My Networked Media class has come to a close. I enjoyed it very much am am grateful for the experience. Shawn van Every is a great professor who who taught us a lot about building websites with node.js and express.
My final project is currently hosted on Digital Ocean and uses a new subdomain I created, apps.ixora.io. I intend to use this domain to permanently host this project and other projects I create in the future.
My final project is a continuation of my midterm project. I achieved my goals of building an easy to use interface for qualitatively exploring the drawings. You can find it here: http://apps.ixora.io/drawings. The source code is available on github.
I put a lot of work into organizing the code in a way that scaled and matched the best practices of node developers. There are still some issues in that area and I will continue to improve it so my next project will have less frustrations. I am also going to work on the front-end to learn more about css and user interface design.
There's still more to learn about these pictures. The most exciting thing about it is that there are so many more hidden gems to discover in this dataset. I'd like to use data science techniques to explore the similarities and differences between countries. Allison Parrish told me about some work done by other researchers on this dataset that I will learn from and build off of. They seem to involve tensorflow which I've been wanting to learn about anyway. I have time to devote to this between now and the fall semester.
And finally, my favorite drawing. I may use this as my Facebook profile picture.
Sherry Turkle is a science and technology professor at MIT who studies the psychology of human relationships with technology. She gave a TED talk in 1996 about how the Internet would teach us about ourselves and help us to live better lives in the real world. In 2012 she gave another TED talk, also about the Internet, but argued that it is changing our lives in ways that we don’t want.
Turkle says that our phones are changing who we are. Behaviors that would have been considered crazy 20 years ago are now commonplace. For example, texting during meetings or conversations. We end up alone when we are with other people. When we are with other people we are also connected to multiple other places.
The sum of many little communications does not add up to one real conversation. Our technologies give us a illusion of friendship and companionship without the burden of actual friendship. We need to learn to be comfortable being alone, [technologically] disconnected from other people. Only when we are alone will we be in touch with ourselves and be able to form real connections with others.
After the 2016 election the Columbia Journalism Review published a study of social media sharing patterns for Facebook and Twitter. They wanted to understand how different media outlets informed or misinformed voters on the right and left. Instead of finding people to be in self-reinforcing “filter bubbles” or “echo chambers” that reinforce what people already believe, they found that there were asymmetries in how users on left and right were embracing technology. There was a new right-wing media ecosystem that was much more insular and detached from traditional media sources. On the left there were partisan sites but there were stronger connections to mainstream media.
Going forward journalists need to think about how to build (or rebuild) a basis for the public to form a shared belief about what is happening. A common set of facts is a necessary precursor for civil society to have a constructive debate about public policy issues.
Tiziana Terranova is an Italian theorist and activist who writes about the Internet and New Media. In her essay Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy, she writes about the free labor taking place that is critical to the continued functioning of the Internet.
Terranova states that free labor from Internet users is the source of economic value in the digital economy. Free labor is defined as labor that is provided voluntarily, with no remuneration by the beneficiaries. An example of this is the time and effort people put into producing content for YouTube or writing short (or long) messages for Facebook. Internet users seek out these websites specifically to consume the digital content produced by other Internet users. These companies are producing the digital content framework that feeds off of the content and do not produce the actual content themselves.
Free labor and collective knowledge are being voluntarily contributed to capitalist business practices. This essay highlights the essential nature of that free labor to the functioning of the Internet but also refers to it as a “modern sweatshop” or “social factory.”
Philip Agre is a former professor of information studies at UCLA. He wrote extensively about modern technology and privacy. His work Beyond the Mirror World presents a discussion of data collection and society’s privacy concerns.
Agre defines the mirror world as the world of data. Data is collected from the real world and stored in a database designed by a software engineer. The database contains a representation of the real world, storing characteristics determined by the designer. He points out that the distinction between data objects and the real-life things they represent is being blurred.
This mirror world constructed in a computer can be explored, possibly without the consent of the human beings associated with the being data collected. New strategies for protecting privacy must be developed. Keeping personally identifying information out of databases is critical. Pseudoidentifiers can be used instead, allowing businesses to function and privacy to be protected.
Gilles Deleuze was a french philosopher who was friends with Michel Foucault, the philosopher who wrote about discipline and punishment in society. Deleuze expanded on Foucault’s work by describing a control society, a means of control that is the successor to a discipline society.
Foucault’s discipline society was based on physical enclosures such as prisons or schools, or the idealized Panopticon, with people being constantly monitored. In Deleuze’s control society, technology has allowed control to evolve from physical enclosures to one that provides a complex network of human interaction that is constantly monitored. People are free to interact with each other, but only by using the tools the network provides.
An example here is Facebook. We are free to use Facebook as we with but it is actually limited to the provided functionality and thoroughly monitored and analyzed. We cannot re-engineer Facebook as we wish and it is very hard or difficult to leave completely. Another example is our smartphones. We are always connected to the Internet and have access to massive amounts of information, but with a cost. Our phones are constantly collecting data based on our actions. The freedom is less free.
It is difficult or impossible to remove oneself from these mechanisms of control. It is not like removing oneself from a prison, where once a person leaves the prison the mechanism of control is no longer effective.
Michel Foucault grew up as a self-described “juvenile delinquent” with a “bully” for a father who would sternly punish him. The frenchman grew up to be a philosopher and theorist who studied power and social control. In his work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, he wrote about organizations that allow a small number of people to exert control over a large group.
The chapters starts with a description of plague quarantine rules in the 17th century. Families were confined to their homes and were rigorously monitored from the street by a single “syndic” who was in turn monitored by a “intendant” assigned to manage a quarter of the town. There were strict rules governing behavior with thorough monitoring and infractions punishable by death. The goal was to correct the abnormal (unhealthy) people and make them normal again.
This “perfectly governed” society is compared to a theoretical prison called a Panopticon. This cylindrical prison is built with all cells facing the center with a single prison warden in the middle monitoring everything about every prisoner. The prisoners are not able to communicate with each other or determine if the warden is monitoring them at any particular moment. The architecture of the building has the power over the prisoners incorporated its design.
A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was written by John Perry Barlow, a “Cyberlibertarian” and a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He wrote this essay while at a party World Economic Forum in Davos in response to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. He was outraged that this law was passed and saw it as a threat to the sovereignty of the Internet from foreign powers.
The Communications Decency Act made it a crime for anyone to share “indecent material” to anyone under the age of 18. It was struck down a year later in a Supreme Court case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that that law was unnecessarily broad and suppressed the speech of adults.
The Declaration rejects government of the Internet by any “outside force.” He argues that there is no consent of the governed to apply laws and that the Internet is developing its own governing forces. Internal problems will be solved by using a “Social Contract.” He cites government ignorance of Internet culture. Barrow claims that the Internet exists outside any country’s borders, outside “physical space.”
There are clear parallels with the United States’ Declaration of Independence. America was originally a colony of Great Britain, and the Internet was originally created by DARPA (USA). America and the Internet both grew apart from their creators and rejected their governance. Barrow clearly had this in mind when he wrote:
These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers.
Barrow does acknowledge government control over “our bodies” but he rejects control over “our minds.” No government has the authority to govern in cyberspace.
Marshall McCluhan begins his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man with the paradoxical statement that “the medium is the message.” He argues that the specific content being communicated is less important than the medium through which people communicate.
He cites as an example, a simple light bulb. The light bulb is a medium without a message, but is overlooked as a communication medium because it “has no ‘content.’” If many light bulbs spell out a word, the word is the ‘content’ and becomes the focus of our attention. The light bulbs are the medium, even though the light bulbs haven’t changed.
This still seems paradoxical and unsatisfying. It is helpful to consider what he means when he uses the term “medium” and “message.”
He defines a “message” as “the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs”. The message isn’t a set of facts or banal statements, it is an impact on human behavior and interaction.
Vannevar Bush was an American engineer and inventor who was head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. In this role he oversaw all of the military research and development, coordinating the activities of large numbers of scientists, engineers, and thinkers of his time to build weapons of war, including the Manhattan Project.
Before the war the scientists and engineers were often in competition with each other for new discoveries, or they were willing to collaborate but unable to find out about each other’s work and learn from other people’s ideas.
Because of the war, many people came together to work towards a common goal, leading to rapid advancements in many fields. Vannevar would have certainly realized the value of the increased collaboration and how much more can be accomplished when the previous barriers were removed.
In 1945, the War was coming to a close. In his essay As We May Think, Vannevar expressed his concerns that the productivity of the scientific and engineering communities would decline as the pre-war barriers returned. He wanted to see the collaboration continue, but for the betterment of humankind, not the pursuit of destruction.