Open Collaboration Needs Scaffolding

Schiff’s 2006 article in The New Yorker about Wikipedia quotes Larry Sanger, a former worker and contributor to the collaborative website. Sanger quit because, according to the article, ‘“Wikipedia has gone from a nearly perfect anarchy to an anarchy with gang rule”’ (Schiff 10). My response to that quote is simply “so what?” So what if the site abides by these “gang rules,” because in my opinion the tools used to maintain it are necessary in order to create the greatest functional and living document out there.

When the editing wars and vandalism grew (alongside the growth of the website’s scope), founder Jimmy Wales appointed “a small cadre of administrators, called admins, to police the site” and protect it from this sort of abuse in 2001 (8). Schiff writes that there were thousands of admins patrolling the site (8); I am sure that there are even more admins now who work to maintain Wikipedia’s integrity. To me, this is the best compromise between a working open collaboration site and a useless free-for-all.

In order to maintain Wikipedia’s original intent, some scaffolding needs to be put in place. The admins are different—and better—than editors of physical encyclopedias who can be influenced by their own bias; correcting vandalism and putting a stop to editing wars is more objective than saying from the outset what can be included on Wikipedia. Bias might still be a factor to consider when looking at how admins handle situations, but the masses still have power to go against an admin’s decision by continually updating an article or circumventing the admin and eliciting the help of a higher-ranked Wikipedia employee.

One way that admins are kept in check is via committees, such as the mediation and arbitration committees (8). These groups make rulings on disputes that come up during editing wars and acts of vandalism. Some committee members, like the one the article mentions named Essjay, can look at I.P. addresses of users. Additionally, Essjay (and presumably others) review “I.R.C chat channels, where users often trade gossip about abuses they have witnessed” (8). Groups that oversee the actions of users as well as admins sound more like civilized society and less like “gang rule.”

Of course, it can be difficult to be objective when dealing with people’s sharply different outlooks on God, climate change, and cheeses, but with oversight on the overseers, Wikipedia can keep evolving to become one of the greatest repositories of knowledge. People who believe the open collaboration is biased and unfair should consider the bias that went into Samuel Johnson’s dictionary or the bias between British and French scholars in regards to the “cross-channel rivalry” (4). Those works were made by a handful of white men, and who was overseeing them when they wrote things like “oats feed horses as well as the Scottish people”? In closing, open collaboration with some oversight allows for balance to something that is now even harder to pin down: the truth.

Schiff, Stacy. “Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?” The New Yorker. 31 July 2006. Web.

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The Right to be Forgotten Relies on the Individual

The “Right to be Forgotten” is only the start to what is bound to be a long and complicated chapter in the history of the internet. The European Union ruling is not absolute, and as we continue to move through the first half of the 21st century I believe reimagined societal norms and values will be what keep our embarrassing Facebook photos and radical blog posts from affecting our “real” lives.

To begin, the internet’s ability to never forget is affecting the way millions of people live their lives (Jeffrey Rosen 1). When Facebook achieved ubiquitous popularity a few years ago, it seemed as if the world was in fervor to post about their everyday lives, whether that included seeing their kid’s school play, drinking with a few friends, or attending weddings. But now that the less-than-kosher posts and tweets have gotten people barred from job interviews or fired, many are either dialing back the amount of content they post, deleting old pictures and posts, or both. Also, the EU financed a campaign called “‘Think B4 U Post!’ that urges young people to consider ‘potential consequences’ of publishing photos of themselves or their friends without ‘thinking carefully’ and asking for permission” (Rosen 4).

I think strategies of this nature are good because laws can only go so far in telling people what to do; in most cases, you are responsible for how you present yourself to the world. A law can remove embarrassing posts or images, but that doesn’t erase the fact that you committed said acts. If someone does take a regrettable photo of you, they should have the courtesy to ask you for permission to post it. Or they should ask themselves: “How would this affect John if I posted this picture?” There is another emerging social norm that Rosen briefly mentions in his article. At dinners, Rosen writes, “someone has requested, in all seriousness, ‘Please don’t tweet this’—a custom that is likely to spread” (8). These timeless values—self-respect, courtesy towards others, integrity—need to be reimagined for the digital natives and should be passed from parent to child, in much the same way a parent passes on the adage that lying is wrong. Good instruction in the household can waver as the child matures, but for better or worse we are all influenced by our parents’ guiding principles.

Rosen’s article suggests a variety of other ways to curb the internet’s impact, but I think the first line of defense is the individual. If the internet continues to remember everything, then people will need to rely on themselves to maintain their own image and the image of their friends, family, and coworkers. The internet is a great tool, and as its creators and users we need to be responsible for how we interact with it. Any tool made by man has the power to ruin us if we don’t appreciate its capabilities and use it wisely.

Rosen, Jeffrey. “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The New York Times Magazine. 21 July 2010. Web.

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Combating the “Google Takeover”

The internet is humankind’s third technological revolution in language—with writing and the printing press preceding it. Critics of this modern technology have come out of the woodwork, and in a cruel twist of fate we read their essays via the internet and computer screens. Is the internet good or bad for humanity? Well with most inventions, it isn’t such a simple dichotomy. Nicholas Carr’s 2009 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” leans toward the bad. For me, the internet is a terrific technology, but in order to save our humanity we need to relearn the (almost) lost art of focusing.

I think what Carr is concerned about has to do with what Sam Anderson talks about in his article “Defense of Distraction.” Our attention is impoverished, and we are constantly distracted by our eight browser tabs and brief online articles (Anderson 192). But Anderson offers some ways to counteract Google’s ability to dehumanize us; he references “executive function,” or “attentional self-control” (Anderson 193). This refers to one’s ability to zero-in on a particular task and block out aspects of the environment around us (193). Another way to combat the “Google Takeover” is to meditate (194). While life-hacking and neuroenhancers are also mentioned as ways to focus our attention, I think the aforementioned are some of our best weapons against flattening our intelligence into an artificial one, which Carr is so fearful of.

Executive function forces us to decide what is important: the music, the homework assignment, or the newest Reddit post? I like this method of focusing because we can turn the distractions into rewards for finishing a particular assignment or reading. In a world of instant gratification, it can be hard to justify concentrating on one thing. But if you force yourself to focus on a homework assignment until it is done, then you can a) probably get it done faster and b) enjoy an episode of your favorite TV show guilt- and distraction-free.

I also like the idea of “secular meditation” because it is a different kind of work-out; it is a mental work-out (194). The brain needs to stay just as exercised as your arms, legs, and stomach, otherwise things atrophy and become useless. Silence is incredible sometimes, because in that silence we can get a short story idea, or solve that difficult math equation, or remember the first date we had with our partner. And even if internal thoughts are absent during that silence, then at least you aren’t stressed about all the emails, Facebook updates, and world events going on around you.

After reading Anderson and Carr’s articles, I have made an effort to read AP articles from start-to-finish; to put the phone down when I am watching TV; and to let my thoughts wander as I go out jogging. Results may vary, but I feel like I am accomplishing a lot more while the people around me struggle to be split ten ways.

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My Take on our Information Society

This blog prompt is pretty “heavy,” but I’ll give it the old college try. “Information Society” to me is reflected in the three prevailing technologies: smartphones, laptops, and the internet. The first two devices give us access to the largest, dirtiest, most prosperous, and most insightful library and news room ever created: the internet. Look down the hallways of school buildings, look at people walking across town or across campus, and look at people sitting in their rooms: you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t looking at a screen of some kind (television, smartphone, laptop, tablet, e-reader) and using it to access information. Information–from scholarly papers to news updates about the Ukraine to “5 Complex Languages Invented by One (Crazy) Person”–is all out there for the taking. In short, “Information Society” to me means a lot of tools used to access a lot of information.

Unfortunately, what will often occur in the wake of all this technology and information is a “poverty of attention,” as discussed in the Anderson article. In its most humorous form, poverty of attention results in active phone users bumping into one another. But since the technology is so new, we have yet to realize its implications (in much the same way that we’re unsure of the long-term impact of ADD/ADHD medicine, which interestingly enough is used to counteract this poverty of attention). One thing researchers like David Meyer have illustrated is that “multitasking, at least as our culture has come to know and love and institutionalize it, is a myth” (Anderson 191). What follows is a TEDTalks video that also explores multitasking.

Another downside to all of this information is that now everyone is an expert in “nothing.” What I mean is that people can look up the director of The Professional and cross-reference it with his other work (most notably The Fifth Element), but does that mean we really “know” it? A simple IMDB search gave us that answer, and I could probably spit it back out again. But do I really have a deep understanding of Luc Besson’s work? To roughly quote Chuck Palahnuik’s novel Survivor, nobody is asking “how” anymore; they’re asking “What’s that from?” Another quote from this novel says: “People used what they called a telephone because they hated being close together and they were too scared of being along.” If you accept this social commentary as true, are we losing our humanity through technology?

But if that was the case, then every new technological revolution would be a change in the definition of “humanity.” As Anderson points out, people have been prophesizing the end of human nature since Socrates, who lamented over the fact that writing would destroy the brain’s ability to memorize entire epics (Anderson 188). With the people who lived through the Gutenberg Revolution, I’m sure there were modern equivalents: people who didn’t take up books/literacy probably wouldn’t have Facebooks in today’s day and age. And to think that reading has always been seen as a positive force in people’s lives. Will tweeting and posting someday achieve the same reverence as reading?

Both Kelly and Anderson pointed out the benefits of technology.  The technium improves quality of life and can help to maintain the organic ecosystem because it depends on that system as well (Kelly 6). Also, revolutions in medicine and architecture have come about thanks to technology. Anderson pointed out that no one ever focuses because the idea of focusing is a paradox (Anderson 203). We need technology to develop and grow, and we need to allow our minds to wander just a little bit.

More insights into technology’s impact can be found in this TEDBlog. This blog also contains links to other fascinating articles, such as Adam Gopnik’s article titled “The Information.”

 

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