revolutions via social networking

In my weekend browsing of my favourite websites, I came across this little gem.

Cory Doctorow examines the use of technology and online software (like Facebook) for organising activist rallies.

Autocrats’ use of technology against the Middle Eastern uprisings has been a wake-up call to a large group of technology activists and activists who use technology. As I write this, the net is alive with privacy-conscious activists building organizing tools that preserve anonymity, that fill the gap when governments pull the plug on the net, that prevent eavesdropping and fight disinformation.

Doctorow makes an interesting observation. With platforms like Facebook and Twitter being used and cited as vital components to political revolution, a key feature of these services has been forgotten – that they were not built for uses like these.

[Despite] the immediate convenience of Facebook [there are] long-term risks of putting our freedom in the hands of private concerns who’ve never promised to preserve it.

The difference between corporations like Facebook and Twitter and foreign Government agencies, is that the former have no obligation to maintain the anonymity that its activist users rely upon to carry out their operations.

Have a read:

http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2011/05/cory-doctorow-techno-optimism/

//nickkotzman.

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nihilism or narcissism

To start with: no, I don’t know the meaning of the graphic above. If you’re only reading on to find out, you’ll be left disappointed. Sorry.

The week seven readings (Lovink) offered an interesting, and in some ways, an unorthodox proposition: that bloggers are nihilistic, and that “blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Lovink (Reader, page 222) argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”.

Although I found that Lovink’s conclusion that blogs are merely another form of ‘one-to-many’ communication refreshing, I think that Lovink’s assertion that bloggers are nihilistic is flawed.

In one sense, I felt that it was as if Lovink had just used the wrong word, and intended to suggest bloggers were ‘narcissistic’ (self-absorbed) rather than ‘nihilistic’ (skeptical or pessimistic).

Here I will consider Lovink’s assertion and examine a couple of blogs.

Melbourne Gastronome, a blog that I regularly visit, is a blog based on the food scene of Melbourne (and Sydney, sometimes). The author of the blog, Claire, lawyer by day and foodie by night, writes about her journey through the diverse culinary landscape of Victoria’s capitol city. Melbourne Gastronome is a positive blog, and shows no signs of the nihilism that Lovink suggests. Indeed, the very purpose of the blog is to expand its readers’ horizons, encouraging them to try new and hidden-away eateries.

Another popular blog, The Sartorialist (first introduced to me by my highschool English teacher) also exemplifies a positive blog, and exhibits no nihilist sentiment. The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman) wanders the streets of the world’s fashion capitals and snaps a few pics of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes. In his blog, he posts the pictures he takes (sometimes with commentary) and lets his readers comment on and discuss the fashion trends that he logs.

Lovink’s statement is too broad: it casts an unfounded generalisation and fails to acknowledge the positive blogs that thrive on the internet.

Interestingly, it seems that the nihilistic or cynical blogs that Lovink refers to are that which maintain an academic and political focus. It comes as little surprise that many popular blogs of a political inclination, are those that flout a heavy dose of cynicism; questioning the government, and the oppositional mainstream media.

I think perhaps if Lovink had instead argued along the lines of narcissism, he would have been closer to the mark.

Melbourne Gastronome has a very strong sense of “I” throughout the posts, and focusses heavily on personal opinions and “managing” and publishing those opinions for the public.

Likewise, The Sartorialist has an inherent focus on what the author (/photographer) considers to be a ‘fashionable’ style.

But we must remember that this egocentric/narcissistic feature is what makes blogs great. Indeed, it is what separates and distinguishes blogs from the mainstream media.

By focussing on the “I”, we feel an immediate connection with the author. As we read their thoughts on a new Melbourne restaurant or the latest street fashion in Prague or London, we connect with who they are and sympathise with their opinions. This more casual relationship that we build with our favourite bloggers is a world apart from the more professional relationship we build with our trusted hard news sources in newspapers and on television.

Lovink’s article offers a deep and refreshing discussion of blogs in the 21st century, but casts too wide a net in its assertion that blogs are driven by nihilism and cynicism.

//nickkotzman.

Sources:

  • Melbourne Gastronome
  • The Sartorialist
  • Lovink, G., ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, Routledge, London, pp. 1-38, 2007.

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‘blog’ is a funny word

Copyright All rights reserved by dullhunk

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the greatest movie ever sold

This TED talk isn’t entirely relevant to Net Communications, but it’s quite pertinent to the degree that many of us are doing, Media and Communications.

In this 20min video, Morgan Spurlock – the guy who did Supersize Me – talks about his next project: a movie entirely sponsored by product placement. No other investment other than advertising firms who wish to promote their clients’ products…

Open a cupboard? Full of Kellogg’s cereal.

Open the fridge? Full of Coca-Cola.

Etcetera. etcetera.

Spurlock asserts that anything can be sponsored by advertising firms, and despite the lack of interest he initially encountered when approaching a number of top tier advertising firms, Spurlock shows that truly everything can be sold… including the TED talk itself!

Anyway, worth a look, irrespective of anything else, he’s an excellent presenter. Enjoy!

//nickkotzman.

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embedding video

Again, nothing exciting here!

Just embedding a YouTube video in my WordPress blog as a tutorial exercise.

Did I pass?

//nickkotzman.

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user agency on the web

WordPress “masks the database and creates a continuous blogging experience within the browser” (Helmond in Reader, p. 180), yet the database is rigidly defined and categorised. Discuss how this shapes the way we interact with the World Wide Web through blogging and how it affects user agency.

What lies behind that Times New Roman 'W'?

Anne Helmond discusses the relationship between users and the mediums that they ‘engage’ with. In this subject, we have established the characteristics of Web 2.0, or more specifically in this case, blogging. ‘Interactivity’ is routinely cited as an essential component of Web 2.0 and blogging. Indeed, we must engage with the medium for it to be considered a part of the ‘new media’ category.

A core element of this subject is the blog project. Through blogging, we are given first hand experience at using the tools of Web 2.0 and interacting and engaging with net communication applications – to facilitate this, we use: WordPress.

Helmond (2007) proposes that in spite of the rhetoric of Web 2.0 and interactivity and customisation, our supposedly limitless user agency is in fact quite limited by the database foundations of WordPress and other similar blogging websites.

The interface presented to users in their browser windows “masks the database” to create a fluid and seamless “blogging experience” for the user(/blogger) (Helmond 2007)

Hosted by servers and managed by software, databases are used to store information. As the name suggests, ‘data’ is ‘based’ in a single location, resulting in the efficient ‘storage’ of information. But databases cannot be interpreted or manipulated by the untrained eye. It requires particular technical expertise to be able to edit and control a database without the assistance of an interface. For this reason, a graphical interface is employed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between database-illiterate ‘users’ and the database. Helmond delves into a technical explanation of the various internet protocols and coding languages that are used to store information in the most efficient manner within digital databases.

The question raised by Helmond’s article is this: if we are interacting with an interface (such as the one of WordPress), are we really engaging with the medium at all? Is our user agency limited by our technological-illiteracy?

Although these are valid questions, blogging websites like WordPress and Blogger are not about facilitating an intimate relationship between the user and the database. They focus on the relationship between users and other users: they create a clean and clear interface that “masks” the complexity of the database that lies beneath.

When we post on WordPress, we are entering information (or raw data) into a database. The information of this database is hosted by a ‘server’, managed by ‘software’ and reproduced on personal computers and mobile devices with the ‘browser’. But posting on WordPress is more than just the technical side of things. Posting on WordPress is about encouraging free expression, in text and in visual form; it’s about engaging with your fellow WordPress peers on the other side of the world, and; it’s about being a part of community which today alone has ‘freshly pressed’ 107,034,473 words.

One problem that I encountered with Helmond’s article was the sense of techno-elitism that it promoted. Part of her article seems to suggest a quasi-class divide along the lines of technical expertise between “those who know” and “those who don’t”. In suggesting such a divide Helmond undermines the meaning of WordPress and the internet at large. The internet is about a freedom to network, to communicate and with Web 2.0, a freedom to interact. Moreover, the internet introduced a crucial change to the media landscape that preceded it: the internet put the means of production and distribution in the hands of many, not just the hands of the elite. As Helmond alludes to a divide between technical experts and the technically-illiterate, she simultaneously resurrects the very media landscape that the advent of the internet sought to quash.

“Masking the database” connotes an insidious and deceptive act, but it isn’t a bad thing. “The job of computers and networks is to get out of the way, to not be seen… so we can interact with it intuitively” (Berners-Lee in Helmond 2007). Tim Berners-Lee is right, it’s just important to consider and acknowledge that something more happens ‘behind the scenes’.

//nickkotzman.

Sources:

  • Helmond, A., ‘Software-Engine Relations’ in Blogging for Engines: Blogs Under the Influence of Software-Engine Relations, MA Thesis, Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, pp. 44-80, 2007.

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embedding pictures

Some rights reserved by Frank Gruber

This post demonstrates very little other than my ability to successfully add a picture into a blog post.

In addition, this picture has been acquired through the Flickr image library. It has been licensed through the Creative Commons movement, which I think I will be studying (and discussing in this blog!) in a few short weeks. Stay tuned!

//nickkotzman.

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