In The New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell argued that online social networks such as Twitter aren’t good for “real” social activism, not least because they support only weak ties. The assumption here is that social activism needs strong ties. In reality, the opposite is true. Mark Granovetter’s classic 1973 paper titled “The Strength of Weak Ties” discussed the relationship between tie strength and social activism. Granovetter considered the redevelopment project of the Italian neighbourhood in Boston in the 60s. The project was widely opposed by the community but went forward. Why? The problem was the absence of weak ties within the Italian neighbourhood. Social life revolved around members and unchanging groups of friends, and the density of strong ties (but relative lack of weak ones) inhibited any political change. Gladwell cited Granovetter’s article but didn’t read it. Gladwell titled his article “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”. Perhaps revolution is not what we need. We might just need people who read what they cite and don’t fall into the trap of “the old dismissing the new” (substitute “telephone” for “twitter”/”facebook” and see how the article reads).#fail
Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
Relatively interesting opinion article, about the absence of market justification for micropayment systems.
The threat from micropayments isn’t that they will come to pass. The threat is that talking about them will waste our time…
However, it focuses more on micropayments for end users rather than as an enforcer of a system’s behaviour.
I read a a curious article posted on wired: based on a recent study of journal citation patterns between ’98 and ’05 (that is to appear in Science), the authors claim that as the Internet provides researchers with efficient search of journal papers, “the breadth of scholarship” is being lost. Here is a quote:
“As more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of the citations were to fewer journals and articles.”
So, is this google scholar’s fault? Is this a new trend in research? Or maybe this means that as the wealth of published research explodes, the truly cite-able papers are still few (i.e., is citation breadth a measure of quality (or not)?)
What do you think?
I’ve recently read an interesting article about urban computing. The authors illustrate how narrow and exclusive current pervasive computing technologies for urban scenarios are. Narrow: most applications are solving the problem of disconnection (thus “mobilizing” traditionally desktop-based ones), or addressing the problem of dislocation (thus helping users to find their way), or addressing the problem of disruption (thus adapting to context to provide a customised service). Exclusive: target users as mostly “young, affluent city residents, with both disposable income and discretionary mobility.” In so doing, attention is placed on fixing problems created by mobility, rather than exploiting new interactional opportunities it opens. Moreover, many people are left outside the picture: “unrestricted discretionary mobility is far from a universal experience for a city’s occupants. […] we share urban spaces with people who, due to disability, economic status, immigration status, employment, race, caste, and other reasons, find themselves unable to move about easily or, conversely, have mobility forced upon them.”
How can we put pervasive computing to use then, and make it more inclusive and progressive? The authors point their fingers towards three directions: (1) take an heterogeneous view of mobility, which acknowledges and caters for different kinds of journeys (commuting, vacation, moving house) and different kinds of purposes for the same journey (going to work, seeing a doctor, driving a train); (2) look at the symbolic meaning of a journey, which varies across social groups (wayfinding is a purely instrumental reading of space, but this completely neglects other aspects of social, cultural, moral, political and historical aspects of mobility); (3) look at urban mobility as a social phenomenon (we move individually, but collectively we create flows).
I’ve just found out an interesting new project called SeeShell , to be run by one the people behind Undersound. Here is the short description they give: “SeeShell is an augmented Oyster Card (the RFID-enabled Underground ticket) holder which displays, over time, the journeys a rider has taken. When a user passes their Oyster card (which is inside the SeeShell) over the touch-in point at the gate to the station while they are entering or exiting, the SeeShell, using RFID, senses which station the user just passed through and over time a permanent, ink-based map of the stations they have visited begins to emerge on their Oyster Card holder. The Oyster system already tracks users’ journeys but there is no convenient way for the users to access or make use of that data. By building SeeShell on top of an already existing system, I hope to show how lived patterns of mobility might be leveraged in new ways and placed back into the hands of their creators.”
The project has not started yet, but looks interesting: what uses could we make of these patterns of mobility, if they were given back to their users, rather than centrally kept?
Researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem found a link between a gene called AVPR1a and ruthless behaviour in an economic exercise called the ‘Dictator Game’.
Following Daniele’s previous post on workshops at iTrust, another workshop is doing its own round of advertisement: the iTrust Workshop on Trust in Mobile Environments. Abstracts are due the 28th of March. Here is a short description:
Trust is a vital issue in mobile computing if applications are to support interactions which will carry data of any significance. Consider, for instance, exploring a market place: which vendors should one prefer, and why; how can a user establish the provenance of an item, etc. Various trust models have been developed in recent years to enable the construction of trust-aware applications. However, it is still not clear how robust these models are, and against what types of attacks; how accurate they are in capturing human characteristics and dynamics of trust; how suitable they are to the mobile setting. Mobility brings in orthogonal complexities to the problem of trust management: for example, the transient relationships with the environment and other users calls for an investigation of the dependency between trust and context; the lack of a clear shared control authority makes it difficult to verify identities, and to follow-up problems later; the limited network capability and ad-hoc connectivity require the investigation of novel protocols for content sharing and dissemination, and so on.
I was recently reading Dorris Lessing’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech (full text here). It’s an excellent read, a story of storytelling, that recalls her experiences in Africa and the influence of books on a writer. I strongly recommend all to read it. However, as inspirational as it is, there is also a strong feeling of cynicism towards the culture heralded on by the technology revolution, and some points worth thinking about. Here is a short quote:
“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.
What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”
I found it strange how she describes the printing revolution as something good, by allowing “voices unheard” to wield their talent, but the internet revolution as something meaningless, fragmenting, and wasteful. It seems to either imply that publishers have been given the divine gift of knowing what is good to publish, or that people (are dumb, and) lack the collective knowledge to find what is worth reading. Is there no such thing as collective wisdom? Does a change of medium naturally imply a change in content and quality? Perhaps her words reflect Toffler’s predictions, or it is impossible for her to find any quality in the chaotic community that we call the web?
After all, her message came to me by means of blogs and online news. Any thoughts?