Field Trip

I particularly enjoyed our class trip for the final session. I was fascinated by the work that they’re doing to research the future of politics and health. I had no idea that office even existed or that being a futurist was even a thing, so it was a great way to expose me to something new. I would love to keep in touch and hear about their future public events. It sounds like a great opportunity for continued education, and I love keeping tabs on what’s going on in the world.

Thank you everyone for a lovely quarter! It was a pleasure getting to know each of you, and I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors at Stanford and beyond!

The polarizing act of social media

Since playing with friends from a young age, most people are taught principles of fairness and to treat others like you want to be treated. This has to be implemented into a person’s thinking as early as possible. As we get older, groups become more influential as we mature. In today’s world, groups are formed differently, but have some the same powerful influences they had before social media. Social media mobilized communicating and connecting with people. It is effortless to find a group supporting a personal interest or cause. Because of this affordance, the expectations of belonging to multiple groups accompany the “always connected” modern lifestyle. In “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?,” Sunstein discusses and mentions empirical data about the tendencies of like-minded groups to make more extreme decisions than groups which include a wide range of opinions. Groups have always had a profound influences dating back to the historic extreme cults and clans such as the Klu Klux Klan. Groups such as these overshadow logical reasoning of an individual to support the more extreme ideals that mildly supported within a group. Peer pressure and other social factors influence this decision, but Sunstein pointed to the diversification of a group to be a determining factor.
Social media and its various platforms emphasize connecting with people and building massive online social networks. As social media has aged, so has the users and their networks. Most users have many connections/friends/followers that they have never met and never intend to interact with in the real world. Because of the growth of online social connections, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow for you to filter you news feed. This is a vital curation tool, but it also changes the dynamics of the diversification of the presented information. For example, if you see a comment you do not like or agree with on Facebook, the user has the option to remove this specific user’s post from their future news feeds. Like I mentioned, this is useful tool, but by eliminating opposing opinions, we fall into the trap Sunstein cites in her work. Lack of opposing opinions reinforce like-minded thinking even further and presents the threat of extreme decision making.

A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Modern Family that I continued to forget to mention. This episode depicts the family communicating and interacting only through Skype. Claire, the mother, is attempting to patch up things with her daughter, Haley, after a boisterous fight. Claire is trying to find Haley to talk things out through video chatting the rest of her family. A few conspiracies were started around Haley’s ambiguous Facebook status and were reiterated by the family who had no knowledge of what Haley was up to. This episode relates to how groups influence an individual and how this influence is more extreme when derived from a group.


who is actually participating?

Respond to this quote from last week’s reading: “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.”

The public sphere is supposed to a place where citizens can come together and discuss issues they have with public policy. Public sphere is intended to be a place where every voice can be heard with equal amount of influence as all other members of society. Since the growth of technology and social media, the public sphere has been transformed much like the other societal institutions. For an environment to be considered a public sphere, it must:

  • Disregard of status: Preservation of “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether. […] Not that this idea of the public was actually realized in earnest in the coffee houses, salons, and the societies; but as an idea it had become institutionalized and thereby stated as an objective claim. If not realized, it was at least consequential.” (loc. cit.)
  • Domain of common concern: “… discussion within such a public presupposed the problematization of areas that until then had not been questioned. The domain of ‘common concern’ which was the object of public critical attention remained a preserve in which church and state authorities had the monopoly of interpretation. […] The private people for whom the cultural product became available as a commodity profaned it inasmuch as they had to determine its meaning on their own (by way of rational communication with one another), verbalize it, and thus state explicitly what precisely in its implicitness for so long could assert its authority.” (loc. cit.)
  • Inclusivity: However exclusive the public might be in any given instance, it could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who – insofar as they were propertied and educated – as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion. The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate. […] Wherever the public established itself institutionally as a stable group of discussants, it did not equate itself with the public but at most claimed to act as its mouthpiece, in its name, perhaps even as its educator – the new form of bourgeois representation” (loc. cit.).


But, in my opinion, public sphere depends on the means of open communication. Today’s technology and social media networks afford us with an open line of communication with basically everyone in the world. This affordance has advanced our lives to where we are today by transporting valuable life changing information instantaneously.

However, because the ability to participate in public debate has become so easy, people assume online participation is enough and never act on their support. Participating and congregating online has proven to be a powerful tool, but without physical action, it is mostly just words on a screen. Feeling appeased by online participation lowers the number of people who traditionally participate. This ease has harmed the public levels of participation and I only see it getting worse. By participating online, people feel included and needed which appeases a vital part of our human nature. People who feel included are less angered by whatever the outcome because they feel as if they have done their part. This is a dangerous path for the public to follow. During the President Obama’s election campaign, I remember the amount of people hoping he would get elected, but were not planning to vote. This is not a direct correlation with the subject matter, but it demonstrates how people are slow to act when it comes to public policy, even when they support the cause. I think modern technology has elevated this even further, but hopefully, the policy makers will adjust and implement more technology in their communication and research methods.


Social Media and Protesting

Respond to this quote from last week’s reading: “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.”

I was interested last week to hear Professor Rheingold’s comments about The Smart Mob and the overall sentiment from the class that social media has created better opportunities for collective action and political protesting.

In the same week, my COMM 1A class was discussing political protesting, and Professor Iyengar gave a lecture about social media and protests, and he seemed to think that the jury was still out on whether or not social media really made protesting any easier/better.

The Civil Rights movement took place before the Internet and social media, yet Americans used protesting and riots very effectively to rally support for their cause. I wonder how the Civil Rights movement would have looked differently if they’d had social media to rally support for their cause.

I think the Internet and the online public sphere definitely makes it easy for information to spread, but I think it might make it harder for information to stand out. One has to gain a huge following in order to draw major attention to a cause on the Internet, and even if a particular cause gets a lot of attention online, the online news cycle moves so quickly that it’s hard for one event/cause to stay in the spotlight for long.

Social media’s youth influence

Recently, I came across a few old television shows that I have not seen in years, A Different World and Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was not a show I watched consistently when I was younger, but my older sibling religiously watched, so I had no choice but to tune in. Save by the Bell was set in the early 90’s around a few high school friends who are going through the normal growing pains of teenage life. The basics of how to deal with a poor report card to figuring out a plan to ask your crush to prom were covered in this television series. The good natured image of the show was preserved by the predictable storylines demonstrating honesty is always the answer. The sitcom depicted a tight knit collective community that represents high school life during those times. The individual stories frequently involved student events such as pep rallies, dances, and fundraising events. These events would be considered collective action during those times.


With the added component of social media, the storyline for a high school sitcom would be very different. Modern high school students are much more advanced because of the social media and technology. Today’s high school students have many of the same advantages that college students have. The collective community that Saved by the Bell depicts would be much more open and individually based. Representing pep rallies and local school events would change to online postings on Facebook. Openly discussing rumors from last weekend’s festivities would change to viral videos on Instagram and anonymous messages on YikYak. How do you think you high school experience would have changed because of social media?



Also, many of the episodes revolved around the one the friends getting left out of a situation. Most of the time, this happened to the nerdy friend, Screech. In today’s world, Screech would have a much different role in their group. He would have many more options of friends on digital social media networks than he does in the bubble of high school. The environment for past high school life closely followed the three principles of Axelrod:

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future
  2. An ability to identify each other
  3. A record of past behavior

High school attempt to create an environment that everyone can share in a while striving to be their best. “Axelrod’s “Three Conditions” describe what would be the most important conditions for ensuring cooperation among strangers in a competitive environment. I think today’s society has moved away from the need to create a cooperative environment and more so cultivating a space to discover specific interests and ideas.


Why so judgy?

When thinking of the amount of online information we consume daily, it is human nature to prioritize in order to make this process effective. It is our nature to rank whatever we come into contact with, physically or digitally; we rank the information in regards to importance or reason to remember. Our minds work much like computers, but we have a less definite storage capacity. We cannot remember every piece of information that we consume, so we have a type of auto-delete process that empties out every, so often. I believe social media platforms are capitalizing on our need to prioritize information, but applied toward people’s profiles or online activity.


Social media platforms such, as Facebook or LinkedIn, provide extensive options to represent yourself through your profile information. Profile detail option such as music interests, or relationship status gives a quick extensive look at who the user is or who they want you to think they are. This type of profile driven platform emphasizes the identity of the user. The importance of your profile information and profile picture draw much more attention to the image your profile creates rather than contributed content.

In contrast, social media platform builds a community through shared content of users. Platforms such as Twitter or Instagram has very few options for the profile settings. It has a open blank format. with a low word limit (160 characters for Twitter profiles). Most Twitter profiles are only a few words, with no complete sentences, and a picture. You can quickly scan a profile and have no idea about the user. Twitter profiles have short self-description, but much of the time the area is used to describe the theme of shared content. It is used to broadcast what type of content should be expected from the user.

In my social media activity, I would say I monitor/participate mostly on Instagram and now again on Twitter. Instagram is based mainly on the content/picture posted by the users which fits the kind of style I choose to consume a large share of my digital content. I participate in order to continue to build my online presence amongst what I consider my closer-knit online network. I feel Instagram urges you to participate by the way they choose to visually display the content’s feedback. This is what drives all social media applications and most business. Competition is the driving force for many social behaviors and social media applications depend on this part of the human psyche to drive content and its curation. Instagram does this in an effective manner. Other platforms post multiple types of measures of favor such as the way Twitter post retweets and favorites, and Facebook shows the number of likes and number of comments. These ways are effective and provides large amounts of feedback for users and the platform. Instagram chooses to only post the number of likes position right above the screen name of the user. This is effective concept to quickly gain the attention of viewers. It really depends on the style you wish to consume your social media content.

Personal Digital Networks

In your most active personal digital network, why would you say you choose to contribute? Do you think of users differently based on the amount of their activity? How do you think this varies across different social media platforms?

Of all my digital networks, I’m probably the most consistently active on Facebook, although I go through periods of inactivity. However, I’ve been a member of Facebook longer than any other social media site, and I have the most data on my Facebook profile compared to other social media profiles.

My motivations for contributing differ by the type of contribution. Most of the time, when I’m posting a status update or sharing a link, it’s because I’m trying to draw attention to a particular cause or event. Most of the time when I post photos, it’s because I realize that I haven’t posted any photos for months and my profile makes it look like I don’t have  a life. That or I don’t like my most recent tagged photos, so I don’t want them to be the first pictures people see when viewing my profile. Shallow, but true.

I ABSOLUTELY judge people based on the amount of activity on their Facebook. I’m really put off when I see that people are being overly active on Facebook. If people post daily status updates, leave comments everywhere, and seem to see every single post in their news feed, it makes me wonder why they have so much spare time to spend on Facebook. I often wonder why they don’t have anything better to do with their time. Harsh, but true.

This definitely varies across different platforms though. When I have friends that go on Snapchat 20 times a day, it doesn’t bother me as much. It’s a lot easier to send one quick snap than it is to post one whole status.

Reading Response: Cass Sunstein’s “The Daily We”

In this article, Cass Sunstein discusses the ways in which the Internet has caused a decline in public knowledge/a coherent public sphere due to the proliferation of self-selection. Online, people can choose to look at the news and sites that interest them, and they can completely ignore or fail to come into contact with pieces that oppose their ideals. Because of online news individualization, we’re seeing more political polarization and blind ignorance.

Sunstein explains that while emerging technologies like the Internet aren’t necessarily the enemy, individualization and the ways in which we currently use new technology pose a threat to democracy, because “a well-functioning democracy depends… on some kind of public sphere, in which a wide range of speakers have access to a diverse public– and also to particular institutions, and practices, against which they seek to launch objections.”

Sunstein suggests several ways in which journalists and media corporations may counteract this problem. All of Sunstein’s suggestions rest on the idea that media producers will willingly choose to band together to reverse the current problem… In my mind, these solutions seem a bit unfeasible. Because media producers compete for audience’s in a capitalist economy, their main priority is increasing audience size and making money. It’s not the most idealistic way of viewing the world, but it’s the reality behind most major news production. And for media producers, individualization is profitable. I find it hard to believe that news producers would band together to do something “for the greater good” without any direct economic incentive. My guess is that in order to inspire producers to create change, we as a national audience must first band together and complain about the problem/push for change. If their audiences are happy and there’s no economic incentive to change the ways in which they operate, media producers won’t have enough inspiration to band together, work cooperatively, and solve the individualization problem.

The real problem then becomes inspiring enough Americans to care about the individualization problem enough to demand change… which will be hard to do because a vast number of Americans enjoy the current atmosphere of individualization and media control.

Balancing Online and Offline Social Capital

“Reflect on a time when you were part of an event (on the Internet) that was trying to establish social capital. Given our class discussion, how do you think that event could’ve been improved or gone better?”

Since I’ve been at Stanford, I’ve had countless friends create apps, launch startups, and attempt to publicize their kickstarter campaigns on the Internet. It seems as though everyone who catches the entreprenurial bug here uses to Internet (and Facebook events in particular) to advertise their big professional moves and try to gain support. However, I think that over time, I’ve grown more and more inattentive to these types of posts. When different friends are inviting me to like their pages for their new startup or inviting me to donate to their fundraising campaigns, it’s hard for me to get fired up about any single invitation. Because it’s so easy to create community online, there’s a danger in overusing the Internet to foster community, and this overuse dilutes the Internet’s effectiveness.

The Internet lacks a personal touch that I find highly compelling for interpersonal communication, especially when trying to gather support or share a passion with a friend. I’ve ignored most of the start-up-y plugs that most of my “friends” post of Facebook, but when a friend of a friend recently sent me a personalized, handwritten invitation to the launch party for his new app and included branded merchandise for the app, I felt much more compelled to attend the event and care about his new venture. I think that personalization and old fashioned communication and community formation will never go out of style, and in this day and age, taking the time to promote something or create a community offline goes a long long way.

I don’t mean to bash on using the Internet as a community builder or promotional tool. It’s obviously too easy and powerful a tool to ignore. But I think there is something to be said for balancing offline and online community and using Facebook and old fashioned communication to get the job done.

Reading Response: Peter Kollok’s “The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace”

In this article, Peter Kollock discussed the ways in which the Internet has developed an economy of cooperation and mutual assistance. He walked through several examples of online public goods, including the collaborative development of Linux, and he discussed the ways in which the Internet changes the traditional costs and benefits of participation.

One thing that stuck out to me in particular in this article was Kollock’s claim that “online interaction can reduce the costs of contributing to the production of a public good in numerous ways. Consider, for example, collective protest designed to change the policy of an organization. Even if one believes in the goals of the protest, the temptation is to let others do the work and avoid even such small costs of composing and sending off a letter of protest. To the extent costs are lowered, the more likely it is that individuals will take part in the collective action.”

While I think online communication definitely lowers the barrier to entry for collective action, I think it makes it harder for passion to translate into action. It’s so easy to like a post or share a comment or spread awareness online, but it’s hard to get this action to translate into anything else– any real world commitment to change. For example, the Kony 2012 video spread like wildfire online, but the real world Kony 2012 protests weren’t well attended and very few of the people who shared the Kony 2012 video gave much thought to the cause 2 months later. It’s so easy to spread awareness about a cause online, but because information spreads so easily and there’s a wealth of information, it’s can be really hard to use the internet to promote real world action. Agree or disagree?