Official thread: Activity One – Discussion
Having read the Rebecca Blood and Jill Walker readings for this week, you are encouraged to discuss the following issues:
- The early days of blogging were extremely optimistic about the potential of blogs to give everyone who wanted one a voice and a venue to publish. Now that blogging is over a decade old, to what extent have these early predictions come true?
- Rettberg talks about blogs facilitating ‘distributed conversations’ and even ‘distributed communities’; what do you understand these terms to mean?
1. The early days of blogging were extremely optimistic about the potential of blogs to give everyone who wanted one a voice and a venue to publish. Now that blogging is over a decade old, to what extent have these early predictions come true?
This is still true to a large extent, but the parameters have changed. Nowadays, we are restricted by our digital footprint – a data trail left by all of our interactions in the digital environment. We are provided with a false sense of security about how much of the information we publish about ourselves remains private.
Both readings (Rettberg and Blood), and the video of James Surowiecki’s TED Talk mentioned the potential for, or existence of, a dark side of blogging. There is the possibility, via our own connections in the blogsphere, and being tracked by companies like Google, Facebook and WordPress (to name a few), to create silos of information, where we restrict ourselves by location or topics of interest, for example. Furthermore, it may get to the stage that we create our own little worlds, which we cannot see beyond. Even worse, automatically agreeing to the digital contracts we are presented with when we sign up for a new service – in doing so, we inadvertently make a pact that our information is no longer ours to have control over.
Watching James Surowiecki’s talk, in particular, made me think of George Orwell’s 1984. Surowiecki commented that “the more tightly linked we are, the harder it is for us to remain independent” and that “a network starts to shape your views”. This reminded me of Orwell’s concept of newspeak, which was a simplified, yet obscure, language designed to make independent thought impossible. Orwell also presented a world that consisted of the thought police – those who suppress all dissenting opinion.
So, while, at present, we have yet to see common, distressing examples of these things come to light, we are definitely heading in this direction. One fears that our regular complacency over such matters will ultimately end in such a quandary.
2. Rettberg talks about blogs facilitating ‘distributed conversations’ and even ‘distributed communities’; what do you understand these terms to mean?
These phrases refer to the fact that conversations can occur online without two parties being present at exactly the same time. An author of a blog can raise a topic of conversation or an opinion in a post, and those who read that post later can comment on it at a time of their choosing. Likewise, the author can respond to such a comment afterwards as well.
A similar phenomena can occur within online communities – people who gather online around the same interest. Opinions, conversation, discussion, debate, calls to action can all occur in a distributed manner, where not every member of the community has to be present to remain up-to-date on the goings on of the community.
Furthermore, these conversations and communities can grow exponentially. The intended origins of such a conversation or community might not remain limited to a select few. But, the word of such an entity’s existence may spread like wildfire, and become even more distributed throughout the web. It is interesting to note, however, that these conversations and communities can be instantaneous, slow, based solely on popularity and linking to one another, or that individual blogs may only have a few people linking to them. As Rettberg mentions, this can tie in with the six-degrees of connection theory (p. 60).
Blood, R. (2000, September 7). Weblogs: a history and perspective. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html
Rettberg, J., (2008), Blogs, Communities and Networks. In Blogging. Polity Press; Cambridge. [Available via Curtin Library’s eReserve.]
TED. (2008, November 5). James Surowiecki: The power and the danger of online crowds [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/h-Xm4ufnoxY
You’ve brought up some great issues here! I like that you’ve mentioned the issue of getting stuck in our own little worlds. There’s been some interesting research looking at ‘homophily’ in the blogosphere, or the tendency of bloggers to mostly link to other bloggers who share their own perspectives, including this paper on the Egyptian blogosphere: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2009/Mapping_the_Arabic_Blogosphere
While the Internet theoretically opens us up to hearing from people around the world, and from very different perspectives to our own, it also allows us to get stuck in an echo chamber where we end up fervently agreeing with each other quite often. This might be something to think about when it comes to exploring blogs this week – while it’s great to find blogs that explore our interests, you also might want to explore finding one or two blogs that give you a new window on the world!
Thanks for the link. A fascinating paper.
It would be interesting to read an update, now that Egypt has undergone a seismic transition in the last year, going from a Muslim Brotherhood government (previously outlawed), to a militarily controlled environment, where chaos is the present norm.
Lots of food for thought. Thanks again…
It’s possible that someone has done more recent research on this – I’d love to see it if anyone can find updated research!
I conducted an advanced search on the Curtin Library catalogue for the words blogosphere and Arab, limiting my search to the last year.
It returned 59 results, 39 of which are peer-reviewed, which look quite interesting: http://tinyurl.com/khtsk2w
Peer-Reviewed Journal titles such as these came up:
– American Behavioral Scientist
– Critical Discourse Studies
– Media, War & Conflict
– European Urban and Regional Studies
I also looked at one of the web sites dedicated to reporting on the pulse of the Middle East, titled Al Monitor. This could also be a source to keep up with the developments in this area of interest. It appears to be the text equivalent of TV’s Al Jazeera. Plus, when you click on the About link at the bottom of the home page, it refers to all the news/media sources that rely on the information that is published on this web site.
I guess that this is where RSS feeds would help to find out the latest developments around this topic. Papers aren’t published as quickly as news articles and opinion pieces. So, if I wanted to keep track of the latest research around this topic, I would start there.
Good work, Maha!
Al Monitor is not quite the text equivalent of Al Jazeera – there’s a text-based Al Jazeera site which serves that purpose. But Al Monitor does seem to have some good journalistic coverage of the Middle East. RSS feeds can be helpful in staying up to date, but you need to find the right ones to follow! For up to date research, it can also be useful to follow key academics and journalists on Twitter, not just for their updates but also because they often link to the most useful articles.
Yes! My favourite method! RSS is a close second. I love using Twitter to follow key academics or specialists on topics that I need to know about. I have no idea why I didn’t even mention my routine… LOL I must have been tired at the time.