ThinkArt. I was just using searches to try to make the questions I was asking clearer.

If I remember correctly, I landed at one of Kaeher's blogs Rudy's Diamond Strategies with search terms I came up with from reading Paul Ryan and about Charles Sanders Peirce. From Rudy's Diamond Strategies, I linked to another of his blogs The Chinese Challenge. As I had stumbled upon ThinkARt Lab before all of this searching from different directions and ending up there makes me think it's a good idea for me to look around and try to understand why it is I keep discovering the place.

The really big problem is I don't have a very good head for figures. It's a rather general deficit, which includes not being able to follow symbolic notation very well. So the Kaehr's work is very difficult for me to understand. Even with my very rudimentary ability to understand, the work is really, really fascinating.

Before the problems that come up in online social networks seemed to me social problems. I think about social problems in terms of psychology, sociology, political science, etc. Turn again to the discussion between Albert-László Barabási and James Fowler. Fowler is a political scientist studying social and biological links, and Barabási is a physicist who uses mathematics to study networks on the Web. My ideas about the boundaries of academic disciplines are old fashioned. Kaehr's work on polycontextural logics has much to say about how computer scientist design online social networks, but it also reveals something about what it is for people to be social.

Valdis Krebs blogs at TNT--The Network Thinker as well at Network Weaving blog. Here's what they say about the Network Weaving blog:
A social network blog about the creation of robust & vibrant economic and community networks... using network mapping, weaving and leadership development.
Math-challenged as I am, that blog seems like I'd have a better chance understanding than the former. That's probably true.

Participating on social networks makes certain problems visible; issues like bullying and seeing a picture of Michael Phelps with a bong to his mouth. There's some formal and rigorous thinking coming out of the study of online social networks that I'm only dimly becoming aware of. What's less apparent is that formal thinking would have something to offer about such issues. I'm becoming convinced such formal thinking will change how I think about online social networks. I'm not sure how, that's what I'm trying to learn more about.

1 comment:

DaisyDeadhead said...

Well, Part I escaped me, so I am glad you expanded in Part II. :)

I am pretty fixated on internet anonymity, for most of the reasons you have given. I live in what is likely the most conservative county in the USA, and I talk some pretty radical talk...I have already had trolls; at least two were local. One of these trolls recently contributed a fiercely right-wingnut letter-to-the-editor of our local paper, and I was reading and BING--there she was! She had proudly signed her name to the emails she sent me (same one who kept on arguing with me on the immigration thread--then offered to have lunch with me. Righto!) I was once again very grateful I do NOT sign my real name to my blog, as she had signed HER real name to her email and subsequent letter to the newspaper.

I maintain anonymity for safety purposes, but you would be surprised at how many people don't approve of pseudonyms... they seem to think they are cowardly or dishonest in some way. I've started keeping track, and more men than women, more white than black, more straight than gay, more believers than atheists, etc etc... (you can see where I'm going with this) sign their real names to blogs... honesty is far riskier for some than others. The bloggers who aren't nervous about their identities call out those of us who are, not realizing (or caring) that PRIVILEGE is the reason why some of us cannot be as open as others. What IS interesting to me is how "living openly online" has become construed with honesty in all things; it is regarded as some sign that one is on the up-and-up. Online life is getting conflated with REAL life, and it is understood that they should in some ways merge... I think the IAS phenomenon you describe is contributing to that increasingly-popular concept, and also subtracting from it, simultaneously. None of us wants "anonymous" knocking on our doors at night; at the same time, we don't want to be accused of BEING the "anonymous" everyone hates right now, whichever one that currently is (and "anonymous" is always perceived as disrupting something somewhere...or having the almost-super-human power to do so).

There is this idea that bloggers who use their real names are the "important" or "serious" bloggers... I'd say they are the people who need not worry about their jobs or their family's jobs, or if their kids or their parents will be embarrassed about
what they write. They must also be surrounded with people who are more or less like themselves, and don't have to worry about becoming actual physical targets. (The idea that these privileges supposedly make one BETTER or more SERIOUS, pisses me off no end.)

And there is a whole nother aspect to it... I would very much like to write about the travails of motherhood, particularly motherhood of insane teenagers, but I feel that I can't because my now-grown daughter reads my blog. And that is her life too. How much of our family's lives can we ethically write about? (Or our friends?) For example, do these moms realize, when they use their real names and write about their children, that what they say about them can be used against the children later? (as in "I don't want that crazy kid in my class!") I think that is the new frontier, and I see copious drawbacks everywhere.

As one who was also "anonymous" in various alternative media throughout the 70s, I'm glad I learned how to be paranoid. ;)

(Apologies for comment length! BLAH BLAH BLAH--talky McTalky.