Reading Discussions Week 4

I felt that our readings this week carried an overall theme of discovering new ways to use our technology, how our technology was used in the past, and how we are using it today. The main idea of control was exhibited in all three of the readings, and all three mentioned that since the beginning of technology, even before the internet, control was always a present force. To refer back to week two with our Morus reading in, “’The Nervous System of Britain’: Space, Time and the Electric Telegraph in the Victorian Age”, the technological advancements from the telegraph was also for control over the societal whole, which reached out to an even further audience, or network of people. John Dewey, an American Pragmatism,  whose views over technology resulted from human inquiry to further our uses of technology also believed, “control is coordinate with knowledge and understanding” The same notion can be applied to today with control over the internet era.

The ironic aspect is the connection between the “Blown to Bits” reading and the “Why Networks Matter”. Castells states, “…we live in a network society, not an information society or knowledge society.” While Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis seem to focus on the cause and effects of technology and the impacts, however they focus on the information technology, which they state is neutral, neither good or bad. Their concern is, “our public agencies and private institutions, have a say in whether technology will be used for good or ill and whether we will fall prey to its risks or prosper from the opportunities it creates.”  Albeit, Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis are not the only ones to bring up the ideal of neutrality with the effects of technology. University of Notre Dame honoree, General David Sarnoff believed, “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is just the way they are used that determines their value”. I still belive that both Castells and Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis would all agree that digital technology is reshaping our culture and as McLuhan would also believe, it is from the radical speed of instantaneity that is drastically changing the world around us.

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon



In the Castells reading, I could not help but think of six degrees of separation, particularly, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” when it comes to the notion of why networks matter, particularly how network society has expanded to a global scale. Again, Castells brings up the strong-arm approach of power within a network society, which he believes, “In a network society, power continues to be the fundamental structuring force of its shape and direction.” He furthers his thought by exercising our values and interests against these power elites by challenging our networks versus their networks. He makes us aware that networks structure our lives. If we do not understand and adapt ourselves to the receivers within these networks we will not change programs or unveil new forms of code. He states, “Networks are the Matrix.” This notion of the Matrix is the same that McLuhan shares with content and medium like Castells, stating, “The latest approach to media study considers not only the “content” but the medium (like networks) and the cultural matrix within which the particular medium operates.”

Galloway also brings up the idea of elites within the internet age in another aspect, as users of the Internet comprise a diverse community as “the standard-makers at the heart od this technology are a small entrenched group of “techno-elite peers””. I also found it interesting that Galloway brings up the notion of the system’s workings. He believes that “most users are not interested in the details of the Internet protocols, they just want the system to work.” And as IETF Chair Fred Baker states, “The average user doesn’t write code, if their needs are met, they don’t especially care how they were met.” This ideal describes the same notion that McLuhan mentioned with the message from the movie medium and the transitions from lineal connections to configurations. McLuhan states, “It is the transition that produced the now quite correct observation: “If it works, it’s obsolete.” Like Galloway, who further explains the systems and languages within the internet, shows us that average and daily users do not think of the processes, as long as their page uploads and links work. They do not care about the code and the protocols of making pages and links work today. Another important notion of Galloway’s reading was the idea of standards being adopted non-voluntarily and voluntarily through voluntary participation. Ironically, the behaviors of non-voluntarily adoption are more successful in the marketplace, as it is emergent and not imposed. Also, back to the theme of power, the voluntary standards, ” has no binding power as a standards creation body and is not ratified by any treaty or charter.” The line of control with voluntary standards as Galloway believes, “it should not be inferred that a lack of centralized control means a lack of control as such.”  It is the notion of a collaborative  involvement and individual participation to a collective group that voluntary standards thrive, without direct control,  and successfully adapt to the free market place.

5 thoughts on “Reading Discussions Week 4

  1. I know Kim prefers our response to be focused on one topic rather than trying to go all over on everything. Overall this is a great blog post, but I want to comment on the significance of networks. Castells believed that we live in a network society and not and information or knowledge society. I agree with this. I think that the importance of networks today have ever so grown to become a medium for the information we receive through them. Our networks determine what information we obtain, how we transfer that information into knowledge, and ultimately how we use this knowledge, whether it being for good or ill uses. You can think of it as our networks being a “store” which sell “products”, and those products are bits of information. There are no guidelines on how to use products; we chose how to use them. Someone would buy a soccer ball to play with; another would buy it purely to decorate his room with…
    This idea, which also happens to be my belief on this subject, contradicts the suggestion that “our public agencies and private institutions have a say in whether technology will be used for good or ill and whether we will fall prey to its ricks or prosper from the opportunities it creates.” I would agree that public agencies and private institutions have a say in what information we get (not all the time though), but I do not think they can dictate how we use this information and how we use technology. For instance, Facebook has been a channel for uprisings all over the world. It has been successful in passing information in order to create a successful revolution in Egypt, yet the same thing is being happened here in the US with the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, and it is nowhere near being successful. Why do two similar movements have opposite results? I don’t think it’s because of public agencies and private institutions. I think it’s because of the two different networks of people using the technology. One network was very motivated and dedicated to the cause, the other one not so much. So as a conclusion, I think it is us, the normal, everyday network of consumers that decide what information we want, how we use this information, and how we make use of our technologies.

  2. Jaime, great post. In your post you reference McLuhan’s observation that, “If it works, it’s obsolute” and I think that resonnates as a truth with consumers, technologist, businesses and almost anyone who has experienced technological advancements in our society.

    This quote has a “cult” following in many circles, and is often used unattributed to motivate and encourage forward-thinking innovation.

    “You know, there’s an old saying in the business world: if it works, it’s obsolete. And it’s only when a thing has become obsolete that everybody is sufficiently familiar with it to make it work.”

    New technologies emerge on a daily basis, people are using the advancements that have come before them to create new devices and applications more and more quickly to fufill the needs of our society. You reference the idea that users have no idea of the technical specifications and architecture that went into the end product. They are not peeking “behind the curtain” to see the code and understand what goes into each new gadget arrival, and I think that is actually no longer true on such a wide-spread basis.

    Of course, you will always have those who are less “tech-friendly” and have no desire to know what goes into the making of a product. However, today, there are more and more means of which average, ordinary people can build their knowledge and discover the technological tools that are contributing to our society’s advancements. New start-ups arrive on the scene every day with the aim of educationg and equipping the masses with the skills needed to code, understand engineering and counsel individuals in how to switch from the “consumer” mindset, to the mindset of a “maker.” We are seeing people rise up, more quickly than ever before to toss their idea, product and ever-more complex hats into the ring. Crowdsourcing, extended education opportunities and a number of resources at the disposal of would-be entrepreuners are empowering people to understand what is behind the current advancements in technology and contribute at an ever increasing rate.

    Personally, I am attracted to the idea that people care how something works. I like to know who built what, when and where when I am browsing technology – and few things excite me like a self-made engineer explaining how they took an idea from concept to execution, and are now able to compete in the marketplace with their technology.

    I think it is important for consumers to engage with the advancements in our society, and not to merely write them off assuming an omnipresent government or governing organization understands the pros and cons of each technology – and will present it to consumers accordingly. As contributing members of society, I feel it is our responsibility to understand the software we are using and be aware of the implications, both positive and negative. Educating ourselves on technology, is as essential as being able to read and write in today’s world. The more tech savvy our culture can be as a whole, the more quickly we can continue to create and adopt technology – rendering the less efficient, less socially responsible, less innovative devices that have come before as obsolete.

    • I think it might help to think in degrees of educating ourselves. Barriers to entry have certainly been lowered by access to more user friendly tools. But I also think there are still a lot of people who don’t read license agreements, don’t look at source code, and so on. And I tend to land on the side of optimism in thinking about how tools might enable new social structures, but I think we have to make a concerted effort to break things, use them wrong, and make mistakes in order to really achieve understanding.

  3. You do a nice job summarizing a wide range of readings and in creating connections to past weeks. I was so excited to see you bring in the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon example and would have loved to have seen you develop more ideas in relation to this example. What does this game have to tell us about the way the general public understands networks? This idea permeates pop culture but the truth is that the underlying theory proposes that any two people can be connected in six degrees. What effect is there that this is considered a game? (in fact, a board game was actually manufactured for it!) For future posts, try narrowing your focus and going more in depth in your response. Don’t feel compelled to address all of the readings.

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