Occupied With What?

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A blog post by Nozomi Hayase entitled The Rise of the Occupy Insurgency, The World’s First Internet Revolution #OWS from October 2011 got me thinking about the what exactly the Occupy movement was all about.

I remember Occupy Edmonton’s protests against the 1% taking place in the downtown core in a little park just a couple blocks from where I work. I’d pass by almost every day. The first thing I always thought when seeing this group was that they would freeze to death in the winter. After that my question was: what exactly are they protesting? Yes, they were, like Occupy Wall Street, fighting against the oppression of the 99% by the 1% who make millions of dollars a year and who dictate how our capitalist society works. But, underneath that there was a heavy mix of issues that were being brought to the fore. Environmentalism, rights of the First Nations, equality for all genders, age, race, sexualities, etc. were being touted as reasons for the movement.

Discussing this with co-workers, we agreed to an extent with the protesters, that, yes, life isn’t fair. Should a CEO be making millions of dollars a year with tax breaks while thousands of employees are getting by on minimum wage? After all, without the 99% there would be no money to be made. Despite that, we questioned how these protesters even had the time to be there, living day in, day out in a tent on privately owned land. Didn’t they have jobs?

Myself and others I knew weighed the options and decided that having a job and career was more important than fighting “the man.” How else are we going to pay the bills and get ahead? Those of us who have what we think is security are too scared to lose that safety net. There is too much at stake. I cannot speak for those who participated in Occupy Edmonton, but perhaps they had nothing to lose by being there. Hence, my question to them is: did you gain anything in the end? I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Things haven’t changed and things likely won’t for now.

Don’t stop on my account though. Keep doing what you’re doing. If May 1, 2012 was any indication that you intend to continue, I wish you luck. I hope that one day you see the world you need.

Anonymity: Saving Face in a World of Fame

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In a world where being famous for doing nothing is the new norm – yes, I’m talking about you, Kim Kardashian – and fame can occur seemingly overnight, how does a group called Anonymous fit in?

Anonymous, as their name implies, means they don’t want people to know who they are, but rather what they are fighting for. E. Gabriella Coleman, in her article Anonymous: From the Lulz to Collective Action for The New Everyday, talks about the group and how they transformed from internet pranksters consisting of hackers and “geeks” looking for “lulz” (laughs) into a group concerned with more traditional political issues such as human rights and censorship. They used their beginnings as an online group to expand to the point of organizing global days of action whereby online members converged in real, physical space.

If you are part of the Anonymous movement, you are faceless. You don’t strive to be a leader or a celebrity because everyone is essentially equal. If you participate, you do not seek personal attention from the media. To do so would mean being expelled from the group. While that might seem harsh, it is understandable. Taking part in Anonymous is not about making a name for yourself, but bringing voice to issues that need to be heard (for the most part).

That brings me to some questions for you to ponder. If you could shroud yourself in anonymity, would you be willing to publically protest an issue? Does it make it easier if your identity is hidden? If no one knew it was you, what would be important for others to hear that you are too afraid to say out in the open?

That also leads me to my last point. Think about whether or not anonymity on the internet is good or bad. Every day when we make our way through pages online, linking from site to site, reading and commenting, we can, for the most part, remain unknown to other users. Anonymity can be great. It often makes people feel safer and more open about their thoughts. On the other hand, it can be seen as too much of a good thing when people take their anonymity as a warrant for bad behaviour because they believe there will be no consequences for what they do.

So remember this: Just because you are invisible, it doesn’t mean your actions are. Actions are always louder than words. And both, when put out there, cannot be taken back.

Julian Assange: The Ultimate Whistleblower

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Who Julian Assange?

  • Born in Australia
  • Moved a total of 30 times before his 14th birthday
  • At 16 he began hacking under the name “Mendax” (Latin for “nobly truthful”)
  • In 1993 he helped to start Suburbia Public Access Network
  • Around 1997, he co-invented the Rubberhose deniable encryption system
  • In 1999 he registered the domain leaks.org
  • Created a site called WikiLeaks in 2006

What is WikiLeaks?

  • An international, online, not-for-profit organization
  • They publish private, secret and classified media
  • Relies heavily on volunteers
  • Originally a user-editable wiki
  • Been releasing stories since 2006
  • Biggest release to date: Cablegate

What has happened since?

  • Companies severed ties with WikiLeaks
  • Attempts to shut down the site failed
  • Financial blockade
  • Assange has been detained and imprisoned

Cablegate and subsequent accusations to the character of Julian Assange have led to Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview, an article published this past February where author and journalist, Michael Hastings, had a chance to interview Assange at an undisclosed location.

The main points that I gleaned from the interview:

1. Information should be open, so people can educate themselves

In the article Assange says that “the things that informed me the most were my experiences in fighting for freedom of the press, freedom to communicate knowledge – which, in the end, is freedom from ignorance.”

2. Truth is essential

When asked about his portrayal by The New York Times, Assange cites the paper’s mishandling of an important news story. He states “when we published the Iraq War logs, we discovered details about the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians, and details of the torture of more than 1,000 people. Every other paper ran the story.” He goes on to say “instead, [the Times] ran a sleazy hit piece against me on the front page that was factually inaccurate…I don’t mind taking a hit, but it must be factually accurate.”

3. People need to talk about issues

Assange seems to allow WikiLeaks the credit of fueling Arab Spring, a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world that began on Friday, 17 December 2010 , as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement. He says “we planned for most of what has occurred over the past 12 months.” Whether or not WikiLeaks brought about the two events, essentially, Assange believes that issues have to be brought forward for people to hear, otherwise there are going to be no revolutions.

4. There needs to be legitimate authority through informed consent of the governed

Assange states that “presently, the consent, if there is any, is not informed, and therefore it’s not legitimate.” The rights of people to communicate privately without surveillance is important because surveillance leads to self-censorship in that people adjust what they say for fear of being overheard.

5. Stick to your ideals

Assange refuses to stop publishing information despite the hardships that have fallen on WikiLeaks. He believes that they have a duty to bring stories to the public’s attention, to keep them informed and educated.

6. Issues have created stronger ties and severed weaker ones

Assange says “we have lost friends and colleagues, but we have also made very loyal friends, and we have seen the strength of old friends revealed…one never really knows what the true allegiance is. But when someone puts it on the line both publically and privately, that’s a sign of true character.”

Questions for discussion:

1. How far do you think governments should be able to go when it comes to censoring sites like WikiLeaks? Should they be able to at all?

2. During the interview it is brought up that The Washington Post had sat on the “Collateral Murder” video depicting a U.S. helicopter gunship firing on a group of Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists and two children. That kind of information is a game changer when it comes to politics and state. Do you think that journalists have an obligation to share that kind of information with the public?

3. Assange and Hastings talk a lot about how Assange is portrayed by the media. He is seen as a martyr by some and by others he is seen as a deviant. Either way he has become a celebrity of sorts, which is the opposite of what groups like Anonymous strive for. It should be about the overall issues, not the individuals. Do you think that having Assange as the face of WikiLeaks has helped or hindered their cause?

Liberation Through Social Media

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Our readings for Friday’s COMM506 class by Harry Cleaver and Jeffrey Juris are both touting the idea of liberation through the use of technology, more specifically with regards to uprisings against political regimes. Citing the Zapatista Army of National Liberation as the trigger for what are now known as global justice activists, groups with members assembled from far and wide, coming together to fight for what they feel are injustices. These groups have no central authority, they are open and they readily share information. Last year, we saw this happen with a number of middle eastern countries where people gathered on social media sites in order to converse and plan their next steps.

While I don’t mean to lessen the plight of those who are in situations where they feel oppressed, I thought I’d take Juris and Cleaver’s idea of liberation through social media and make this post a little more lighthearted to end off the week.

We have all seen how the availability of tools like Facebook and Twitter can open up dialogues between people and spread information at lightning fast speed in order to get something done. And, we have all, I am sure, experienced at some point or another, the failure of technology as well.

That brings me to this gem of a commercial:

It makes me laugh every time I see it. Today, we are not only seeing the rise in use of social media for more serious and dire situations like the uprisings in the Middle East, but also to bring random (often unconnected) people together for one-off events like with the flash mob craze. These technologies can be used to literally change the world or they can be used to brighten a stranger’s day. Both can be seen as liberating scenarios; liberating a country and liberating individuals to move outside of their comfort zone. Either way, social media is causing a scene and making our lives a bit more surreal.

Hi. How are you? You don’t know me, but I know you.

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We have just done a reading for COMM506 from Cult of Mac by John Brownlee entitled This Creepy App Isn’t Just Stalking Women Without Their Knowledge, It’s A Wake-Up Call About Facebook Privacy.

In the article, his plea to women and all Facebook users alike, he uses a mobile app called Girls Around Me (now defunct) to explain how sites like Facebook and apps like FourSquare are making it easy for people to be traced, sometimes without their knowledge.

What Girls Around Me did was pull data from Facebook, FourSquare and Google Maps and combined them into one program. The premise was that should anyone who’s profile was open to the public check into a location using FourSquare or Facebook, their image along with their location cropped up on the Google Map, allowing anyone with the app in the vicinity to see exactly who was around them and to find out more. Turns out that if your Facebook profile was open, not only did your image and name show up, but users of the app could click and view further information such as your where you work, what you like and your photo albums.

Like Brownlee’s friends, I was appalled that such an app existed. While the creators weren’t breaking any laws (the information was already public), it was certainly scary to think of how vulnerable the app was making these girls, who yes, according to Brownlee should have known better. But, there are still those who are trusting of others, and the idea of having all of their information laid out there without them knowing it is worrisome to say the least.

That’s why I always have the geolocation/geotagging function on my phone turned off and that’s why after reading this article I immediately went to double check my Facebook privacy and account settings. You can never be too careful, so be smart and be safe. Lock it down!

Circling Back to 2011

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We have come full circle this week, back to an idea first covered last year during spring institute 2011. Thank you to Charles Kadushin for discussing a theory of communication that I actually understood last year without wanting to tear my hair out. That ladies and gents is the theory of diffusion. More to the point, in chapter 9 of Understanding Social Networks, Kadushin links diffusion to the ability of people to influence one another.

As Kadushin explains, those who are considered leaders usually are the ones that others look to and listen to when there is diffusion of a new idea. However, that does not mean that leaders are the innovators or the early adopters. In fact, leaders tend follow the norm. Quite often it is those out in the periphery that take on new ideas first and through brokers or bridgers their unconventional ideas are spread out from the leaders and to late adopters.

This made me consider my place in the cohort in terms of adoption of these social media tools. I was personally always on the fence about Twitter and LinkedIn, not because I didn’t see that they could have a purpose, but I felt like I was putting myself out in the public too much. I didn’t mind Facebook though. I set my privacy so that I couldn’t be publically searched and I was able to connect with friends far and wide.

Then during last year’s cohort, I found myself sitting there, looking around and realizing how behind the times I was. Not just because of social media (I kept telling myself that I needed to get in the loop and sign up for Twitter), but because of the physical tools I had at my disposal. Everyone had a laptop or a smartphone and there was me with my trusty, almost three year old talk-only phone. I vowed that when my cellphone contract was up in June that I was trading in for a shiny new data-capable phone.

Fast forward to today and I’m about to celebrate my one year anniversary with my smartphone and everything that it encompasses. Mostly that means the inability to stop checking my e-mail. But, now in addition to that, I went from almost 0 to hero with respect to social media usage, all due to COMM506.

While I am still learning the ins and outs of blogging, Twitter and curating my LinkedIn profile, I am honestly amazed at how quickly I and others in my cohort have picked everything up. Does it take a long time to talk us into something? For some of us, it sure does. But, when we embrace something, we seem to do it wholeheartedly.

So, late adopter, yes. Black sheep, nope.

Oh, How Times Have Changed

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I am a pen and paper girl at heart. I have a certain romanticism associated with snail mail. In fact, if given the option, I would probably still lick that stamp and send off a letter to my nearest and dearest even if it meant that they didn’t hear of my exciting news for a week or two. There’s something that has always felt very real when opening a letter from a friend, seeing their writing and knowing that you’re holding something that they have taken the time to create. But, oh, how times have changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a digital native and, as such, there are many things I cannot live without. That includes my smartphone and access to the internet. In fact, I have become so attached to it that when asked last week in class how much time each of us thinks we spend online on an average day (for work and for personal use) I calculated that should I be awake for 16 hours, that my entire work day and at least 4 hours per evening was spent online, bringing me to a whopping 12 hours of my daily life or 75% of my waking life. It’s a slightly scary thought, but then you realize how much of what we do takes place online and it’s not that unfathomable.

On any given work day, many of the programs I use have an online component to them, whether it be e-mail or data/survey software, I have to login over the internet. When I get home, I might do some online banking, make a restaurant reservation online, download some music off iTunes, reply to personal e-mails, do some shopping, update my blog and before you know it several hours have passed me by. While those purposes aren’t anything exciting per say, they have become a necessary aspect of how I get things done.

What is interesting to think about from today’s perspective is that 5 to 10 years ago, some of these online possibilities were only in their infancy. Yet, we can barely live without them now.

This long introduction leads me to the reading of chapter 6 in Clay Shirky’s (@cshirky) book Here Comes Everybody in which he discusses the idea of collective action and how people are now using online communication tools to challenge existing institutions in ways that weren’t possible in the past. His example of the difficulty of sharing a news article because you needed to cut it out, put it into an envelope, find a stamp and take it to the post office was enough to deter many people. But, with the advent of e-mail and access to information on the internet, the several steps it once to to share something, now means it takes one or two steps and only minutes to do.

This accessibility to various and numerous sources online and the ease of sharing has led us to this present state whereby news and information has the ability to spread like wildfire. With increased tools and platforms available for people to network, collaboration is easier than ever before. Whether people are using it to change the world or to just get through the work week, we have to admit that we have come a long way from when personal computers worked on DOS systems, had very basic games like Lemmings and was very much a static thing in the sense that it wasn’t able to communicate.

Do I miss the simplicity of those times? Perhaps. Would I trade what we have today for what we had back then? Never. If you asked me when I was a child what I thought computers would allow us to do, I wouldn’t have thought of half of what’s available. Now, I can only imagine what the future will bring. Though I might still be nostalgic and send a letter by post from time to time.

Power of the Web Means Power to the People

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Throughout the past week the notion of hierarchical and horizontal interactions has come up during class discussion and it is a concept that is the foundation of chapter 3 in Yochai Benkler’s book The Wealth of Networks. What I like about Benkler’s discussion is the ideas are something that we have seen crop up in other classes, such as COMM504 about organizational communications whereby we dissected vertical (hierarchical) vs. horizontal communication within an organizational context. All of us could find relevance in those concepts and apply them directly to our personal and professional lives, giving us a better understanding of why things are being done a certain way, for example, in our workplaces.

Here, Benkler links the idea of hierarchical/vertical interaction to that of “centralization,” meaning that there is a central authority and he then compares it to horizontal interaction or “decentralization” meaning all agents are equal and each person has the same ability to affect the situation as anyone else (p. 62).

Decentralization allows for better collaboration and coordination, especially today when we have what seems to be endless tools that make it easier for us to connect, share and converse. If I apply this to our spring institute right now, I guess we can argue that there is a slight hierarchy in that the professors and the program are dictating many of our actions.

However, solely within this cohort, we as students are working in a very horizontal manner. We’re doing this in ways that are open and accessible to each other by using tools like Twitter (allows for quick and easy messaging), Google Docs (to share documents for editing allowing us to collaborate even when we’re all in separate spaces), PBworks wiki (houses information for class, but is modifiable by anyone in the group) and our blogs (giving each of us the ability to expound upon our thoughts and get feedback from one another).

Benkler also talks about the power of the Web and the fact that using peer production can lead to purposes that were not previously intended. A perfect example for this class is our wiki for COMM506. As a demonstration of how to create a new page on the wiki, our professor, Kate Milberry, added a “Party Page” to the site. It wasn’t intended that it actually be used, but it was never removed from the wiki either. A few in the class then decided to actually use the page to invite the rest of the cohort out to various gatherings and as it turns out, it was a success. Our first pub night of the institute and the majority of the group was able to attend, most having seen the call to action on the wiki.

Therefore, power comes from the tools available to the people and when more people have ease of access to those tools, great things can happen.

If We Paddle Together, We’ll Make it to Shore

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First off, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t quite get Charles Kadushin’s theories and concepts sometimes. Tackling chapter 6 of his book, Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts and Findings, I found myself teetering on the brink of knowing and not knowing. Many of the concepts when put in simplified English are second nature to how we as a humans behave in social situations, but other concepts just go in one ear and out the other.

However, what I did take from his discussion of small groups and leadership in networks is that 1) our MACT classroom is a network in a box because everything that is happening in that box is visible to all of us and we are aware of each other’s existence, and 2) groups have leaders and those leaders are often those who are deemed to be the most “popular” because of what they can offer to those around them. Kadushin also states that leaders are good listeners.

My question then is, in our small group, the MACT 2012 class, can everyone be called a leader? We have a room full of Type-A personalities (in a good way) that not only have so much to give each other in terms of knowledge, skills and friendship, but who are also willing to listen and learn and absorb things from each other, which to me is one of the most important traits of a leader. The ability to give and receive without the notion of superiority. We’re all in the same boat, let’s make our way to shore together. That asymmetry that should be there when a leader is present is absent in our group because we’re all helping to lead one another.

Of course, I just said all this and then it occured to me that maybe we’re not all leaders, but we’re a leaderless group. There is no hierarchy, just horizontal connections.

Networking: Years of Evolution and Nothing Has Really Changed

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After reading two of tomorrow’s articles for COMM506, both to do with networking, I found myself really contemplating the ways in which our world has changed, but also how it tends to stay the same. The tools that we use to maintain our networks and the modes that we network in have altered dramatically over the years, especially following the invention and subsequent growth of the internet and web usage. However, who we choose to keep in our network and how we group ourselves has remained similar to the days of the hunter gather societies.

In this article published January 2012, Nicholas Christakis, professor of medical sociology and medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of sociology in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences discusses his study of the Hadza, a group of less than 1000 hunter gathers in Tanzania. What Christakis has found is that this society of nomads, who live in a traditional way and have no access to or use for technology, band together in specific ways similar to how those in more modern communities do. We, as humans, seem to be predispositioned to form ties, kin and non-kin, based upon notions of cooperation. For the Hadza, those who help one another cluster together. The same can be said for users of modern online social networks. Without cooperation and collaboration between like-minded people, the idea of crowdsourcing would never exist.

This leads into the article by Clay Shirky, one of the major proponents of crowdsourcing. In his short discussion he brought up a number of interesting points about networks and the software they use. Yet, the one I would like to emphasize is his argument that we spend too much time on the technical aspect of things rather than the social aspect of the software groups utilize.

That idea is currently being hammered home in this COMM506 class right now. While I completely see the benefits of blogs, tweets and wikis, the learning curve on each can really eat into the actual purpose of them, which is to forge connections with others. That’s not to say that over time each of those processes won’t become second nature, but as many of those in my class have realized, myself included, initial adoption of a technology, tool, program or software requires extended amounts of time that often eat into your day or evening. Rather than blogging my thoughts out to those on the internet, I have frequently found myself preoccupied with the proper setup of my new site instead.

But I have to believe as our professor, Kate Milberry, assured us today, there will be a plateau in that learning curve. We will find ourselves more capable of focusing on what we’re putting out there to build our personal and professional online personas, moving from Shirky’s worry of too much focus on the technical to an emphasis on engaging our connections through these mediums.