Can we substitute "the Internet" for another technology see similar trends? It's funny--many people brought up the same question in my workshop yesterday. Looking at the Internet only as a medium for interpersonal communication, a la Nancy Baym, you can certainly say that there were similar social reactions. In the early nineties many commentators wondered whether the Internet would fragment communities and break down important/useful social barriers. Sounds very much like Fischer to me. However, the Internet is not only an interpersonal medium. It can be one-to-many and many-to-many. It's a place to actually produce valuable things, as Benkler says. That makes it very different from the phone.
I wonder if we are living through the utopian days of peer production (or user-generated content, as most CHI folks call it). I certainly see the utopian view floating around here. However, the other day I heard some (certainly non-definitive) statistics on the usage of Flickr. The stats said that less than half a percent of the Flickr users actually upload content. The rest only view photos. That aligns with my hunches about peer production. Yes, we have lowered the bar, making it easier for more people to create content and things of value on the web. However, I fear that we just have just created a new cultural elite: the people who are brave and educated enough to post their creations on the web.
NOTE TO INSTRUCTORS: Assume that students have already attended an intro lecture on peer production and done some background reading. This assignment is meant to be the weekly writing assignment that accompanies the classroom material.
In this assignment, you will understand peer production by participating in it. Almost certainly, you have encountered Wikipedia as a consumer of information, maybe while you were doing research for this class. In this assignment, you will produce information for Wikipedia and study what happens to it. Please note that you cannot wait until the last minute to complete this assignment. You need to allow at least 2 days between when you first write your content and when you go back to Wikipedia to study what happened to it.
1. Sign up for a Wikipedia account.
Go to the main English Wikipedia page, click on the "Sign in/create account" link in the top right corner and complete the process for signing up for a new account.
2. Find a stub on Wikipedia and help complete it.
Wikipedia has a number of articles that are only basic outlines of a topic. Wikipedia calls these articles "stubs." Perhaps you have had the experience of searching for something on Wikipedia only to find an article that said little more than you already knew. That was a stub. Wikipedia lists all of the stubs on the site, and you can browse it by category. For example, you can find the stub on "Joliet Catholic Academy" (an Illinois high school) by clicking first on "I" for all stub categories starting with "I", then clicking "Illinois school stubs" and then on "Joliet Catholic Academy."
Your job is to find a stub and help complete it. You do not need to finish the article. The point of peer production is for individuals to put small pieces together to make something useful. Your contribution should be between 500 and 1000 words. Before you start writing on a topic that interests you, please understand Wikipedia's guide on neutral point of view and verifiability. Try to conform to these guidelines; conforming to the guidelines will make your information more valuable and stick around longer. Log in before changing the article.
3. Pick a random article and delete a section from it.
Traditionally, Wikipedia has been very resilient to vandalism. You will perform a small experiment in vandalism. Find an established article on Wikipedia (more or less at random), not a stub, pick a section (more or less at random) and delete it. Save the page.
WHAT TO TURN IN
At a fundamental level, way below the level of politics, the Internet (or new media) is bi-directional. Older political technologies (e.g., television, radio, newspapers, pamphlets, etc.) are uni-directional. Howard notes that before 1960, American political consultants gauged public opinion at union meetings, town halls, etc.; between 1960 and the late 1980s, consultants used focus groups to sample citizens' opinions. Now the Internet allows (at least at its most basic level) continual production by its users. I would argue (as would many other people--nothing original here) that this has led to transformations in marketing, sales, entertainment and slew of other fields, not only politics. Moreover, I think a better title for Howard's book would have been Data-driven Campaigns and the Managed Citizen. In my opinion, it is the data gathered from the surveillance of Internet use that most directly transforms political campaigns. (An interesting side note: this is a fundamental Internet design decision. Take a look at EFF's Tor. Could you design something similar for credit card purchases?)
While my opinion diverges from Howard, I should point out that he believes that new media fundamentally allows campaign managers to target individually-tailored political messages. Further, he concludes that new media helps degrade the public sphere by creating a personal information tunnel between a citizen and a campaign. In Howard's view, new media serves to create an echo chamber where you are rarely, if ever, exposed to challenging ideas.
I missed the last blog entry, so I figured I would get to it now, after completing the book.
"Epistemic heterarchy," as opposed to administrative hierarchy, is the decentralized organizational structure adopted by new media campaigns. Howard identifies the key characteristics as "lateral systems of accountability; epistemic and symbolic power basis of credibility; loyalties are project-based and given to membership or program..." (159). Howard uses the concept to contrast the organization of new media campaigns with mass media campaigns. He claims that mass media campaigns deliver projects sequentially, manage only a handful of messages throughout the campaign, stay on message and require strong candidate loyalty from members.
I am worried that Howard did not discuss the originality of "epistemic heterarchy" given that these companies arose in a (post-)dot-com world. For example, Voter.com sounds so dot-com to me. I worry that its organization has very little to do with politics, and a lot to do with dot-com culture. As another example, consider GrassrootsActivist.org. Its members met bouncing around in Silicon Valley in the early- and mid-nineties. How much of "epistemic heterarchy" has to do with political campaigns, and how much has to do with broader organizational trends?
1. How experienced with the game are you already?
I am pretty experienced with the game. I got hooked on Civ III for about 2 months, and then I recently bought Civ IV.
2. How long did each game take?
I played once and it took about 30 minutes from install to the game's conclusion.
3. Did you win? What was your final culture score and game score?
I lost. I did not note the final game score, but I was in second place, about 50 points from the top Civ.
4. Please note particularly difficult features of the interface that could be explained before students begin playing in order to save them some confusion.
I think you should highly stress that cultural victories are the way to win. Also, having played the game before, I found it strange that scientific research did not matter. I recommend stressing that as well.
In the start of the game, I thought that it might be hard for a student to decide which difficulty level to pick. You might want to provide some guidance on that choice.
5. Notable features of game experience / your reactions to the game
I found the game fun and fast-paced. Will students understand the mapping from cultural score to overall score (what is that, btw)? Will they understand how to improve their cultural scores, or even where to find them in the interface?
I chose to go to war because I thought that some students will inevitably do that no matter what you tell them to do. I lost with 33 turns left. I had concentrated up to that point on culture, but then when I saw Gandhi enter the game, he was so close that I nuked him. Yes, I nuked Gandhi. I wanted to drop his score in a short amount of time, and immobilize his army. I didn't have enough army to back it up and he got me in the end. Why are ICBMs allowed? Will this just distract students?
6. Elements of the game that are related to comm tech that we didn't mention in the assignment prompt (when it is written) that we could add
I am interested in why you disabled scientific research. Without it, the game becomes a free-for-all on who can the build the most cultural stuff in the most amount of time. If this is what you're going for, I think students need to know exactly what each improvement means for them in terms of points (does Civ provide this...I can't remember).
7. Is there any interface text (almost all text is editable by us) that can be changed to make things clearer.
Can you provide a banner when the game starts to encourage students to play a particular strategy?
8. Need to modify / write instructions for downloading / installing STEAM and/or InnisMod
I found a bug after I declared war on Gandhi. His angry face became the backdrop for the map. It was weird. I will attach the game file so you can inspect.
My attempt at using Innis as an idea file:
"In the Reformation print was used to overwhelm sculpture and architecture as interpreters of the scriptures." (128)
Particular forms built up around print: magazines, epics, treatises, essays, novels, pamphlets, comics. Looking at this quote, I think Innis would say that the Internet's unique forms are still beginning. We see blogs, podcasts, video sharing, but I think the defining character of the Internet will come later. I have a hard time backing it up, but I think Innis would agree.
"The capacity to concentrate on intense cultural activity during a short period of time and to mobilize intellectual resources over a vast territory assumes to a large extent the development of armed force to a high state of efficiency." (133)
"Under the influence of the state, communication among themselves has become more difficult for scientists with the same political background and practically impossible for those with a difficult political background, because of the importance attached to war." (193)
The "over a vast territory" caught my eye. Has the Internet changed this? Do you still need a strong, efficient army to mobilize intellectual resources? As he points out many times, Innis could not help the strong effect WWII had on his views of science. I think this sentence comes from that experience. In the next major war, the Internet may make military control of information much more difficult than in 1943.
"The post office became an object of intense political interest and after 1825 a federal postal department was separated from the revenue system and made independent." (162)
The battle over net neutrality rings out in this comment.
"Western newspapers were at a disadvantage in time since news tended to spread from east to west" (175)
Information flow in time was a distinct characteristic of all pre-electronic media. The Internet has all but dissolved that relationship. Innis would say that we are the bottleneck in the flow now; our human information processing abilities are the slow point in the chain. (Or, maybe that's just me channeling Innis to say what I want.)