Cognitive Surplus, and the effect we can all have on each other

This week’s major subject was that of cognitive surplus, the idea that we can all influence each other (even on a global scale) just by contributing our free time to certain projects. Clay Shirky explained that sometimes this cognitive surplus could be used for throwaway fun in the forms of memes such as LOLCats, or in more useful manners like civic projects like Ushahidi.

A good example of a civic project that was helped by internet users on a global scale occurred a few months ago, shortly after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. For those who are unaware, Flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers on March 8th while traveling over the South China Sea. There were many theories surrounding its disappearance, ranging everywhere from terrorist hijacking to alien abductions. The most logical theory, however, was that it lost control and crashed somewhere in the ocean. The problem that faced the various search and rescue teams and government agencies, however, is that the South China Sea is a very large search zone, and since the plane lost contact with air traffic control there could be no guarantee that the plane crashed on its intended flight path.

A company called Tomnod (http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/) went to the internet for help in locating the downed plane. It gave volunteers satellite images of the South China Sea so that millions of eyes could scan quadrants, looking for debris or oil slicks. Over three million people banded together to try and locate the plane. That’s three MILLION people, worldwide, who decided to use their free time to try and help out the families of the lost passengers rather than watching television or surfing the internet. Even now, after the disaster of Flight MH370, Tomnod continues to utilize cognitive surplus and crowdsourcing to help rescue efforts for various disaster. If you follow the link that I posted above, you can help look for Damaged Buildings and Blocked Roads and Bridges in Japan after the typhoon hit.

I took an hour or so to help look for the downed plane (unsuccessfully of course), knowing full well that it wouldn’t benefit me personally. It felt good to join so many other people in the effort of trying to help a cause, and I can definitely see myself doing something similar in the future, through Tomnod or a similar site. I think that a LOT of things could utilize cognitive surplus to encourage participation by myself and the masses on the Internet. Everything from political campaigning (for Net Neutrality or other important policy changes), rescue efforts, and public service announcements can use the Internet to gain traction within the masses.

The main issue that arises with this is that the Internet can be very difficult to unite. Many people are using the internet for the sole purpose of spending their free time doing something mindless for a few hours, so trying to get people to use that free time for something useful and noteworthy can be difficult. I think over time, as more people recognize the internet as the incredibly useful tool that it is, people will begin to join crowd sourcing efforts more often.

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Social Media and Mass Marketing

This week has easily been the most interesting to me so far, mostly because I can easily relate to a lot of the issues that were discussed. The “Generation Like” video had me glued to the screen.

I played in a local band for almost six or seven years, and I have gone through quite a bit when it comes to learning how to market your music, or as you should think of it, your product. In the beginning we were just young high school kids playing music for fun, but we quickly realized that it was much more fun to play in front of two hundred people instead of a crowd of ten, consisting mostly of close friends, significant others, and family members. We knew that we had to start advertising, so we started sending messages out on MySpace, we asked our friends to talk to their friends and family members, and we became more active on our band’s music page. It was really amazing to see our fanbase grow as we had more people talking about us, but it still wasn’t as much as we wanted.

Over the years, we did everything from grassroots street teams and Facebook messages to radio ads for shows and flyers. We had a website, a Facebook, a MySpace, a Twitter; all networked with each other. We collaborated with other musicians, bands, graphic designers, tour managers, venue owners, promoters, managers, and fans. While we never made it “big” we were definitely well-known in our local area, but we had to put a LOT of work into it. Seeing a company like “The Audience” really opened my eyes to how much things could have been different. We didn’t have the capital to pay for a company like that (in fact, we had to get loans just for the capital to purchase T-shirts and CDs until we started making money), but it would have been fantastic to have someone who’s entire job was devoted to managing our social networks.

The other reason that I was so interested in the “Generation Like” video is because I have a very good friend who makes YouTube videos with almost 20,000 subscribers. Her videos are mostly just Vlogs about events in her life, with the occasional focus on makeup and hair tutorials or reviews. I’ve talked to her on occasion about how the industry works from her perspective, and she’s gone into how her ad revenue works (depending on the content creator and the ad package that is being used, it usually isn’t much money per view) and how important brand partnerships can be. I don’t believe that she has landed a brand partnership yet, but I know that she’s fought to partner with a number of beauty agencies. It was really interesting to see how much effort really goes into a career like that.

I think what was the MOST interesting to me, however, was to see how meticulous the entire process of advertising is. I believe that one of the people being interviewed actually said “I leave absolutely nothing to chance”. Every single video, picture, tweet, retweet, post, or contest is scheduled and controlled to reach the maximum number of people. I also found it very interesting that companies are starting to utilize a crowd-sourcing method of sorts. Instead of working on an ad campaign that MIGHT reach 10 million people, they can work on a campaign to only reach a few hundred thousand and let those few hundred thousand do the advertising for them. I was trying to think of reasons why they might have done this, and looked to my own life. I basically ignore ads entirely. I dont watch cable, I have AdBlock installed (getting rid of 99% of internet ads and YouTube pre-video commercials), and any ads that are left my mind phases out on its own. Its less likely for me to ignore posts from my friends, though.

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Week 6 – Technological Determinism

After reading this week’s material, I must admit that I had a bit of a “well, DUH” moment. I have always taken it as a universal fact that the advancement of technology can dramatically shape the evolution of our culture and society.

Marshall McLuhan had many examples of how technology (communication technology in particular) effected the shaping of our culture. The phonetic alphabet, the printing press, the telegraph; all of these inventions threw our entire way of living into a new direction that no one could have ever seen coming. I personally don’t think that this should be limited to communications technology either. Look at the domestication of animals and irrigation, new methods for making super-resistant metals, and antibiotics for instance. Each of those technologies also shaped our cultures and ways of life.

I think that the next major advancement is not going to be something concrete like a printing press or a telegraph; I think it is going to be related to the interconnectedness of our devices. We’re pretty close already, to be honest. I can purchase a thermostat/CO2 detector combo that can be controlled and monitored from my phone, or a home theater system that allows me to control everything from the TV input to the popcorn machine with the push of a button. I believe that the next twenty years will see this kind of networking pushed even farther, to the point where people can control virtually everything that they own by accessing it from any number of phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, etc.

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Internet Security and Sabotage

This week’s subject material was extremely interesting to me. I don’t know how, but the Stuxnet story completely flew under my radar. I had heard the name before, but never knew exactly what it entailed or what the attack was targeting. I knew that viruses and other malware had powerful tools at their disposal to enter computer systems and cause chaos, but I never knew the extent of what they could do, or how stealthily they could carry out their task. Stuxnet really showed me the potential of cyber warfare and how it could impact important government activities.

I honestly don’t know exactly how I feel about pervasive domestic spying programs; I’m very conflicted. On one hand, I feel like it could be a powerful tool to combat both domestic and foreign terrorism, all before any malicious attacks are even attempted. This is an extremely powerful motivator, as I don’t believe that anyone wants another attack of the scale of 9/11 or the Boston Bombing. On the other hand, while I personally am not doing anything that I believe would get me in trouble, I have a particular distasteful feeling at the thought of willingly giving up my privacy on the internet. I can definitely see the possibility of unintended consequences, or a “slippery slope” situation where the public is willing to give up small freedoms, which might make them more complacent to giving up larger freedoms in the future. I believe that I would need to see some hard numbers (which I don’t think are readily available, though I could be mistaken) proving that extensive online monitoring greatly reduces terroristic threats before I would be remotely comfortable willingly giving up my freedoms.

Cyber-weapons are another matter that I am fairly divided on. I believe that the amount of damage that they can cause to enemy governments or organizations could be extremely valuable if done correctly. But just as was stated in one of the videos, Stuxnet escaped the bounds of the networked computers that it was supposed to target, and the code got released. This could easily come back to bite us later, if properly motivated groups decide to use the code or modify it to meet their own goals. Be that as it may, however, I think that cyber warfare is simply too valuable of a tool to not use, especially now when computer security is in its infancy in many areas of the world. 

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Social Media in Today’s Society

Social media is really a tricky subject for me to tackle, to be honest. I use some forms of social media very frequently, and others I completely ignore. For instance, I use Facebook on a pretty consistent basis, but I don’t post many status updates or like very many statuses; I really only use it for the instant messaging function. Even that doesn’t get as much use as it would with most people, I appear “offline” 99% of the time, so only people who know me are the ones messaging me frequently. Before this class, I didn’t use Twitter at all, and I still don’t have a Pinterest or Instagram account.

Reddit is the one form of social media that I use extremely frequently. I almost always have at least one Reddit tab open on my computer, and usually far more than that. Reddit is really my biggest foray into “user-generated content”. Most people who go to Reddit only see the “front page”, which is filled with content from what are called “default subreddits”. A subreddit is a subset of Reddit that is completely devoted to one topic, and it is extremely difficult to find a topic that doesn’t have a subreddit in one form or another. There are subreddits for virtually everything, ranging from general topics such as “funny” or “technology”, to content-specific subreddits such as ones for specific video games, books, movies, and TV shows, all the way to extremely niche subreddits, like pictures of people stacking wooden pallets in interesting ways, or remixing the “Thomas the Tank Engine” theme song with various musical artists (surprisingly funny, believe it or not). A “default subreddit” is one that the Reddit admins have chosen to represent the website as a whole for new users. There are quite a few of them, and most of them deal with general topics. When you visit Reddit without logging in, you only see these default subreddits until you sign up for an account (totally free), and then you can customize your own front page with content from whichever subreddits you decide to choose for yourself.

Most of the default subreddits are just links to other websites, discussing news and various articles. Most of this isn’t really “user-generated content” because many of the authors of those news articles are being paid to do so. The non-default subreddits however, have a lot of user-generated content. One of the subreddits that I visit most often is r/Games. It is devoted to discussing news about games, and general gaming discussion. While many of the threads still link to news articles, there are a good few every day that are specifically discussion-based. This is something that I personally would consider user-generated content, as it was created by a specific individual for free with the intention of having a discussion. I usually find these kinds of threads to be the most interesting, since hundreds of people chime in with their own opinions and thoughts on the original posting.

As I stated in my last post, Reddit can be an extremely powerful tool, capable of disseminating information quickly, teaching the masses about new topics (Here is one, for instance, that helps to teach people how to program), and giving millions of people an outlet to waste time in an (occasionally) productive way. Unfortunately, with that many people false information is found in every thread by at least one poster. It isn’t always Reddit’s fault; many times a news article that is being discussed is in the wrong. For instance, back when the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting occurred, many major media outlets reported that a man named Ryan Lanza was responsible for the shooting when it was, in fact, his brother who had committed the crime. While it was fairly brief, for a few hours the internet (and Reddit, by extension) was ablaze with discussions about Ryan Lanza and what could possibly have driven him to a shooting. Ryan Lanza’s life was effectively ruined for who knows how long, all because the major media outlets were so news-hungry that they couldn’t take a few minutes to properly fact-check their reports. While incorrect reporting and news websites normally doesn’t result in such a terrible outcome, it seems to me that we are seeing “Update: We were incorrect in our earlier report…” more and more as the years pass by. It isn’t even exclusive to world news outlets; just last week IGN (one of the biggest video-game news websites on the internet) posted an article stating that a hugely anticipated unreleased game that people had been following for almost 6 years had been cancelled. A few hours later, they were proven false, and the editor-in-chief had to make a formal apology about the entire incident. I feel like news outlets are beginning to realize that people are used to instant gratification and near-constant news, so the media picks up on stories and facts without fully checking the validity of them just so they can get the content out to people quicker. It is a topic that is extremely irritating to me, and it has caused me to be slightly cynical anytime that I see a new article about something major.

 

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COM 341 – Week 2

This week’s readings and lectures connected to each other in a very interesting way. To me, they all conveyed a very similar desire that humankind has expressed throughout history: the desire for faster and more efficient methods of communication.

This week we learned about the innovations made to communication technologies throughout history and how they’ve effected society. I found it interesting that even during the infancy of these technologies, people were still quick to denounce the advancements and claim that they were just passing fads. While the term “laggard” would not be used to describe this kind of technological denouncement for many years, it certainly seems like it was still present. Morse code, the telegraph, telephones, cellular phones, fax machines, the internet; every step that we have made has been leading us towards faster methods of speaking and communicating ideas with one another.

These advancements simply would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of many individuals. If you think about it, in order to develop and test forms of communication you would need at least two people, one person to make a “call” and another to pick up the “phone” (metaphorically speaking). Thankfully we had many more dedicated individuals working to improve the technology, and that is what has allowed us to live in the constantly-connected society that we enjoy today.

Unfortunately, this constant connectedness has led to some unforeseen negative consequences. This week, we also read about the story of a woman who lost her cell phone and how a friend of hers helped to find it with the use of the internet. While many people might see this story as an uplifting story of how technology can bring people together, I looked at it in a darker light. As I might have mentioned before (I’m taking another online class dealing with similar subjects, so I sometimes forget what I talked about in one class or the other), I use Reddit on a near-constant basis. I use it for enjoyment, education, and even to search for specific topics over Google sometimes. Last year during the Boston Bombing tragedy, the internet was aflame with people obsessively looking through pictures of the marathon, trying to look for suspicious individuals. Reddit was no exception; entire subreddits seemed devoted to finding out who the bomber was before anyone else did. On the surface, this might seem like a good thing. If one person searching through photographs is a good thing, than 10,000 people searching through photographs should be better, right?

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Among the many individuals that Reddit singled out, 22-year-old Sunil Tripathi was found dead 8 days later. His wikipedia entry has a pretty good overview of what happened in detail. This story (and many others) have actually led Reddit to impose a rule that bans “witch hunts”, which is when someone posts personal identifying information that could lead others to act with a mob mentality. This mob mentality can very easily spread from one social media site to another until it reaches the general public, which is obviously very dangerous.

In short, while I feel like the connectedness that these forms of communication technology is a fantastic tool that can advance the human race in ways that we can’t even imagine yet, it would be foolish to discount the negative effects that it can have on our society as well.

Again, I’ll end with some questions. Many people have called for “policing” of the internet to combat things like cyberbullying and events like the one I just described, while others say that the internet should be a zone of complete and total free speech, and that websites should enforce rules as they see fit. What do you think?Should the internet have absolute freedom, or should there be an “organization” of sorts that can crack down on hateful speech and try to prevent these “witch hunts?

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First Post!

Well, here I am. My name is Josh Davis, I live in Springfield, IL, and I have somehow managed to go almost 23 years without setting up a blog post or a Twitter account. I suppose all that I needed was a solid reason, and this class has given me one! I’m a Computer Science major minoring in Communications, so this course is definitely right in my wheelhouse.

I spend most of my time either playing guitar, playing video games, caring for my pets (three cats and two fully-stocked fishtanks take a surprisingly large amount of time), and using the internet for just about anything and everything. I wouldn’t say that I’m addicted to the internet (though if I’m being brutally honest with myself, I probably am), but I use it quite a bit. I wake up and turn on a podcast, browse Reddit while I’m drinking my daily pot of coffee, start doing homework with Netflix playing in the background, go back to Reddit, look up guitar tabs online, play along to the songs on Youtube, do my online homework, watch some more Netflix, talk to my little brother back home with Facebook/Skype, go back on Reddit….you get the idea. Its more rare for me to be totally disconnected than it is for me to be using the internet for something or other.

Some of this week’s readings hit home with me. I’ve never thought to label my electronics adoption habits, but in the past I have definitely been a laggard, though not really of my own accord. My first cell phone came to me when I was 17, and it didn’t have texting. I never had much access to the internet, and my family was using VHS tapes until Blu-rays first came onto the market. Since I have moved out of my parent’s house, however, I would say that I’ve made a fairly radical shift into being an early adopter. I bought an Xbox One on launch day despite the misgivings of much of the press, and I’m looking into purchasing a Moto360 Smart Watch when it releases this summer.

In addition to this class, I am also taking Internet and American Life, which I think will go perfectly with the material we will be covering. In fact, I was thinking about some of the topics that we covered in our first week of that class while I was reading up on the material for this class. I believe that the internet is one of the most important inventions that our species has come up with. The sheer amount of possibilities that it offers is hard for most people to grasp. Just think, the little 5-7 inch device that probably sitting next to you has the ability to access almost all the information that has ever been discovered by anyone, ever. That is absolutely insane to think about. You would be extremely hard pressed to think of anything that you couldn’t access with the internet on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, SmartTV, game console, refrigerator, or (soon) the display screen inside your car. The internet offers near-instantaneous connections with people all over the world at any given moment.

This week’s podcast really showed me how much effort has really gone into the interconnectedness that our society depends on today. Without the monumental efforts that individuals have made throughout history, I don’t believe that our world would be anywhere near as connected as we are now. In fact, its difficult for me to comprehend what our planet would be like without any internet connections at all. I can remember a few major news events (the landing of the Curiosity rover, the Boston Bombing, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan a few years ago) that I was following in real-time through resources such as Reddit users and Twitter feeds of people on-site. Without the internet, it would take days, or even weeks, for that information to reach the general public.

I don’t know if this is something that I’ll regularly do on these posts or not (I suppose that it depends on the kind of discussion it sparks), but I’ll leave you with a few questions. What do you think that our lives, and society as a whole, would be like without the internet? Can you imagine how your daily life would change? I’m not talking about not getting to see the latest episode of Game of Thrones on HBOGo the day it airs or being able to buy a new pair of headphones on Amazon, either. How do you think your life would be fundamentally different without the interconnectedness that the internet offers?

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